Air pollution is the contamination of air that destroys the natural balance of the environment, harming humans, and all other life forms. Every year in India, nearly 1.2 million deaths result from air pollution, and if appropriate preventive measures are not taken, it might lead to a massive, irreversible catastrophe. Hence, we need to have a clear understanding of it in details.
Types of Air Pollutants
- Primary pollutants
- Secondary pollutants
Primary pollutants are usually released into the air by careless human activities. Some of them, like carbon monoxide, formed as a result of emission from vehicles, or sulfur dioxide, produced due to combustion of coal, may cause serious diseases like lung cancer and dementia.
Secondary air pollutants are the dangerous chemicals produced when primary pollutants react with atmospheric components, and one such is photochemical smog that is formed by the action of sunlight on pollutant gasses like sulfur and nitrogen oxide.
Causes of Air Pollution in India
Air gets polluted by two major sources, natural and human‑made.
The natural phenomenon involves forest fires, wind erosion, volcanic eruptions, organic compounds evaporation and natural radioactivity.
Factories and Industries
High levels of organic compounds, hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and chemicals are released into the air by manufacturing industries and petroleum refineries. For instance, in recent times, a petroleum refinery in Mathura has been posing serious threats to the Taj Mahal as well as other monuments at Fatehpur Sikri. Fertilizer and food industries ejecting acid vapors and cement factories emitting dust are also responsible.
Thermal Power Stations
Thermal power stations in our country such as the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), or those in M.P., U.P., and Andhra Pradesh, significantly increase air pollution by massively consuming (about several million tons), and releasing air pollutants such as fly ash and SO2.
Nowadays, even to fulfill small requirements, we randomly use automobiles such as cars or bikes. These, ceaselessly burn fossil fuels such as petroleum and consequently, release dangerous gasses in the form of fumes. According to a survey, amidst the 800 to 1000 tons of pollutants being daily expelled into the air in our country, 50% come from vehicular exhausts.
The increasing trend among farmers to indiscriminately use pesticides, insecticides and fertilizers have led to the emission of hazardous chemicals and one of the most destructive atmospheric gasses, ammonia, is a byproduct of such agricultural activities.
Toxic chemicals are also discharged into the air by household cleaning equipment, over the counter insect killers, hair sprays, e-cigarettes and painting materials.
Effects of Air Pollution
One of the biggest risks of air pollution is global warming or an unexpected rise in the earth’s average temperature by certain greenhouse gasses. Due to such increased temperatures, icebergs and glaciers melt, thereby giving rise to a host of problems such as endangering the lives of people living in coastal areas or a mass annihilation of both plants and animals.
Health Hazards and Diseases
Several respiratory ailments such as pneumonia, throat, nose or lungs irritations and asthma may arise due to air pollution. Inhalation of contaminated air can harden arteries, aggravate diseases like asthma or pneumonia and cause heart attacks. It may also lead to severe hair loss.
Water droplets on mixing with deadly air pollutants like nitrogen and sulfur oxides, during rains, turn acidic and fall as acid rain. The presence of hydrogen ions in acid rain can spoil trees, crops and harm wildlife.
Depletion of Ozone Layer
The ozone layer existing in the earth’s stratosphere protects us from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. It’s thinning by toxic air pollutants like chlorofluorocarbons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons results in emitting harmful rays back on earth, thus increasing the risks of skin and eye problems. Crops are also affected by UV rays.
Measures for Prevention and Reduction of Air Pollution
The Air Pollution Act of 1981, passed by the Indian Government to clean air clearly forbids industries, power plants and vehicles from releasing particulate matter, carbon monoxide, lead or other toxic materials beyond a mentioned level. Moreover, no person is allowed to run asbestos, fertilizer, cement and petroleum industries without getting approval from the State Board.
To ascertain the adherence of these norms, the government has also set up Pollution Control Boards that tests air samples from different regions to determine pollution levels.
Air Pollution Control Equipment
Various devices are available nowadays to monitor the quality of air, and some of these, like the air sampling equipment measures particulate matter and gasses evicted by vehicles. Another one, the wet scrubber, removes dust particles and dissolved gasses from expelled air of factories.
Individual Attempts to Avoid the Consequences of Air Pollution
Availing Public Transportation Systems
If we develop a habit of using public modes of transportations such as train or bus, there would be lesser cars, and thus the amount of fume emission would also reduce.
We must be careful enough to always switch off fans and lights when not using them, for, the electricity needed to make them run efficiently, is extensively generated by burning vast amounts of fossil fuels – one of the chief reasons of air pollution. Hence, the more we decrease their usage, the greater we contribute towards keeping our environment clean and fresh.
Using Natural Gas Rather than Charcoal
Natural gas, burning completely and ensuring minimum emission is a great alternative to charcoal that by profound ejection, increases air pollution.
Switching to Clean Energy Resources
By utilizing natural and renewable energy resources like solar, wind or hydroelectric, we can cut down air pollution to a great extent.
Inducing a Healthy Diet with Loads of Vitamin C
According to several studies, vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant, guards our body against the damaging consequences of car exhausts and power plants. Hence, it is beneficial to have lemons and citrus foods in our regular diet. Also, since the obstruction of sun’s rays by air pollutants prevents our body from forming vitamin D, foods rich in this vitamin, like cheese and egg yolks should also be included.
Using Pollution Masks
These filter out undesirable particles, thereby minimizing our chances of being affected. However, before putting on, we must ensure it’s well ventilated and fits properly.
Planting More Trees
One of the simplest solutions is to plant trees since they not only absorb odors and gasses but also trap particulates in their leaves and barks, thereby filtering them out and providing us unpolluted air.
Air is one of our primary requirements of life, and its pollution affects everyone equally. So, we must make sure that in no way, are our daily practices contributing to the problem. And this can come about through a universal awareness of the importance of having safe and clean air. So let’s get together to eliminate this menace called “air pollution” from our lives.