Air Pollution

Air pollution over Mexico City.
Click on image for full size (21 Kb)
Pending from Nicole

What do smog, acid rain, carbon monoxide, fossil fuel exhausts, and tropospheric ozone have in common? They are all examples of air pollution. Air pollution is not new. As far back as the 13 th century, people started complaining about coal dust and soot in the air over London, England. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution in the late 18 th century, humanity has been modifying the Earth’s atmosphere and its chemistry. As industry spread across the globe, so did air pollution. Air pollution has many effects. In addition to being ugly, it can cause illness and even death, as well as damaging buildings, crops, and wildlife. Perhaps the worst air pollution recorded happened when dense smog (the combination of smoke and fog) formed over London on December 4, 1952 and lasted until March of 1953. Within six days over 4,000 people died, and 8,000 more died within six months.

Air pollution is a broad term that is applied to particulate matter and chemical compounds that are released by humans into the atmosphere and modify its composition. Natural sources that affect atmospheric chemistry include sulfur and nitrogen compounds from volcanoes and biological decay and particulate matter from dust storms and volcanoes. Plants, trees, and even grasses release volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as methane, into the air. Of more concern, since we have the ability to control them, are anthropogenic, or man-made, air pollutants, such as carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, some fraction of VOCs, and nitrogen oxides. The largest source of anthropogenic pollution is the burning of fossil fuels, including coal, oil, and gas, in our homes, factories, and vehicles.

Air pollutants are classified as either primary or secondary. A primary pollutant is one that is released directly to the air, such as the carbon monoxide from combustion. A secondary pollutant is formed in the atmosphere through chemical reactions of primary pollutants. The formation of tropospheric ozone is an example of secondary air pollution.

The atmosphere is a complex, dynamic and fragile system. Concern is growing about the global effects of air pollutant emissions, especially health effects, climate change, and the effects of pollution on crops. Stratospheric ozone depletion due to air pollution has long been recognized as a threat to human health.


Listen to a Podcast about How Divorce is Bad for the Environment

Atmospheric Chemistry

Particulates

Ozone

VOCs

Acid Rain

Pollution Sources

Transport

Effects

Smog City Simulator (outside link)

Air Pollution

Air pollution over Mexico City.
Click on image for full size (21 Kb)
Pending from Nicole

What do smog, acid rain, carbon monoxide, fossil fuel exhausts, and tropospheric ozone have in common? They are all examples of air pollution. Air pollution is not new. As far back as the 13 th century, people started complaining about coal dust and soot in the air over London, England. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution in the late 1700s, we have been changing the Earth’s atmosphere and its chemistry. As industry spread across the globe, so did air pollution. Air pollution has many effects. In addition to being ugly, it can cause illness and even death. It damages buildings, crops, and wildlife. The worst air pollution happened in London when dense smog (a mixture of smoke and fog) formed in December of 1952 and lasted until March of 1953. 4,000 people died in one week. 8,000 more died within six months.

Air pollution is made up of solid particles and chemicals. Natural processes impacting the atmosphere include volcanoes, biological decay, and dust storms. Plants, trees, and grass release volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as methane, into the air. We are more concerned with human-made pollution since we have the ability to control it. The pollutants include carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, VOCs, and nitrogen oxides. The largest source of human-made pollution is the burning of fossil fuels, including coal, oil, and gas, in our homes, factories, and cars.

Air pollution is either primary or secondary. Primary pollution is put directly to the air, such as smoke and car exhausts. Secondary pollution forms in the air when chemical reactions changes primary pollutants. The formation of tropospheric ozone is an example of secondary air pollution.

The atmosphere is a complex, dynamic and fragile system. Concern is growing about the global effects of air pollution, especially climate change. Stratospheric ozone depletion due to air pollution has long been recognized as a threat to human health.


Listen to a Podcast about How Divorce is Bad for the Environment

Atmospheric Chemistry

Particulates

Ozone

VOCs

Acid Rain

Pollution Sources

Transport

Effects

Smog City Simulator (outside link)

Air Pollution

Air pollution over Mexico City.
Click on image for full size (21 Kb)
Pending from Nicole

Have you ever heard of air pollution? Air pollution is not new. 700 years ago, when people started burning large amounts of coal 700 years ago in London, England, they complained about the dust and soot in the air. Since the industrial revolution in the late 1700s, we have changed our atmosphere and its chemistry. As factories spread across the globe, so did air pollution. Air pollution has many effects. In addition to being ugly, it can cause illness and even death. It damages buildings, crops, and wildlife. The worst air pollution happened in London when dense poisonous smog formed in December of 1952 and lasted until March of 1953.

Air pollution is made up of solid particles and chemicals in the air. Natural processes that change the atmosphere include volcanoes, dead plants and animals, and dust storms. Plants, trees, and grass release compounds, such as methane, into the air.

We worry about human-made pollution because we can stop it. Carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, methane, and nitrogen oxides are all human-made. Most human-made pollution comes from burning of coal and oil in our homes, factories, and cars.

Some pollution is put directly to the air, such as smoke and car exhausts. Other kinds of pollution form in the air because of chemical reactions. The formation of tropospheric ozone is an example of this change.

The atmosphere is changing and fragile. People are worried that air pollution might change our climate. People also worry that air pollution might make us sick.


Listen to a Podcast about How Divorce is Bad for the Environment

Atmospheric Chemistry

Particulates

Ozone

VOCs

Acid Rain

Pollution Sources

Transport

Effects

Smog City Simulator (outside link)


Page created January 26, 2006 by Dennis Ward. Last modified February 6, 2008 by Jennifer Bergman.
The source of this material is Windows to the Universe, at http://www.windows.ucar.edu/ at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR). © The Regents of the University of Michigan. All Rights Reserved. Site policies and disclaimer