Air pollution over Mexico City
Photo courtesy of Nancy A. Marley
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.
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