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Natural causes of air pollution: Wind Erosion

Wind Erosion definition

People in many areas aren’t conscious that wind erosion is a serious environmental problem and one of the most important natural causes of air pollution. There are places where this phenomenon is most likely to cause problems, especially in flat and bare areas or dry and sandy soils. However, to a greater or lesser extent, we all suffer from the air pollution this event provokes.

What is wind erosion? It is a natural process that moves soil from one location to another by wind power, often causing significant economic, health and environmental impact. At this point you might have thought about extreme cases, where a strong wind lifts a large volume of soil particulate matter into the air to create dust storms. However, light wind rolls soil particles along the surface, and this is the most common type of wind erosion.

At the end, it is wind who causes erosion, but the external facts, such as landscape or land condition, are the ones that determine the severity and the impact of this phenomenon. The following is a list of wind erosion examples:

  • Rock formation
  • Dunes
  • Canyons
  • Sand and dust storms

After wind erosion, wind deposition occurs, and it is the geological process wherein soil particles or sediments are deposited and added to the mass of landforms.

Types of wind erosion

Suspension, Saltation and Surface Creep

There are 2 types to divide wind erosion, and one of them is through suspension, saltation and surface creep:

  • Suspension: it is when particles are lifted into the wind, and once in the atmosphere, these dust and dirt particles can be transported very high through long distances, creating harmful environments for those who breath them.  
  • Saltation: it is when particles are lifted into the air, but this time they are drift horizontally. When these strike the ground again the velocity determines if they rebound back into the air or knock other particles into the air.
  • Surface Creep: in this process, the particles are rolled across the surface because wind is not too strong or the particles are too heavy to be lifted.

Deflation and Abrasion

Deflation and abrasion are another way to categorize the types of wind erosion. Deflation occurs when wind moves particles that are loose and abrasion is when an area is eroded directly by airborne particles. In other words, deflation and abrasion indicate what agent is causing the erosion.

Causes of Wind Erosion

Wind erosion occurs when something causes a reduction to the ground cover below 50% or/and removes trees and scrub that act as windbreaks. Some example are land clearing, overgrazing by livestock or cropping.

However, as the name suggests, wind is the principal cause of erosion. It can happen anywhere and any time the wind blows and it is more strong where the soil or sand is not compacted or is of a finely granulated nature.

What can prevent wind erosion?

Wind erosion prevention is topic which governments globally should focus more, as it has a huge impact on land production. The loss of nutrients affects directly the ability of the soil to properly produce drops, and soil production is one of the main elements for human race to survive. The following facts are the five main ways to prevent or control wind erosion:

Surface/crop residues

The surface form and crop residues can help prevent wind erosion. If placed at the right angle, which is perpendicular to the existing wind, it protects the removal of soil particles and maintain the nutrients of the soil.

After the harvest, when the soil is highly exposed to wind erosion, it is recommended taking any harvest residues and spread them throw the soil, so these residues act as a protection layer for the soil particles and its nutrients.

Permanent vegetation cover

A permanent vegetation cover is not only for wind erosion protection, but also for the conservation of water and air resources. This vegetation cover includes growing grass, shrubs, trees, vegetables or legumes.

Surface roughening

In large areas or areas where a permanent vegetation cover isn’t enough to protect the soil from wind erosion, three extra surface roughening methods come up: soil crusts, crosswind ridge, and clod-forming tillage.

Reshaping the land

Giving the land the ideal shape to protect it from wind erosion is key, specially on agricultural activities. It may not be available for everyone since it is a bit expensive in some cases, but it is a very effective way to lessen the potential for erosion.

Irrigation

It is one of the best ways to lessen the erosion of soil since the wind force finds it difficult to carry the soil particles on a wet surface. However, too much water on a soil affects negatively the soil and its nutrients, and some very hot and dry areas cannot apply this technique.

Wind Erosion as an Air Pollution Source

Appart from the economic costs, airborne particulate matter and dust are harmful to humans when inhaled. It is highly recommended having a dust mask if you live in an area where dust storms are common.

Airborne dust is directly related to the probability of asthma and other health problems. You can refer to our blog post on health effects of air pollution to know everything about it.

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Natural causes of air pollution: Volcanic Eruptions

Volcanic Eruption Definition

A volcano is an open fissure on the surface of the earth. Active volcanoes are those from which lava, volcanic ashes, rocks, dust and gas compounds escape on a regular basis (10.000 years are considered regular with volcanoes, so you can feel safe if you have one around) due to the phenomenon of volcanic eruptions.

In the world there are several active volcanoes which cause air pollution, danger to life forms and massive destruction of the land and the environment. Indonesia is the country with most active volcanoes in the world with 76 of them and total of 147 volcanoes.

Causes of Volcanic Eruptions

There are many causes that can lead to a volcanic emissions, many of them are still unknown by humans, which volcano eruptions very hard to predict. However, volcanologists have made some researchers to determine a few catalysts of them:

  • Movement of tectonic plates: whether it is because one is pushed under another one or two tectonic plates are moved away from each other, this creates a massive movement on the layers of planet earth (changing the structures of magma, sediments and seawater) and cause a volcano to erupt.
  • Decreasing temperatures: the volume of magma changes when it crystalizes, so it can push away liquid magma and create a volcanic eruption.
  • Decrease in external pressure: this fact provokes an increase in the internal pressure of the volcano and causes and eruption if it is not capable of holding back the lava.
  • Buoyancy of the magma: if the density of the magma between the zone of its generation and the surface is less than that of the surrounding and overlying rocks, the magma reaches the surface and erupts.
  • Pressure from the exsolved gases: andesitic and rhyolitic magma compositions contain dissolved volatiles (gases) such as water, sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide. This gas bubbles are held by magma, but just like a carbonated drink, the bubbles of gas rise to the surface of the magma chamber creating a volcanic eruption.
  • Injection of a new batch of magma into an already filled magma chamber: this phenomenon causes some magma to move up and spill or even erupt at the surface.

Effects of Volcanic Eruptions

Volcanoes have huge impact on our society and environment when they erupt, here there are some of the many positive and negative effects of volcanic eruptions:

  • Negative effects: volcanic eruptions, which sometimes generate earthquakes, can destroy landscapes, natural resources, wildlife and human lives and their properties. This phenomenon can also discharge ashes very high into the atmosphere, having negative consequences on the ozone layer. Moreover, ash and mud can mix with rain and melting snow and create situations like lahars (also called mudflows) or acid rain. In other words, volcanic eruptions can destroy civilizations, like what happened to Pompeii.

  • Positive Effects: sometimes eruptions can leave an extraordinary beautiful and natural scenery, attacking tourists to the area. However, one of the most useful positive effects is that they often leave potential for geothermal energy, making life more easy for those around the area. Finally, some volcanic eruptions provide valuable nutrients for the soil, which are later used as fertile soils for agriculture.

Types of Volcanic Eruptions

Air Pollution of Volcanic Eruptions

Volcanic Eruptions release massive quantities of solid pollutants and gases, forming enormous clouds that can affect areas miles away from the volcanic eruption. Therefore, volcanoes are an international form of air pollution, but not just for us, as a lot of this greenhouse gases and aerosols go directly into the atmosphere.

Every volcanic eruption is different on impact, and therefore different on the quantity and a variety of pollutants emitted. On average the outgassed composition release is 79% water vapor (H2O), 11,6% carbon dioxide (CO2), 6,5% sulphur dioxide (SO2) and 2,9% of other pollutants.

However, the range of pollutants released on a volcanic eruption include: carbon dioxide (CO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2), hydrogen sulfide (H₂S), hydrogen (H₂), hydrogen fluoride (HF), hydrogen chloride (HCl), bromide oxide (BrO) and carbon monoxide (CO). Highly exposure to these gases has detrimental impact on living organisms both terrestrial and marine.

On the other side, particulates are another source of air pollution produced by volcanic eruptions. Mainly ashes and including all types of sizes, the ones that help forming toxic clouds are usually PM10, PM2.5, PM0.3 and thinner.

These pollution clouds can travel major distances, like crossing oceans, dangerously affecting people and environments who didn’t even notice the eruption. If you are facing a polluted cloud caused by a volcanic eruption, you may want to have a look at the following content on what to do and how to prevent these events.

What to do before, during and after a Volcanic Eruption

Before a Volcanic Eruption

There are several precautions you have to take into account before a volcanic eruption, and it is good to discuss them with your family members (including kids) before the event to prevent nerves and panic.

The first step is to have a household evacuation plan (that includes your pets). If you need guidance creating one you can find all you need to know and some templates here.

Secondly, as during the volcanic eruption you might lose electric supply, you need to have a flashlight, a battery radio and extra batteries for both. It is important to keep yourself up to date. We will write about it below, but during the previous days stay informed about the governmental media, community’s risk and response plans.

Thirdly, you will need health protection to ashfall and air pollution. To protect your eyes it is recommended having a pair of goggles, and to protect your respiratory system you should buy industrial protection face masks. Note that the majority of common pollution masks are not valid, you should have one approved for industrial and extreme purposes.

Finally, as any scenery is possible, you need to be prepared to live indoors for long periods without electricity power nor drinking water so buy food (if possible durable goods) and bottled water to survive you and your family members a few weeks. Make sure to have all the outdoor stuff and you want to keep safe inside, volcanic eruptions can damage any furniture, machinery or material.

During a Volcanic Eruption

If your outdoors you should quickly look for a shelter indoors. If it is not possible stay out of designated restricted zones, areas downwind of the volcano and river valleys downstream of the volcano. Take into account that even if you are miles away from the eruption you can experience harmful consequences.

In the case you get caught by an ashfall wear goggles (never contact lenses), a dust mask prepared for industrial and extreme purposes and a keep as much of your skin covered as possible.

On the other hand, if you are indoors you should be constantly listening to a local station on the battery radio for updated emergency information and instructions. It important because your area can be at any moment evacuated. During the indoor period, make sure to close all window, doors, and dampers to keep volcanic ash from entering.

In case of evacuation, strictly follow the instructions issued by local or national authorities and put your previously studied household evacuation plan. This rule is the most important one because even though it may look safer to stay home, take into account that your life must be in danger.

After a Volcanic Eruption

If you pass a volcanic eruption you will surely never forget it. There are some tips you should take into account to return to normality as soon as possible.

Firstly, you should not stop listening to local news for authorities updates, if you were evacuated, don’t return home until the authorities say to do so because it is safe. If people around you are injured, check the zone is safe for you and then call an ambulance and provide first aid (if you know something about it). Your family and friends might be worried as well, so tell everyone you are safe.

Secondly, even though the eruption has passed, if possible stay indoors and use the pollution mask (indoors and outdoors), because pollution particles (mainly ashes) will still be floating in the environment, and these can be extremely harmful. Moreover, keep animals away from ashes and wash them to prevent them from eating ashes.

Emotional recovery can be difficult because you may see some astonishing images and receive some terrible news. Here is a link to help you with this recovery.

If you have to return home try not to drive on heavy ashes roads because these are extremely harmful not just to humans health, but also to car engines. Never stop wearing any of the protective clothes, you cannot allow to expose yourself even for 30 seconds.

Once you get there, take pictures of the damages caused by the volcano for insurance purposes. The next step is to start cleaning your house from ashes and other volcanic materia, starting by the roof and gutters, which can cause your house to collapse. To help you with this task, read the following link for proper guidance.

Last Volcanic Eruption

Here comes an interesting fact about volcanic eruptions: any time there are several volcanoes on an eruption process. Volcanic activity is much more powerful and regular than we usually think. To know what volcanoes are erupting today, click the following link.

Largest Volcanic Eruption

World’s history has seen some supervolcano eruptions, often called big bangs on the earth, and science explains that these major catastrophes occurred before human life was born.

However, during humans history there has been some major eruptions as well, and since 1980 we have been measuring their impact throw the VEI (Volcanic Explosivity Index) indicator. VEI is measured just like earthquakes, on a scale from 1 to 8, and each number is ten times greater than the previous one.

In the last 10.000 years there haven’t been any VEI-8 volcanic eruptions, luckily for us, but on the following list we name some of the most recent major volcanic eruptions:

  • Tambora – April 10, 1815
  • Krakatoa – August 27, 1883
  • Santa María – October 25, 1902
  • Novarupta – June 6, 1912
  • Pinatubo – June 15, 1991
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Natural causes of air pollution: Radon Emissions

What is radon?

Radon (which has the symbol Rn and its atomic number is 86) is a chemical element belonging to noble gases, very radioactive, colorless, odorless and tasteless. This is the reason why radon is also called invisible gas or “the silent killer”. In solid form it is reddish. It is the earth’s only naturally produced radioactive gas and comes from the breakdown of radium, uranium in soil, rock, and water.

This air pollutant is highly radioactive in nature, and it can cause some serious health damages to people who breathe it. In fact, it is the second largest contributing factor to lung cancer in human beings after smoking. It causes an estimated 1,100 deaths from lung cancer every year.

Because the level of radioactivity is directly related to the number and type of radioactive atoms present, radon and all other radioactive atoms are measured in picocuries.

Radon decay

Radon is diffused out of the air all the time in variable quantities depending on the pressure drop. Such pressure drops can accompany or precede the shearing of rocks in an earthquake. It disperses and decays very quickly, with a half-life of 3.8 days.

Radon decay products (RDPs) such as polonium (218), lead (214) and bismuth (214) are measured in working levels (WL).

Radon at home

Why do some houses have high levels of indoor radon while nearby houses do not? The reasons lie primarily in the geology of radon, the factors that govern the occurrence of uranium, the formation of radon and the movement of radon, soil gas, and groundwater.

It can seep into buildings through cracks and holes in its foundations, where it can build up to dangerous levels. In Britain in 2018, the number of homes designated at risk was increased five-fold (from 100,000 to between 500,000 and 600,000), rendering millions more people officially vulnerable.

If you smoke or someone at home smokes, your family is exposed to radon, and therefore probabilities of lung cancer increase. Moreover, the only thing you can do to eradicate this type of gas is quit, and any time is good to reduce its exposure.

Due to health risks of radon exposure, it is recommended testing radon concentration before buying a house or while building it. However, if you want to analyze indoor air quality of your current home there are easy and fast techniques to test radon emissions by your own, for example with charcoal or digital tests.

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Natural causes of air pollution: Methane Emissions

Methane is an odorless, colorless greenhouse gas with the chemical formula of CH4. It is mainly used as a component of natural gas.

Natural sources create 36% of global methane emissions, long before humans existed there has been methane emissions into the atmosphere. However, methane expulsion is mainly man-made, in activities such as landfills and livestock farming. As a fact, it may seem interesting to know that daily methane emissions from cows (through belching and flatulence) and from cars are pretty similar.

It can lead to severe asphyxiation if someone is highly exposed to methane gas in the air. Building construction must take into account this factor, since the presence of methane in the airways of the building can lead to dire consequences.

Methane levels have more than doubled over the last 150 years. This is because of human activities like fossil fuel use and intensive farming. Before the Industrial Revolution, natural sinks kept methane levels in a safe range.

Methane is twenty times more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide when released into the ozone layer. It is also highly inflammable when it combines with other elements in the air and it massively contributes to global warming. Bellow you will find the main natural sources of methane.

Wetlands

A wetland is a distinct ecosystem that is inundated by water, either permanently or seasonally, where oxygen-free processes prevail. The primary factor that distinguishes wetlands from other landforms or water bodies is the characteristic vegetation of aquatic plants, adapted to the unique hydric soil. Wetlands play numerous roles in the environment, principally water purification, flood control, carbon sink and shoreline stability.

Wetlands are the largest natural source of methane producing 78% of natural methane emissions. Microbes need environments with no oxygen and abundant organic matter, thus wetlands are perfect for them to be born.

Wetlands are estimated create 147 million tonnes of methane each year. Part of these emissions are absorbed by methane-consuming microbes. However, the majority of these emissions are released into the atmosphere and the ozone layer.

Termites

Termites are eusocial insects that you probably know due to they can break into your house and destroy all the wood structures. However, do you know these little insects produce large amounts of methane?

Termites eat cellulose, but rely on micro-organisms in their gut to digest it. During the normal digestion process of a termite, methane gets produced.

At this point you are probably thinking: no way, this tiny insect cannot produce amount of methane I should worry about. You are right if you have just one termite, but if you take into account the total population of termites numbers add up.

Termites produce 12% of natural methane emissions, being a total of 23 million tonnes of methane per year. Surprising right? If you have termite infestation at home, be aware that you and your family can be highly exposed to methane.

Oceans

Everyone knows what an ocean is, but almost nobody knows these are a major natural source of methane. In fact, oceans don’t produce itself methane, but these are the perfect environment for microbes to live and emit this type of pollution gas.

According to scientists from the University of Illinois and Institute for Genomic Biology, the ocean-based microbe Nitrosopumilus maritimus produces methane through a complex biochemical process the researchers referred to as “weird chemistry.”

Oceanic methane emissions often gets produced in deeper sediment layers of productive coastal areas. The methane created by these microbes mixes with the surrounding water. After some time in the water, it gets emitted to the atmosphere from the ocean surface.

At the end oceanic methane emissions are 10% of natural methane emissions and 19 million tonnes of methane per year.

Arctic’s methane issue

It is estimated that there are billions of cubic metres of natural methane gas trapped underneath huge areas of permafrost in Siberia, and under the frozen wastes of the Arctic. When methane is enclosed in frozen water it is called methane hydrate.

The Arctic has warmed more quickly than any other area of the planet. As the ice has melted, naturally formed methane gas, which would otherwise be trapped under the ice, is bubbling to the surface.

Currently, there are thousands of sites in the Arctic where methane gas is being released into the atmosphere and it could have serious ramifications for global warming.

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Natural causes of air pollution: Forest Fire

What are Forest Fires?

Forest fire originated by natural causes, or in other words without human activity involved, are also known as bushfires or wildfires. These are given when fire has place in highly dense vegetation areas.

Furthermore, bushfires also contribute to deforestation, what indirectly affects air quality in forests and jungles, that are considered Earth’s lungs.

Australia is well known as a country with plenty of vegetation and wildlife. However, the country has an important issue with bushfires, as they cost more than £180 million each year (both natural and man-made).

Unfortunately, there are a huge amount of notable bushfires in history. Some examples of most important wildfires worldwide have been:

  • China (1987) burning over 72.000km2 and Indonesia (1997) burning over 97.000km2.
  • Currently the U.S. and Canada have been the most active countries last 10 years with bushfires burning around 6.6 and 6.2 acres/year respectively.

A long time ago, palaeowildfires burnt plant material leading to fossil charcoal formation. Nowadays, fossil charcoal is being used as an indicator of palaeoclimatology in order to study evolution on bushfires over the years.

Causes of Bushfires

There are several different causes that lead to forest fire, but these are made more likely when the weather is hot and dry. Fallen leaves, dry grass or branches easily light up and can cause serious trouble to both urban and rural areas.

These terrible events often pass in just a few minutes, but they can last days, or in very unfortunate situations even months. The real threat when it comes to bushfires are high winds because these fan the flames and spread the blaze.

Forest Fire Pollution

Forest fire release pollutants like smoke, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, particulate matter and carbon monoxide into the atmosphere. The bigger the bushfire, the bigger emissions.

In small amounts, carbon monoxide is present human bodies. The problem is that when inhaled in large amounts, and large amount of this gas are emitted on bushfires, it becomes toxic and can cause death.

Particulates on forest fire are either solid or liquid and consist of soot, tars, and other volatile organic substances. These particles can have different sizes: PM10, PM2.5, PM0.3 and smaller. They can cause cardiovascular and respiratory problems if they penetrate deeply into humans lungs.

Nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxides are minor problems when it comes to forest fire. Nitrogen oxides are only released in big bushfires, as they only appear at greater temperatures than 1,500 degree centigrade. On the other hand, except when peat and muck soil are involved, sulphur dioxide only appears to be less than 0,2%.

Health effects of wildfires

Wildfire in California during the summer 2018 caused hazardous air conditions across the state, prompting air quality alerts and forcing many residents to take refuge indoors to avoid unhealthy exposure to bad air.

It is not just about foggy and hazy skies, human’ risks and exposure are real. The air pollution from wildfires includes huge percentage of particles PM10, PM2.5, PM0.3 and thinner. Therefore, the health effects of wildfires are very similar to the ones explained during the blog post about Particulate Matter.

These health effects of forest fires include coughing, sore throats, extreme wheezing, cardiovascular illnesses and problems into lungs and bloodstream. Of course, sensible groups like children or elderly, are more likely to acquire these symptoms.

However, what do you have to do in the event of a forest fire? Firstly, you should be worried about the dangers of wildfires, so stay tuned to a local station for recommendations. Additionally, to protect yourself from air pollution: wear some kind of pollution mask, avoid staying outdoors and close all the opening from your house to prevent air pollution to enter. Finally, avoiding riding cars will help reduce SMOG, as this is produced with the mixing of combustion gases and the air pollution produced in forest fires.

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Anthropogenic causes of air pollution: Waste Incineration

Waste incineration definition

Incineration is one of the waste treatment methods used currently to deal with tremendous amounts of human-made garbage created every single day. It is part of the thermal waste treatments, as it uses high temperatures. This process involves the combustion of organic substances contained in waste materials.

Incineration converts waste into ash, flue gas and heat. Ashes are mostly formed by the inorganic constituents of the waste and may take the form of solid lumps or particulates carried by the flue gas. The flue gases must be cleaned of gaseous and particulate pollutants before these are released into the atmosphere.

In the past, incineration was only conducted without separating materials thus causing harm to people nearby. This resulted in risk for plant workers and the environment. Most of such plants and incinerators never separated the most harmful pollutants nor generated electricity, and nowadays there are still many that don’t do it.

As mentioned, in some incineration plants, the technique is used for generation of electric power, which is a good way to benefit from this process. However, there is still a lot of improvement to be made in the origin of the problem: generate less garbage or recycle correctly the humans’ waste, especially transforming organic waste into composting.

The problem with waste is that, even planet earth is huge, we don’t have enough land to fulfill with garbage. Even though incineration generates waste, the mass is reduced by approximately 95%, which makes the landfill problem way more easy.

Other waste-to-energy techniques

Waste incineration is by far the most used process on the garbage treatment, but currently there are other techniques used to convert this trash into power energy:

  • Gasification
  • PDG
  • Anaerobic digestion
  • Pyrolysis

Types of waste to incinerate

Municipal solid waste

It is the solid portion of the waste (not classified as hazardous or toxic) generated by households, commercial establishments, public and private institutions, government agencies, and other sources. This waste stream includes food and yard wastes, and a multitude of durable and non-durable products and packagings.

Hazardous waste

Hazardous waste is defined by EPA under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) as a waste material that can be classified as potentially dangerous to human health or the environment on the basis of different criteria. This type of waste is found usually on manufacturers, service and wholesale-trade companies, universities, hospitals, government facilities, and households.

The hazardous waste can be classified as a threat for the following reasons:

  • Waste of easy ignition
  • Corrosive waste for materials and/or people
  • Reactive waste: meaning it can explode, catch fire or give up harmful gases.
  • Toxic waste

Medical waste management

Usually biomedical, this type of waste can have infectious or toxic characteristics, so they need to be treated correctly to avoid creating a public health issue. The whole medical industry generates medical waste, but hospitals are the main medical waste generators, with almost 30 pounds per day per hospital on average.

Waste incineration causes air pollution

Mass cannot be created nor destroyed, so the reduction of volume during the waste incineration process has its effects, and that is the emission of flue gas to the atmosphere. In other words, air pollution. These different types of emissions depend on the waste incinerated:

Furans and dioxins

The emission of furans and dioxins is the biggest issue in the waste incineration process, giving that these are staidly injurious to health. Some governments have regulated these types of activities and obliged incineration plants to buy new machinery equipped with special equipment to clean emission of gases from these injurious components.

Carbon dioxide

Carbon dioxide (CO2), a major player in the global warming issue, is also produced in vast amounts during garbage incineration. These emissions are due to materials that include carbon in its composition, when incinerated, produce carbon dioxide.

Other gases

A part from the major gases mentioned, a huge variety of other gases are emitted during the incineration of trash. On this large list, the most present volatiles are: sulfur dioxide, hydrochloric acid, fine particles and heavy metals.

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Anthropogenic causes of air pollution: Smoking

It might seem insignificant if you look just at one cigarette emissions, but take into account the quantity of cigarettes burned per day and it becomes a clear cause of air pollution. Recent studies in 2018 show that more than the 20% of the world’s population smokes, which is an absolute value of more than 1 billion people smoking! And do you think they smoke only one cigarette per day?

Moreover, non-smokers are passively toxified by inhaling the fumes from smokers. The University of Minnesota estimates that up to 90 percent of the American population is routinely exposed to secondhand smoke, which means almost everyone is exposed to smokers’ risks.

Tobacco smoke contains more than 50 carcinogens, making it an especially lethal form of air pollution. It emits a series of toxic chemicals including a series of organic and inorganic chemicals, some of which are carcinogenic.

Air pollution:…

… growing tobacco

Tobacco is a very fragile plant, so during massive crops a lot of pesticides, chemicals and herbicides are used. Methyl bromide is a chemical that stands out on the list due to its well known effects on depleting the ozone layer.

Moreover, a lot of these pesticides and herbicides used when growing tobacco reach into the groundwater. An example is Aldicarb, a poisonous pollutant that can kill wildlife and humans, and was found in groundwater in 27 U.S. states in 2005.

… manufacturing

The manufacturing process of tobacco release several pollutants into the environment: ammonia, ethylene glycol, hydrochloric acid, hydrogen fluoride, methyl ethyl ketone, nicotine and nicotine salts, nitric acid, phosphoric acid, sulphuric acid, and toluene.

Supply always meets demand in every single product, and efforts should focus not on regulating this process, but on eradicating tobacco demand.

… transport

As any other product sold worldwide, major players grow and manufacture tobacco in few locations, and from there tobacco is spread worldwide using any mean of transport possible. Shipping vessels, trucks and planes, which are responsible for emitting tons of CO2, are used to deliver tobacco everywhere. There is not a single village or urban mile where you cannot find it.  

… consumption

There are 4.5 trillion filtered cigarettes smoked around the world every year, and all of those cigarette butts and fumes end up somewhere. Do we really think about it?

Smoking cigarettes releases more than 50 carcinogens and other toxins into the air we all breathe. This pollutes the air and harms human and animal life. Non-smokers are also exposed to secondhand smoke respiration, and fatal consequences are a lottery.

… cigarettes vs diesel car exhaust

The magazine Tobacco Control released a study which compared the air pollution in a closed garage for 30 minutes of a diesel car exhaust and three cigarettes combustion (smokers will know you can smoke three cigarettes in less than 30 minutes).

The results were astonishing, PM2.5 levels were 10 times greater in cigarettes than in the diesel car. This study raised the concerns of the real involvement that tobacco has in the air pollution issue, and is now considered a major source of air pollution responsible of environmental impact worldwide.

Smoking health risks

There are several short term and long term effects of smoking, and as you can imagine these are not beneficial, but dangerous effects. Overall, smoking has been one of greatest health hazards among humans, killing millions of people every year worldwide.

Non smokers can also suffer from these effects if they are exposed through passive smoking. In other word, breathing second hand smoke from smokers around them.

The most common disease associated to smoking is lung cancer, but this type of critical disease can be developed in multiple body parts:

  • Mouth
  • Lips
  • Throat
  • Voice box (larynx)
  • Oesophagus (the tube between the mouth and stomach)
  • Bladder
  • Kidney
  • Liver
  • Stomach
  • Pancreas

Smoking also damages your heart and your blood circulation, increasing your risk of developing conditions such as:

  • Coronary heart disease
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Peripheral vascular disease (damaged blood vessels)
  • Cerebrovascular disease (damaged arteries that supply blood to the brain)

How to quit smoking?

If you are willing to take action on this addiction, we recommend you to start writing the routines you have associated to smoking, an try to substitute these routines for other activities. For example, if you smoke after lunch, maybe you should wash your dishes, get a nap, watch the news or read a bit.

If you are looking for additional help, you will find several books on how to stop smoking in Amazon. These are just helpful if you follow the advice strictly. You can find also several apps that can help you on this issue.

There are several benefits of quitting smoking, but the most important one is that you will never harm your health and the health from the people you love.

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Anthropogenic causes of air pollution: Mining Operations

Mining operations definition

Mining is the industry or activity of removing substances such as coal or metal from the ground by digging. Even though it may not seem very common on first world countries, material extraction is a very common activity, and you can find it almost everywhere.

Mining operations include the extraction of minerals and metals such as copper, tin, nickel, bauxite (aluminum ore), iron ore, gold, silver, and diamonds from Earth’s surface as raw materials for the manufacture of other products and commodities.  

Types of mining operations

These types of activities are one of the main causes of air pollution and we will discuss it on this post. However, mining operations also create huge impact on the land and the environment, destroying wildlife, ecosystems, landscapes and polluting water.

You should not confuse mining activities with cryptocurrency mining, which is a very different concept taking place in cryptocurrencies like bitcoin or ethereum. Instead, check out the following mining types, mining pollution, and working conditions.

Surface mining

Surface mining, as the name itself indicates, is when the ore is accessed directly from the Earth’s surface, and contact is maintained with the surface throughout the operation. In other words, you don’t need to dig a tunnel to find the ore you look for.

There are several methods used nowadays for surface mining, but the following are the most used in 2018: open-pit mining (also known as open-cast mining), quarrying, strip mining, mountaintop removal and dredging.

Underground mining

Underground mining is also called subsurface mining. This type of mining happens when miners need to dig tunnels into the earth to extract the ore. In this type no processes take place in the earth surface.

As the previous type, you can find different methods used in 2018 of underground mining: room and pillar mining, cut and fill mining, sub-level open stopping, shrinkage stopping, long-wall mining, block caving and sub-level caving.

Mining air pollution

In the mining process a lot of activities are involved: drilling, blasting, hauling, collection, and transportation. Some mining methods may have significant environmental impact and public health effects during these activities, as miners have a huge and constant exposure to several air pollutants.

Air pollution from coal mines is particularly harmful due to emissions of particulate matter and gases, including methane (CH4), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and oxides of nitrogen (NOx), and carbon monoxide (CO).

Nonetheless, miners are not the only ones affected, nearby population and wildlife can also suffer diseases from this risky activity. The two most dangerous particles to exhale during this activity are coal dust and silica dust.

In particularly, silica, or often referred to as quartz, is a very common material to be found in many construction materials. The dust created by cutting, grinding, drilling or disturbing these materials can contain crystalline silica particles. These tiny invisible materials can penetrate deeply into lungs and have the ability to cut.

Mining risks and health problems

Miners contend with many daily health dangers from working around dust, heavy metals, hazardous gases, fumes and loud noises. Air quality in the chambers is very dangerous, and nowadays is mandatory to wear a dust mask even if you are around the mining area.

For many years until 2001, mining was considered the most dangerous industry for workers. During the recent years many policies have installed a culture of prevention in the mining sector, and number of deads have significantly dropped.

Still, miners’ chances of dying from explosions, cave-ins and equipment accidents are ever-present, and many chronic and fatal conditions are linked to their toxic work conditions. Even many years after they quit, lungs’ diseases appear due to the highly exposure for a lifetime career.

According to various governmental agencies the more dangerous health risks miners are exposed are the following:

  • Dust
  • Radon
  • Welding fumes
  • Mercury
  • Noise
  • Back injuries due to heavy loads
  • Whole body vibration (WBV)
  • UV exposure
  • Musculoskeletal disorders
  • Thermal stress
  • Chemical hazard

Two harmful diseases predominate due to the constant and highly exposure to dust:

Pneumoconiosis or black lung disease

This is due to long term inhalation of large concentrations of coal dust or silica dust. The settling and accumulation of these fine dust particles causes the scarring of the tissue between the air sacs, which eventually result in the inflammation and hardening of the lungs.

Silicosis

It is a consequence of the inhalation of large concentrations of silica dust, which results in the inflammation and buildup of fluid in the lungs, and shortness of breath. In the long run, chronic silicosis may also result in the development of lymph nodes in the chest and even death.

Gold, silver and coal mining jobs

Truth is that all these risks are accompanied with salary rewards, and miners have pretty good salaries.

If you read this post and you are still willing to take a job on the mining sector, check indeed to look out for jobs and companies within your area.

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Anthropogenic causes of air pollution: Indoor Air Pollution

Although indoor air pollution may seem a type of air pollution and not a cause for it, this post is to summarize the different activities indoors that cause air pollution.

Indoor pollution is a real issue, and it can be 5 times worse than outdoors pollution in some cases. Due to people are obviously not willing to wear pollution respirators at home, air purifiers were born many years ago to eradicate pollutants indoors.

Indoor air pollution emissions in developing countries can become a big problem for people, as coal and biomass are usually burnt to produce energy. Furthermore, lack of regulations contributes to aggravate the situation.

Causes of Indoor Air Pollution

Air pollution inside buildings is accelerated by the toxicity of some materials, the poor ventilation, temperatures and humidity. Depending on the pollutant, indoor air pollutants can be classified in different types. Here are some of its most common causes and sources:

Asbestos

Asbestos is the name of a group of minerals with long, thin fibers that makes them easy to inhale, and some may become lodged in the lungs.

Asbestos are related to many lungs’ diseases and were banished in countries like the U.S.. They were (and in some places are) used in coatings, paints, building materials, and ceiling and floor tiles.

Formaldehyde

This chemical compound is another leading cause of indoor air pollution. Used in paints, sealants, and wood floors, it was banished as well in many countries for its harmful consequences to humans health.

Radon

Radon comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock, and water; and is the leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S.. It is very hard to find radon outdoors, but it is a very common pollutant indoors, in the water and the air.

If you wish to test the levels of radon at home, notice it is a very inexpensive method. You can buy a test kit at most hardware stores or hire someone to do a test for you.

Tobacco smoke

Tobacco’s dangers are maximized indoors, due to the poor ventilation, and that is why bars and restaurants banished this activity indoors. You can refer to our post on tobacco smoke to know the fatal consequences of this air pollution cause.

Carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide

Objects such as wood stoves, space heaters, water heaters and fireplaces, all put out carbon monoxide (CO) as well as nitrogen dioxide (NO2). There are usually air outtakes to bring these pollutants outside, but it always isn’t a 100% secure method, some of these pollutants stay in and we usually breath them.

Chemical VOCs

Synthetic volatile organic compounds and a variety of PM2.5 particles are released when using products for household cleaning, maintenance and personal care. These are extremely harmful for humans so it is recommended to air out the house and use some kind of respirator when using them.

Outside pollutants

Outdoors pollutants come inside when we open windows or doors to air out the house. Mildew, mold, bacteria, dust mites, dust, particles, ozone and pollen, for example.

Ways to improve indoor air quality

In this section you can find some easy and practical ways to improve the air quality at home and prevent possible future problems. Additionally, if you are willing to invest some money, air purifiers are a good option to maintain the air purified.

Home anti-smoking zone

Especially if kids live at home, your house should not be a place for smokers. The less smoke that is emitted into the air the less chances of one of the listed health effects happening to someone that you love.

Environmentally friendly cleaning products

This might be a very boring homework to do, but the good news are once it is done, it is done forever. Check out some house cleaning products brands which contain no pollutant or harmful substances. These brands might be slightly expensive, but they are not compared to healing a lung cancer.

The cheap way would be buying a pollution mask, but still your beloved ones can be breathing harmful substances.

Asbestos check

If you have a house that was built prior to the ban of asbestos, it is important to make sure there is none still lingering within home. And obviously it is a check that you should do before buying any house.

Stop using gas stoves

This type of stoves, as already mentioned, produce a large variety and quantity of air pollutants that are very harmful. Fifty years ago were the only option if you wanted to warm your house, but currently a lot of Eco-friendly options exist.

Prevent shoes dirt

Shoes are a big source of dust and dirt that when they are dried and shacked release air pollutants. Thus, any method to prevent this dirt to enter home will be a great success against air pollutionMoreover, keeping your shoes clean will make you look good.

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Anthropogenic causes of air pollution: Fossil Fuels Combustion

A major cause of air pollution in the world are humans burning of fossil fuels like petroleum or coal continuously, causing tremendous air pollution emissions to the atmosphere.  Moreover, our current ways of transportation are far from Eco-friendly, and even thought companies like Tesla look like they are going to instantly change the world, the electric market is responding quite slowly.

What are fossil fuels?

Any material containing hydrocarbon, naturally made and used to release energy is considered a fossil fuel. Fossil fuels are mainly used for heat energy, work and machine operations. Nevertheless, they are not only used in those particular situations, as fossil fuels are present in our daily routine. For example, every time you turn the lights on, you probably use electricity produced by burning fossil fuels.

Fossil fuels are biologically produced, but how are these exactly formed? Fossil fuels are the accumulated remains of living organisms buried millions of years ago that suffer a transformation process by anaerobic decomposition, high heat and high pressure due to the accumulation of layers of rocks, sand and mud.

Types of fossil fuels

Traditionally, fossil fuels have been divided into 3 types depending on their composition and origin: coal, natural gas and petroleum (also known as crude oil). However, since the mid-1980s orimulsion has been recognized as the fourth fossil fuel, a substance derived from the bitumen formed in the Orinoco oil belt in Venezuela.

Fossil fuels advantages and disadvantages

A lot problems may come to your mind when thinking about fossil fuels. However, as the major source of energy nowadays, it has been imposed because of the advantages it had over the competition. In this section you will find all the pros and cons of fossil fuels:

Fossil fuels advantages

  1. The energy produced by fossil fuels is greater than the one produced by an equivalent amount of other energy resource. It is the source with higher calorific value.
  2. Fossil fuels are a technology that is globally developed. It is not about energy or transportation, many products sold nowadays were developed thanks to fossil fuels, for example computers. Just about everything we do in life right now is tied, one way or another, to the consumption of a fossil fuel.
  3. Fossil fuels are both cheap and reliable. Fossil fuels like coal are way more inexpensive on energy production than any other source.
  4. Fossil fuels have become safer over time. For example, coal emissions can now be captured, condensed and released into a safer way through water.
  5. Available technology makes the research of fossil fuels pretty simple.
  6. Transport of fossil fuels is very easy, it is usually done through pipes.
  7. Huge advance were made on the construction and safety of power plants, so nowadays these are very easy to build up. However, nuclear energy is still very dangerous.
  8. Fossil fuels are easier to extract and process, hence are cheaper than the non-conventional forms of energy.

Fossil fuels disadvantages

  1. Fossil fuels are a finite resource and the alarming rate at which fossil fuels are being consumed has resulted in substantial depletion of their reservoirs. Besides, it takes millions of years and specific conditions to replace a fossil fuel.
  2. The hydrocarbons present in the fossil fuels, release greenhouse gases, such as methane, carbon dioxide etc., which are capable of damaging the ozone layer and polluting the environment.
  3. Fossil fuels are often cheap because of subsidies. Many governments tend to subsidize the price of fossil fuels instead of letting the free market govern, thus making prices more affordable for consumers.
  4. Other harmful gases emissions derived from fossil fuels processing, such as carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide, are responsible for acid rain, which has spelled disaster for the ecology.
  5. Fossil fuels can damage the environment through human error. Fossil fuels can also spill during transport, creating environmental damage as the product spills out. This is particularly problematic for petroleum products.
  6. Extraction of fossil fuels has endangered the environmental balance in some areas. Moreover, coal mining has jeopardized the lives of several mine workers.
  7. The depletion of reservoirs has made the extraction of fossil fuels an expensive affair. This is likely to affect the fuel prices in near future.
  8. Fossil fuels have directly and indirectly contributed to global warming, the issue that is being combated all over the world.

At the end, moral cases and debates on fossil fuels have been widely spread worldwide. If there is a thing that we all could agree is that this debates are predominated by a posterior lack of action.

Burning of fossil fuels in power plants

Power plants burn a massive amount of fossil fuels such as natural gas, coal and petroleum to produce electricity. As a result of these massive activities, they are one of the major causes of air pollution. Furthermore, these are all non-renewable resources and supply will ultimately be exhausted.

Numbers never lie, and in 2018 non-renewable energy is still the 80% of the total energy production in the world. Although some efforts have been on the regulation of these activities, in practice electricity is a basic need and most of them are ignored or covert actions.

Exhaust from vehicles

Pollution from automobiles is clearly visible in almost every city of the world. The vast majority of vehicles run on fossil fuels like gasoline that emit soot and harmful gases, generating primary and secondary pollutants on urban areas. On average, private transportation accounts for about 10 percent of your carbon footprint.

When we think about exhaust from vehicles cars come to mind, but we should take into account any mean of transport, including trucks, jeeps, cars, trains, airplanes, shipping vessels and others. We rely on them to fulfill our daily basic needs of transportation, but these vehicles are passively killing living organisms and the environment.

Air pollution from fossils fuels combustion

A variety of primary and secondary pollutants are emitted due to these activities: airborne particles, sulfur dioxide (SO2), carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), hydrocarbons, organic compounds, chemicals, nitrogen oxides (NOx) and others.

Fossil fuel emissions contain the major greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, methane (CH4), nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases. Therefore, air pollution of these activities is not only a menace for the air quality in cities, but also a big threat to the global warming and the environment.