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Temperature increase, pollution growth and multiplication of health hazards

In summer, temperatures are not the only ones that rise, but the levels of air pollution accompany them. At this moment, after the complaint of the European Commission for the violation of the air quality directive, it is important to reflect on this problem that affects us all, take measures to protect ourselves and provide “our grain of sand” to contribute to the improvement of the situation.

Why air pollution gets worse in summer?

These last weeks there has been much talk about the air quality of Madrid, Barcelona and the Vallès-Baix Llobregat area and the measures implemented from Europe in order to get our attention and look for options to improve the situation.

It has been commented that the European Commission’s complaint coincides with the decision of the mayor of Madrid to reverse the low emission zone of “Madrid Central”, but it can also really be closely related to summer and rising temperatures.

Only in this month of July:

  • Barcelona has published 4 preventive warnings of environmental pollution episodes, suffering 1 of the 2 that have occurred over this year.
  • Madrid has suffered the only 2 episodes of ozone pollution throughout 2019.

Do you think that’s coincidence? Well, the rise in temperatures is most often accompanied by increased levels of pollution by tropospheric ozone, also known as “bad ozone“.

This is mainly due to the so-called precursor gases: volatile organic compounds (VOCs), sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). These pollutant gases produced by the wide variety of emissions we make daily to the atmosphere, react with the sun and temperature to generate smog and airborne particles. As you have already deduced, these photochemical reactions occur more easily in summer, thus causing the typical “gray cloud” that can be observed over certain territories on days with intermediate levels of contamination.

How to protect yourself and how to solve the problem?

Air pollution affects us all, but especially the so-called sensitive groups: children, elderly, people with respiratory problems or pregnant women. It causes a wide variety of discomforts and/or diseases, from a simple irritation of the eyes and nose to asthma, reproductive problems or heart attacks, among many others.

Knowing this, ask yourself if you really want the people you love and you to continue “playing heads or tails” with atmospheric pollution. Some recommendations to protect you are:

  • On days with pollution episodes avoid going outside and opening the windows of the house, since air pollution does not occur only outside.
    • If you want to make sure that the air you breathe at home is free of contaminants, you can always buy an air purifier.
  • Avoid the streets with more traffic as it’s where you usually find the highest levels of pollution.
  • Wear a mask to protect against pollution on days of environmental events or if you are usually very close to the emitting sources of particles and polluting gases, such as a biker in a traffic jam.
  • Avoid doing outdoor sports in cities, and if you try to practice it in quiet areas or as close to nature as possible.

Although, it is of no use to protect yourself and don’t act to solve the problem, if not it would get even bigger and we will reach a point where all protection won’t be enough. Right now, it is in our hands to provide the grain of sand to find a solution, in actions such as:

  • Change driving habits:
    • Drive less to reduce emissions.
    • Carry out maintenance of the car so that it works correctly.
    • Fill with fuel in cold temperatures.
    • Buy a hybrid or electric vehicle.
  • Change in consumption habits:
    • Avoid products with high VOC content, not only for the prevention of smog, but also to have a good indoor air quality.
    • Avoid using garden equipment that runs on gas.
    • Buy local products to reduce transport emissions.
    • Be energy efficient at home.
  • Take sides:
    • Do not support organizations that have bad environmental practices.
    • Promote this way of thinking and what is being done to solve the problem, with family and close friends or even in social networks.
    • Get in touch with local politicians and business leaders.

Discover how to protect yourself!

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Plastic Oceans

Plastics in the sea

Greenpeace estimates that 30 million cans and plastic bottles are abandoned every day just in Spain. Only with this data we already have a notion of the magnitude of the problem that today’s society must face. In this post we will analyze it and see how we can help to recover the oceans while protecting ourselves from air pollution.

The human being is (badly) accustomed to consuming an indecent amount of plastics, and the companies that decide to wrap everything in plastic are the first culprits. Does anyone believe that many of these companies are responsible for their actions?

Well, many of these plastics end up in the hands of consumers, and only part of them recycle. In fact, according to Greenpeace, only 9% of plastics are recycled, 12% are incinerated and the remaining 79% ends up in landfills or in the environment!

The management of plastics is very bad worldwide, and it hurts to know that although we recycle at home, those same plastics may end up at sea. Dishes, glasses, bottles, bags and others harm the environment both in its manufacture and in its subsequent management. Unfortunately, there are many images of animals damaged or even killed due to plastic waste.

A common mistake would be to think that these plastics remain on the surface. The reality is that only 15% of plastics do so, and that plastics have been found at 10,000 meters deep.

We hope that these figures scare you, it is our main objective, since there are even some phenomena called plastic “soups”: five macro-concentrations of plastic in the seas of the world. Spooky!

How do we end this nightmare?

We are sorry but recycling is not the solution, neither it is recycled correctly nor the companies in charge make a good management of recycled waste. In fact, what is done to avoid responsibilities is to take it to another country so they will have to deal with the problem. Malaysia recently returned 3,000 tons of plastic to its countries of origin, including Spain.

To stop this circle, consumers have to stand up and take measures to show companies that plastics can be decisive when not buying a product. Here are some lines of action that you can put into practice in your day to day:

  • Use biodegradable products (for example bags), since these degrade completely between 90 and 120 days, and instead the plastics do between 400 and 1,400 years.
  • Use and order in restaurants and bars steel or glass bottles, as these can be reused.
  • Never order drinking straws, since most end up at sea.
  • When shopping, take home bags. Now, recyclables are very fashionable.
  • Avoid cosmetic products that contain plastic microspheres, since they end up in the drain, then at sea, later they are fish food and finally we eat them ourselves.
  • Sign up for plastic pickups on the beaches. Whatever city you are, surely there is an organization or group of people organizing events or volunteers of this type in the area.
  • At the supermarket, take fruits and vegetables without bags, sticking the sticker on them directly.

The relation with air pollution

Although both types of pollution affect us directly or indirectly, who is the most affected is the planet. But, how much are they related to each other?

Both, the production processes of these plastics and the burning of that 12% of their waste contribute to air pollution. It is estimated that this 2019 the plastic generates greenhouse gases in the equivalent of 850 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2).

AirGO committed to the oceans

The AirGO team is not only people committed to air pollution, one of our main objectives is to fulfill our corporate social responsibility, with the environment and the planet earth in general. Our greatest desire is to leave a cleaner and better world for those who come behind!

According to the newspaper El Mundo, “1 kg of plastic is fished for every 5 kg of fish. If no measures are taken by 2030, the ratio will be one to one”.

Many of these fishermen are already part of the SEAQUAL Friends project, which through collaboration between agents manages to take advantage of all this plastic waste trapped in the fishermen’s nets so that they can be treated and converted into other products. In our case, recycled plastic is used to make high quality polyester yarn with which the magnificent fabric we use is produced.

That is why we are pleased to announce that by buying one of our Brisa masks you will be helping to clean our oceans. Currently this model is the only one made with recycled plastic of the seabed, and although it is difficult to imagine the fabric that results is very pleasant to the touch.

We hope in the near future to be able to offer a greater range of products manufactured with this fabric technology, in addition to committing to the minimization of emissions and the use of more sustainable materials in the other elements of the product.

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Barcelona’s Cycling Fest

The bicycle as a daily mean of transport in the city of Barcelona

Barcelona City Council has been taking measures to reduce pollution emissions within the city, for example the creation of new and better bike lanes. According to the Urban Mobility Plan started in 2013, bicycles have the highest priority right after pedestrians. Thanks to these measures, right now 95% of the Barcelona population has at least one bike lane less than 300 meters from their homes.

Urban cyclists are usually committed to the environment and want to keep physical activity in their commutes, but unfortunately this group does not represent the majority. Every day we are all exposed to a large amount of air pollutants, which we inhale unconsciously. Moreover, urban cyclists do sport nearby highly transited roads, which is even more dangerous.

For this reason, the main theme for this edition of La Fiesta de la Bicicleta 2019 has been air pollution and sustainable mobility.

La Fiesta de la Bici (“The Bike Party”)

Last Sunday March 24 took place in Barcelona one of the most popular events among cyclists in this city. More than 6,000 cyclists traveled 11 kilometers across a Barcelona without cars, doubling last year’s attendants.

The bike ride ended at the Arc de Triomf, where different brands and entities waited for them in stands to show their latest products and news. In addition, there was a series of programmed activities to enjoy the morning in good company.

For example, there were circuits to try new models of bicycles and electric bicycles, an informative workshop on the quality of the air and our health, raffle of gifts and the realization of a giant mosaic of a bicycle, among many others.

AirGO and its association with Decathlon

As it is totally logic, Decathlon had to be there as it’s one of the greatest in the sports sector and even more in the cycling industry. AirGO is the greatest innovation within Decathlon Barcelona so we were invited to share their space and promote our products among one of the groups that uses most pollution masks to protect themselves.

Hundreds of people had the opportunity to try an AirGO for the first time, to check in first-hand the advantages against those masks and to learn more about the product and the air pollution. Thanks to all these people we were able to perceive certain problems or doubts that mask users suffered and that we could solve:

  • Danai, a patient of multiple chemical sensitivity is forced to wear a mask all the time, something that has caused her problems in some situations because it draws too much attention. He loved AirGO because he could protect herself while “camouflaging” that showy mask inside a neck warmer.
  • Jaume was very interested in the flexibility and comfort of an AirGO, since it does not have rigid elements such as velcro or anti-fog valves.
  • Finally, Raquel came asking about the filtration and she could discover in scoop the new GOFilter, that besides ensuring the retention of particles with nanofiber technology and electrostatic charge, it also prevents the penetration of any gas other than oxygen or nitrogen thanks to its activated carbon layer.

Danai, Jaume and Raquel are just some of the most significant examples, but like them, many people had found themselves in a similar situation. Therefore, if you have any questions do not hesitate to send us an email to [email protected].

Cyclists and their high vulnerability to air pollution

There are 2 main reasons why an urban cyclist will always be more exposed to air pollution than any other group (excluding those with respiratory problems):

  • When working out, the rate of ventilation increases due to physical effort, which causes also an increase in the quantity of air breathed and, as a consequence, of the pollutants found in it. Only with this cyclists can breathe between 2 and 3 times more pollutants than pedestrians.
  • The bicycle lanes in big cities are usually found next to the asphalt where all the vehicles contributing to air pollution circulate. Being that close and in constant contact with one of the main sources of pollutants puts cyclists at higher risk.
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The mountain, a place to feel free

Let’s meet Juan Carlos

Juan Carlos, a great sports and mountain lover, changed his job as a masseur to a sports products salesman for different dealers. He began to share his experiences on his Instagram @juancarloscrazysport, social network where he currently accounts has than 20 thousand followers, since he saw that his lifestyle and passion for sports could transmit something of value to the many people who watch the mobile daily.

Some brands did not take long to contact him to promote their products, and it turned out that he was not bad at all. Juan Carlos knew that if instead of doing it through a screen he could do it face to face he would achieve even greater success, so he decided to engage himself completely to the sale of those products he was using. This has allowed him to be able to perfectly combine the two pillars of his life after the family, which are sports and work.

After many kilometers traveled and huge peaks crowned, he can be considered a great expert in the sector, which allows him to personally test and evaluate the products he sells and gives guarantees of its good quality.

The mountain and him

Used to sleep an average of 4 hours, often begins his first workout of the day at 5 or 6 in the morning. Many people may think that’s a strong willpower, but he does not see it that way, since he does not have trouble doing it, but to be in the mountain as long as possible. “In the mountains I feel free, since I put my foot on it and do whatever I do, whether it’s climbing, running, walking …” comments Juan Carlos.

Although he practiced many years triathlon and athletics, his life has ended completely connected with nature since he considers much more rewarding to look at the landscape than to look at the chrono.

Still, we can not forget the challenges that sometimes the mountain can put on your way, some quite dangerous, but in the end make you live experiences like the following.

The Aneto’s summit and a storm

Together with a friend they managed to crown the Aneto without much trouble, but as soon as they reached the top a great storm suddenly appeared. Both were forced to take shelter as they could and ended up holding each other to avoid dying of hypothermia. When the storm loosened a bit they could go down as quickly as possible and leave it behind, leaving this great memory and example of companionship.

The Ultra Trail Aneto

Juan Carlos decided to participate in the Ultra Trail Aneto despite having its knee injured. Passing through the Collado Salenques (at 2,900 meters) he suffered hypothermia at twelve-thirty at night and as he continued to move as he could, even thinking: “What am I doing here?”

Despite the difficulties he managed to reach a checkpoint, where despite being vegan he ended up drinking a hot chicken broth that the organization offered him to be able to warm up.

Unfortunately he could not finish the race because the injury ended up coming to light and with a tendinitis in the kneecap he was forced to leave at kilometer 50. Experiences like this make you not forget the dangers that there are in the mountain, although these are part of its charm too.

What is his experience with AirGO?

One of these brands which it collaborates with is AirGO, since Juan Carlos, being accustomed to the pure air he breathes in nature, he notices the change a lot when travelling around cities on a motorcycle or walking. In this way he uses different models according to whether he prefers to take shelter in the mountains or if he wants to protect himself from pollution in urban environments.

What most attracts the attention of the product is the filter and how fine it is, thus guaranteeing a great comfort, especially with the full face helmet. In addition, he noted that thanks to the filter the tubular takes much longer to get wet due to the contact of the mouth with the fabric. This prevents your lips from freezing as it usually does when this happens.

Finally, one of the advantages offered by AirGO in terms of comfort are the different sizes of each model. Being able to choose a size that adapts perfectly to the dimensions of your head allows you to put it in an optimal position and that you do not have to raise it much in the back to keep it where you want.

For us, experiences and opinions like those of Juan Carlos motivate us to continue creating and improving products so that everyone can enjoy an air as pure as you can breathe in the mountains, or elsewhere.

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Travelling around Bolivia with Marc

¿Who is Marc?

Marc is a lawyer from Tarragona and a loyal AirGO user thanks to his own experiences with the product.

Taking into account the petrochemical complex in the area It is surprising that this kind of products weren’t available around the area until AirGO was founded. Although Marc didn’t just use his AirGO Frío Polar during his rides to work, he brought it to a trip to test its performance in extremely low temperatures.

People imagine their ideal holidays as opportunities to disconnect from their own world in a paradisiacal beach doing absolutely nothing. The farther from home, the better. However, Marc isn’t this kind of person, during his vacations he enjoys having survival challenges while discovering and walking up some of the most virgin places on our planet.

His last Trip

The journey began in Uyuni (Bolivia), a city of 20,000 inhabitants and an average altitude of 3,660 meters. Once He had all He needed, a long way of 380 kilometers riding a bicycle to Laguna Verde (Bolivia, near the borders with Chile and Argentina) was waiting for him.

During this first 10 days of trip, He was pedaling at highs between 3.500 and 4.500 metres and extreme temperatures that reached -20,0ºC. The reward? He passed through some of the more unique landscapes of our planet: Salar de Uyuni, Laguna Colorada, Laguna Hedionda and the already mentioned Laguna Verde. Just look at the images he sent us.

During our conversation with Marc we discovered that if you have the physical preparation to handle a challenge like this, taking the chance with the aim to disconnect is totally worth it. “Once you are there you only think about your basic needs: eat, find a warm place to sleep and try not to get injured or sick”. All his modern society problems disappear immediately. You realize that wanting the new Iphone, eat sushi or post the best photo for Instagram are not real problems and will get just get you short term happiness.

After cycling 380 kilometres in 10 days, Marc still had 12 days of holidays, so he decided to climb not one, not two, but three mountains. The Pequeño Alpamayo (small as 5.700 metres high), the Huayna Potosí (6.080 metres) and the Nevado Panicota (6.300 metres).

His experience with AirGO

In this kind of trips he must bring several changes of outerwear, such as several gloves and neck warmers. Marc pointed out the performance of AirGO Frío Polar as one of the best neck warmers he has ever had, fully protecting him from cold and wind and creating a microclimate in his neck with his own breath, which is key in this kind of situations.

Moreover, wearing a pollution filter not just prevented him from inhaling bad air in cities, but inhaling dust from the mountain environment. “AirGO is not only ideal for urban mobility with motorbikes and bicycles. During the holidays I discovered that it is also an ideal neck warmer for mountaineers, athletes and runners”.

Marc’s experience is great learning for the AirGO team as manufacturers, but also to know new realities where our users might need protection. It is a great honor to meet and see pictures of users like Marc, and we will keep pursuing our dreams: protect the world’s populations from bad air in comfortable and stylish way.

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Air pollutants: Volatile Organic Compounds

What are volatile organic compounds?

Volatile organic compounds, also known as VOCs, are organic chemical compounds with a high volatility under normal atmospheric temperature and pressure conditions. In other words, these organic compounds evaporate or sublimate easily at ordinary room temperature from materials and even organisms at low boiling points (according to experts definition, less than or equal to 250°C).

Any compound of carbon participating in atmospheric photochemical reactions is considered a VOC, excluding carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, carbonic acid, metallic carbides (or carbonates) and ammonium carbonate.

Volatile organic compounds list

VOCs are numerous, varied and ubiquitous, both human-made and naturally occurring. For instance, most commonly found VOCs are:

  • Acetone CH3(CO)CH3
  • Benzene C6H6
  • Ethylene glycol C2H6O2
  • Formaldehyde CH2O
  • Methylene chloride CH2Cl2
  • Perchloroethylene C2Cl4
  • Toluene C7H8
  • Xylene C8H10
  • Trichloroethylene C2HCl3

VOCs classification

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), volatile organic compounds are categorized in the following:

  • Very volatile organic compounds (VVOCs): with a boiling point range from 0 to 50-100°C. Some examples are propane, butane or methyl chloride.
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs): having boiling points between 50-100 and 240-260°C. Examples of VOCs are toluene, ethanol, acetone or hexanal.
  • Semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs): boiling point from 240-260 to 380-400°C, the most typical compounds are pesticides or fire retardants.  

Volatile organic compounds sources

VOCs can be generated both biologically and anthropogenically. While anthropogenic sources emit about 142 teragrams of carbon per year as VOCs, biological sources produce about 1150 teragrams.

Plants are major producers of volatile organic compounds, but the emissions depend on some factors, such as sunlight (that determines biosynthesis rates) and temperature (that determines volatilization and growth). Plants eject all these emissions using their leaves, specifically the stomata.

We have many products at home that release or “off-gas” VOCs. Some examples of anthropogenic sources are: carpets, adhesives, composite wood products, paints, varnishes, air fresheners, cleaning and disinfecting chemicals, newspapers, non-electric space heaters, photocopiers, smoking, cosmetics, refrigerants, pesticides, gasoline or exhaust from cars, among many others.

VOCs in paint

Paints and protective coating are human-made major sources of VOCs, a disturbing fact giving that over 12 billion litres of paints are produced every year.

Currently, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has constrained VOC content on paints at 250 grams per liter for flat coatings and 380 g/l for other coatings (such as low-luster or semi gloss). However, some states have adopted toughest measures, for instance California, with a limit of 50 g/l for all finishes.

vocs in paint

However, how long do VOCs last after painting? It depends on several factors: if these are outdoors or indoors, temperature, paint’s concentration of VOC content, house airflow, volume of the room or space, etc. For these reasons, measurement methods for VOCs indoors are not accurate and have led to several misunderstanding and criticism, as not everybody knows you need an expert to properly analyze it.

Since it is difficult to know the real exposure of VOCs, it is recommended using no or low VOC paints. To be considered VOC-free (or zero-VOC), it cannot contain more than 5 g/l of VOCs. These eco paints are the best solutions to prevent air pollution from VOCs.

VOCs health and environmental effects

VOCs are also well-known carcinogens since these are found 2 to 5 times more indoors than outdoors, especially man-made VOCs that are the origin for some allergies and respiratory problems. Volatile organic compounds main health effects are:

  • Eye, nose and throat irritation
  • Headaches, loss of coordination and nauseas
  • Damage the liver, kidneys and the central nervous system.
  • Some organics can cause cancer in animals and some others are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans.

nose irritation

Since the inhalation of VOCs usually takes place indoors, short-term exposure can quickly drive to symptoms like conjunctival irritation, nose and throat discomfort, headache, allergic skin reaction, dyspnea, declines in serum cholinesterase levels, nausea, vomiting, nose bleeding, fatigue and dizziness.

VOCs are not considered criteria pollutants by themselves, but are an important part of Ozone’s creation, both tropospheric and ground-level. For this reason, these are not considered  criteria pollutants, as VOCs have not a direct impact on the environment.

However, VOCs indirectly produce smog by reactions between ozone (created by the combination with NOx, heat and sunlight) and other compounds, which can really damage the environment and threat humans lives.

What can you do to protect yourself?

Volatile organic compounds can be detected using VOC sensors. These electronic devices identify ppm concentrations based on interactions between the organic compounds and the sensor components. However, the sensitivity and selectivity of the device depends on the molecular structure of the VOC and its concentration.

air purifier

Other methods to protect yourself are devices such as air purifiers for VOCs. Moreover, to protect yourself from VOCs you can make changes in your alimentation routines, like organic gardening food and starting to eat healthy grown vegetables and fruits without usage of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, etc.

Discover how to protect yourself!

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Air pollutants: Sulfur Dioxide

What is sulfur dioxide?

Sulfur dioxide (sulphur dioxide in British English) is the greatest concern for the larger group of gaseous sulfur oxides (SOx). All standards and control measures for SO2 include all sulfur oxides, as sulfur dioxide is used as the indicator due to it has a major presence in the air.

Its chemical formula is SO2, it is invisible and has a nasty, pungent, irritating and sharp smell. Sulfur dioxide easily reacts with other substances to form harmful compounds, such as sulfuric acid, sulfurous acid and sulfate particles.

Sulfur dioxide is used in a big variety of situations, for example:

  • To produce acid sulfuric, through a method called contact process.
  • To preserve dried apricots, figs or other fruits.
  • Used as an antibiotic and antioxidant in winemaking.
  • To decolorize substances like swimming pool water, where the blue color of chlorine is removed.

Despite it is a toxic gas, sulfur dioxide is used in many more situations and it has a huge presence in our daily lives.

Sulfur dioxide sources

About 99% of sulfur dioxide emissions are produced by industrial activities, such as generation of electricity from coal, oil or gas. It is also produced in the burning of fossil fuels on industrial facilities, by the extraction of metal from ore or by vehicles such as cars, ships or locomotives that burn fuel.

Naturally, SO2 is formed by volcanic eruptions in active volcanoes. However, it is interesting to know there is a high presence of SO2 emissions on Venus, Mars and Jupiter, being one of the most significant gases in those atmospheres.

volcanic emissions

What are the health and environmental effects of sulfur dioxide pollution?

Sulfur dioxide, as well as the others sulfur oxides, have huge impact on the environment and dangerously affect humans, both quite similarly to what other criteria pollutants do.

How SO2 can affect humans health?

Sulfur dioxide is such a toxic gas that you can feel the firsts symptoms just 10 to 15 minutes after breathing it. Short-term exposure causes problems to the respiratory system, such as breathing difficulties, nose and throat irritating, coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.

Sensitive groups such as elderly, children or asthmatics will notice strongest symptoms and effects. They are also more susceptible to develop diseases, in case they do not have them yet.

High concentrations of SO2 in the atmosphere commonly create other SOx, which react at the same time with other compounds to form small air pollution particles (PM). As a result, long-term exposure can seriously damage your lungs since particulate matter can penetrate deeply into our organisms.  

Since one of its uses is to preserve food, bad production process could provoke poisoning due to sulfur dioxide ingestion. Be careful when you buy it!

Which is sulfur dioxide pollution impact on environment?

This series of events and reactions from sulfur dioxide and other sulfur oxides to create particulate matter may drive to reduce the visibility in open spaces and produce haze. The deposition of these particles may damage stones, buildings, statues and monuments.

High concentrations of SOx can be harmful for vegetation foliage and growth, and can contribute to acid rain formation, which causes several issues on sensitive ecosystems.

plants problems because sulfur dioxide emissions

What is being done to reduce sulfur dioxide pollution?

Over the years, developed countries have reached some agreements to control pollution. Each country or state has its own implementation plan. For example, the Clean Air Act made by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) establishes National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for those criteria pollutants considered most harmful for health and the environment. Another example is the European Union Air Quality Directive by the European Environmental Agency, which also establishes some standards and tips to reduce air pollution, both indoors and outdoors.

Sulfur dioxide, thanks to its high toxicity and danger for humans and environment, is considered both a primary and secondary criteria pollutant. Maximum permitted or recommended levels for SO2 are:

  • It has not World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines in the last edition.
  • NAAQS: 75 ppb per hour and 0.5 ppm (1,300 μg/m³) every 3 hours (which cannot be exceeded more than once per year).
  • EU Air Quality Directive: 250 μg/m³ each hour and 125 μg/m³ daily, what cannot be exceeded more than 24 and 3 times per year respectively.
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Air pollutants: Particulate Matter

What is particulate matter?

Particle pollution, also called particulate matter (PM), atmospheric aerosol particles or suspended particulate matter (SPM), is defined as microscopic solid (almost always) or liquid materials floating in the air.

Types of particulate matter

Those airborne particles can be divided in suspended particulate matter, thoracic particles, respirable particles, inhalable coarse particles and soot. Inhalable coarse particles can also be classified depending on their size as:

  • Coarse Particles (PM10): aerodynamic diameter from 2.5 to 10 micrometers (µm). To give you an idea, its size is like 1/5 part from a human hair or 1/9 part from a fine beach sand particulate.
  • Fine Particles (PM2.5): 2.5 µm or smaller. For example, it is as little as 1 part from 20 of a human hair, so it is obvious that these particulates can only be seen with an electron microscope.
  • Ultra fine particles (UFPs): less than 100 nanometres (nm). Since they are far smaller, there is no regulation for this size class, even though these are considered to have more severe health impact than the others.

Sources and composition of particulate matter

The composition of particles depends on its origin and formation. Aerosols can occur naturally or artificially.

Aerosols

Most common natural aerosols are pollen or fog, although other natural sources can be volcanoes, sand storms, forest and grassland fires, living vegetation and sea spray.

Human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels, different industrial activities and power plants contribute to produce a significant amount of artificial aerosols. Haze, dust, smoke are just some examples, but there are many more particulate air pollutants.

Since there is a wide range of aerosols’ compositions, here you have summarized some examples:

  • Mineral dust: made of mineral oxides blown from Earth’s crust.
  • Sea salt: originated from sea spray and composed by sodium chloride.
  • Sulfuric acid and nitric acid: generated in the oxidation of primary gases such as sulfur and nitrogen oxides.
  • Organic Matter (OM): deriving from the oxidation of VOCs.

What are the health and environmental effects of particle pollution?

Their capacity to penetrate deeply into your lungs makes particulate matter one of the criteria pollutants to control in order to protect humans’ wellness and health. The smaller the particle is, the more harmful it can be for the organism. This is why particulate matter have different degrees according to its penetration capability into the cardiovascular system:

  • Inhalable particles: can penetrate into the bronchi and are filtered by the cilia.
  • Thoracic particles: can reach easily the bronchioles.
  • Respirable particles: if thoracic particles can even pass throw the alveoli until the bloodstream, then are considered respirable particles.

respiratory diseases

All those particles have effects on humans health, damaging your lungs and your circulatory system. The most common long-term health effects caused by the inhalation of particulate matter are: asthma, lung cancer, reduced lung function, respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases, premature delivery and birth defects (such as low birth weight and premature death).

Exposure to fine particles in the short-term can cause coughing, sneezing, runny nose, shortness of breath and eye, nose, throat and lung irritation.

Huge concentrations of particles in the air can lead to haze creation or difficulties in the photosynthesis functions of plants. Furthermore, depending on their composition they can react with other compounds to create other harmful gases for the environment or and the people.

How is particulate matter air pollution controlled?

Over the years, developed countries have reached some agreements to control pollution. Each country or state has its own implementation plan. For example, the Clean Air Act made by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) establishes National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for those criteria pollutants considered most harmful for health and the environment. Another example is the European Union Air Quality Directive by the European Environmental Agency, which also establishes some standards and tips to reduce air pollution, both indoors and outdoors.

Both sizes of particulate matter, PM10 and PM2.5, are classified as a primary and secondary criteria pollutants since it can be extremely harmful for all living beings. Maximum permitted or recommended levels for PM are:

  • In PM2.5:
    • World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines: 25 μg/m³ per day (which cannot be exceeded more than 3 days/year) and 10 μg/m³ per year.
    • NAAQS: maximum concentration of 35 μg/m³ daily and annual mean of 12 μg/m³.
    • EU Air Quality Directive: only monitoring annual concentration, which cannot be higher than 25 μg/m³.
  • In PM10:
    • World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines: 50 μg/m³ per day (which cannot be exceeded more than 3 days/year) and 20 μg/m³ per year.
    • NAAQS: 150 μg/m³ and can only be exceeded more than once per year on average over 3 years.
    • EU Air Quality Directive: cannot exceed more than 35 times annually the concentration of 50 μg/m³ every 24 hours. There is also a maximum of 40 μg/m³ per year.
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Air pollutants: Ozone

What is Ozone?

The Ozone, also known as trioxygen, is a molecule composed of three atoms of oxygen (with the chemical formula O3). It is protecting us from UV radiation through the Ozone Shield (or also Ozone Layer).

However, if the ozone is found on surface-level, it can become a harmful gas that can cause serious health issues when inhaled in high concentrations. For this reason, Ozone (O3) is divided into “Good Ozone” (Ozone Shield) and  “Bad Ozone” (Ground-Level Ozone).

“Good” vs “Bad” Ozone

Good Ozone: The ozone layer

Good Ozone is created naturally in the upper atmosphere (at 20 km to 30 km above Earth), reason why it is called stratospheric ozone. It forms the well-known ozone layer, which serves as the Earth’s shield to protect us from solar ultraviolet radiation. Moreover, it is considered one of the primary greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the emissions of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere have substantially increased. These activities have partially destroyed this protection layer and leaded to the ozone layer depletion, commonly known as “the ozone hole”.

Bad Ozone: Ground-level ozone

Bad Ozone (also named ground-level ozone or tropospheric ozone) is a toxic gas composed of a combination of gases and sunlight. The ozone formation formula is: VOCs + NOx + Heat + Sunlight = O3.

It easily reacts with some hydrocarbons, being the main component for smog, which causes severe sickness or even death.

This ground-level ozone is considered a criteria air pollutant due to its toxicity to humans and the environment. In order to control it and protect population, several air pollution standards involving ozone have been established worldwide.  

Ozone does not only have effects on urban environments, as wind can make it travel long distances, affecting rural areas as well. Furthermore, Ozone can also be formed inside houses by electronic devices. For instance, there are many “air purifiers” which generate ozone as a way to destroy other harmful pollutants. Indoor air pollution can become so dangerous for humans’ health if it is not detected and solved on time. Ozone reacts with organic materials in the same way it does with other gases to create smog, altering the chemical compositions around us.

smog due to ozone

What are the health and environmental effects of ozone?

As it has been said, ground-level ozone can cause a variety of respiratory health effects. It affects on greater way sensitive groups such as elderly, children or people of all ages who have sensitive lungs. However, breathing high concentrations of ozone is very dangerous for everyone.

Short-term exposure can cause a variety of respiratory health effects, including chest pain, coughing, throat irritation, and airway inflammation. It also can reduce lung function and harm lung tissue or decrease the capacity to perform exercise by the shortness of breath. Moreover, ozone has been linked with premature mortality or worsening respiratory illnesses like bronchitis, asthma or emphysema.

On the other side, many studies have proven that long-term ozone exposure can provoke asthma, damage lung tissue for life and increase the risk of death from respiratory causes.

Ozone can significantly damage vegetations and ecosystems. During growing season, when these are more sensitive, it causes photosynthesis reduction, slowing plants’ growth and increasing the risk of disease, insects, heavy weather conditions or other pollutants’ effects. It can be also related with heat waves since plants absorb less ozone and its concentration rises.

heat wave

How is ozone pollution controlled?

Over the years, developed countries have reached some agreements to control pollution. Each country or state has its own implementation plan. For example, the Clean Air Act made by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) establishes National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for those criteria pollutants considered most harmful for health and the environment. Another example is the European Union Air Quality Directive by the European Environmental Agency, which also establishes some standards and tips to reduce air pollution, both indoors and outdoors.

Ozone, especially ground-level ozone, is considered both a primary and secondary criteria pollutant. As already mentioned, it can become a huge issue for the environment and for humans health. Maximum permitted or recommended levels for O3 are:

  • World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines: 0,070 ppm (140 μg/m³) for annual fourth-highest daily maximum 8-hour concentration, averaged over 3 years.
  • NAAQS: In addition to WHO guidelines, in USA ozone is also monitored each hour with a maximum concentration of 0.12 ppm (235 μg/m³).
  • EU Air Quality Directive: maximum daily 8-hour mean of 120 μg/m³, which cannot be exceeded more than 25 days over 3 years.
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Air pollutants: Nitrogen Dioxide

What’s nitrogen dioxide?

Nitrogen Dioxide is a chemical compound with the formula NO2, but it is usually defined as an indicator for a highly reactive gases group known as oxides of nitrogen or nitrogen oxides (NOx).

Its smell and color are the only properties of nitrogen dioxide perceptible for humans without any special equipment. NO2 has a biting and pungent odor and it is easily recognizable with a red-brown color at gas stage (over 21.2 °C) and yellow-brown looking at liquid’s (between 21.2 and -11.2 °C).

Nitrogen dioxide uses

Nitrogen dioxide is released in wide variety of situations and processes that involve nitrogen. Here are some examples:

  • Nitric acid manufacturing.
  • Nitrating agent in chemical explosives manufacturing.
  • Room temperature sterilization agent.
  • Oxidizing rockets fuel.
  • Polymerization inhibitor for acrylates.

Sources of nitrogen dioxide pollution

Nitrogen dioxide emissions to the atmosphere are processes that contribute to worsen the air quality, and this is the reason why it is considered criteria pollutant. Nitrogen oxides are produced by human activity 99% of the time, and produced naturally the other 1% during thunderstorms by electric discharge.

Outdoors, cars and combustion engines burning fossil fuels are the number one responsible for nitrogen dioxide emissions. Indoors, NO2 emissions are mainly produced by sources like cigarettes, butane, kerosene heaters and stoves.

traffic jam

Indirectly, nitrogen monoxide emissions also contribute to the formation of nitrogen dioxide since the first reacts with oxygen or ozone to produce the second.

Nitrogen dioxide health and environmental effects

As indicator of the NOx group, nitrogen dioxide is responsible for several health and environmental effects. NO2 reacts with other gases to create adverse meteorological conditions, such as acid rain or ground-level ozone, known for being a threat to humans and wildlife.

Health effects on humans

Nitrogen dioxide, as well as its NOx siblings, lead to respiratory problems when inhaled since they can penetrate deeply into sensitive lung tissue. Some symptoms are coughing, wheezing or difficulties to breathe.

However, these nitrogen oxides need to react with other compounds like ammonia, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or common organic chemicals to become extremely harmful, causing then similar health effects than NO2.

Long-term exposure could carry the development of asthma, emphysema, bronchitis or other respiratory diseases and infections. It can also aggravate cardiovascular problems such as heart diseases. Moreover, in extreme conditions, breathing polluted air with high levels of nitrogen dioxide may even cause premature death.

Sensitive groups such as children, elderly or people with respiratory problems are more affected by the exposure to this pollutant. For these groups, it is recommended controlling NOx levels and emissions, especially for NO2 and NO, with devices such as nitrogen dioxide detectors (that can even be portables).

How does nitrogen dioxide pollution affect our planet?

Nitrogen dioxide’s main partner in the NOx group is nitric oxide or nitrogen monoxide (NO). As already said, both help in the development of environmental effects like smog, acid rain or tropospheric ozone.

Nitrogen dioxide or any others NOx react with water, oxygen and other chemicals in the atmosphere to form acid rain. Acid rain damages vegetation, buildings, water bodies and all the living beings on these environments.

Despite nitrogen is essential for plants nutrition, high levels of nitrogen dioxide or nitrogen monoxide may damage their lives. Nitrogen oxides in the atmosphere contribute to nutrient pollution in coastal waters and nitrate particles affect the visibility and create hazy air.

How is NO2 pollution controlled?

Over the years, developed countries have reached some agreements to control pollution. Each country or state has its own implementation plan. For example, the Clean Air Act made by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) establishes National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for those criteria pollutants considered most harmful for health and the environment. Another example is the European Union Air Quality Directive by the European Environmental Agency, which also establishes some standards and tips to reduce air pollution, both indoors and outdoors.

Nitrogen dioxide is considered both a primary and secondary criteria pollutant, as it can be extremely dangerous for the environment and the public safety. As mentioned, it acts as the indicator for the nitrogen oxides group, and the maximum permitted or recommended levels for NO2 are:

  • World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines: 200 μg/m³ and 40 μg/m³ for an average periods of 1 hour and 1 year, respectively.
  • NAAQS: 0,1 ppm of 1-hour daily maximum concentrations, averaged over 3 years, while annual mean cannot exceed 0,053 ppm (100 μg/m³).

EU Air Quality Directive: exactly the same as WHO guidelines, 200 μg/m³ for 1 hour (cannot be exceeded more than 18 times per year) and 40 μg/m³ annually.