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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

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.

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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.

particulate matter

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: Nitrogen Dioxide

What’s nitrogen dioxide?

burning of fossil fuels

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.

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Air pollutants: Carbon Monoxide

What is carbon monoxide?

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is an odorless, tasteless and colorless toxic gas, dangerous for humans and wildlife in higher concentrations than 35 ppm. Carbon monoxide composition is made of one carbon atom and one oxygen atom. It plays an important role in smog formation since it can react to create ground-level ozone.

carbon monoxide

What causes carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide is the result of an incomplete burning of organic matter. It is naturally produced in big amounts in the troposphere. Likewise, it can also be generated by volcanoes, forest fires, and other natural combustion processes.

burning organic matter

Man-made activities also emit tons of CO, in fact we are the main cause for CO emissions. For example, cars with internal combustion engines and without catalytic converters are huge generators of carbon monoxide. Even if they have catalytic converters, the first 90 seconds after turning on the engine will produce from 10.000 to 30.000 ppm of CO.

Other carbon monoxide human sources are heaters or cooking equipment that runs on carbon-based fuels. These fuels include furnaces, gas ovens, gas water heaters, gas room heaters, kerosene room heaters, charcoal BBQs, portable generators fireplaces, among a lot more.

gas heat

Carbon monoxide pollution health effects

You go to work and turn on your car’s engine inside your garage. The emissions of CO produced during the ignition will instantly pollute the air you are breathing indoors. Even with the door open, this polluted air will probably reach higher levels than 100 ppm and, as soon as the garage door is closed, it will scatter all over the building.

Indoors and outdoors, breathing high concentrations of CO reduces the amount of oxygen transported in the bloodstream. This can increase the probability of carbon monoxide poisoning in critical organs like the heart or the brain.

Carbon monoxide poisoning: symptoms, treatment and prevention

Carbon monoxide cannot be detected by humans naturally, and special equipment is used to measure it. However, there are a few symptoms that can help you identify carbon monoxide poisoning.

Symptoms are often described as similar to flu. Most common are weakness, headache, dizziness, confusion, chest pain, fatigue, nausea or even death. Long-term exposure to carbon monoxide can produce memory loss, feeling tired or movement problems. Continued and constant CO exposure over the time may cause chronic poisoning, making you feel the mentioned symptoms for life.

flu

Except from extreme cases, carbon monoxide poisoning can be solved just by moving to a non polluted area and breath, instantly pushing the pollutant out and substituting it by oxygen. However, if somebody needs treatment, he will use non-rebreather masks, which administer oxygen. In extreme cases the person can also be placed inside a hyperbaric oxygen chamber.

As mentioned, we cannot detect CO by ourselves without any special equipment. That is why it is important and recommended by governments to install carbon monoxide detectors or alarms at home, used to measure CO levels overtime. These warn in case concentrations are getting dangerous and may cause a public health issue, recommending to evacuate or air out the area.

Effects of carbon monoxide on environment

Carbon monoxide is different from other pollutants since it has not a direct impact on the environment and it can persist over a month in the atmosphere. Although considered a greenhouse gas, it contributes indirectly to climate change. Its presence affects concentrations of other greenhouse gases like methane, tropospheric ozone and carbon dioxide, creating particles and other harmful pollutants.

climate change

How is carbon monoxide 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.

Since CO is a primary criteria pollutant due to its effects on human health and public safety, maximum permitted or recommended levels for carbon monoxide are:

  • Nothing is included in the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines.
  • NAAQS: 35 ppm (40 μg/m³) for 1 hour exposure and 9 ppm (10 μg/m³) for 8 hours.
  • EU Air Quality Directive: 10 mg/m³ for a maximum of  8 hour daily exposure.
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Health effects of air pollution on humans

health effects of air pollution

World population emits huge amount of air pollutants every day, and this negatively affects our health. These emissions increase every year, threatening the planet and one of our most important sources of life, the air.

Air pollution consequences on the environment are well-known, and if you still want to know more about it check out or posts on this topic. However, it is little known that molecules that form air pollutants have serious impact on our well-being, as these affect several parts of our organisms.

It doesn’t matter how healthy you are when it comes to air pollution. However, sensitive groups such as children, elderly and people with respiratory or heart diseases may experience stronger symptoms and health effects.

Respiratory problems

Since our respiratory system is based in the interaction between our body and external air, it is obviously highly affected when it comes to breathing air pollution. Short-term exposure to air pollution may drive to the following symptoms:

  • Eye and nose irritation
  • Chest pain
  • Pneumonia
  • Bronchitis
  • Asthma
  • Emphysema
  • Worse respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis, asthma or emphysema.
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Throat irritation
  • Nose bleeding
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Airway inflammation
  • Reduce lung function
  • Harm lung tissue
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
  • Decrease the capacity to perform exercise
  • Premature mortality due to cancer or respiratory disease
  • Kidney failure
  • Male reproductive problems
  • Depression
  • Diarrhea

Long-term exposure to air pollution can cause consequences of suffering the health issues mentioned above stronger, they can even become chronic illnesses. Apart from those, other health problems in cases of constant exposure to air pollution are memory loss, movement problems, cardiovascular and neurological issues or even dead.

Cardiovascular and heart problems

If the pollutants inhaled have the capability to penetrate deeply enough into the human body to reach the bloodstream, consequences may turn into a huge amount of health problems. Moreover, the person will experience fast and direct effects since it reduces the amount of oxygen arriving to organs, or in other words, worse quality and less blood production.

Mobility issues, muscular problems, high blood pressure or heart diseases can be diagnosticated in cases of lead or carbon monoxide poisoning. Other important pollutants directly related to the cardiovascular system are sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

Neurological and birth problems in kids and other issues in adults

As mentioned above, children are more vulnerable to air pollution effects, such as anemia or behavioral problems. Mothers breathing high concentrations of polluted air during the pregnancy reach the fetus and experience issues like low birth weight or premature birth. Moreover, it can carry future consequences, for example permanent neurological problems (like learning deficits and lowered IQ) or slow development of normal childhood behaviors (like the use of words and talking).

baby sleeping

Inhaling airborne particles also affects the neurological system of adults, for example increasing the risk of alzheimer and damaging or weakening the immune system. On the other hand, breathing volatile organic compounds (VOCs), is related to liver, kidney and central nervous system damages.

Skin issues

Air pollution can also damage your skin in several ways. However, its influence is not directly related since skin problems are given by the interaction between human-beings and environmental adverse conditions due to air pollution.

We may suffer skin cancer or premature aging skin because of ultraviolet sunlight rays high exposure, driven by the ozone layer depletion. Furthermore, skin irritation can be experienced when bathing in eutrophic water, if the water contains certain kinds of algaes. Both events result from air pollution emissions to the atmosphere and its posterior indirect effect on humans and the environment.

Sources of health effects of air pollution

Those evidence and effects in the human body can be given by adverse environmental conditions or either airborne pollutants:

  • Smog: Since its gases-particles composition makes it easy to penetrate deeply in the body.
  • Ozone layer depletion, global warming and climate change: Exposing ourselves to more ultraviolet sun rays that can directly damage our skin and worse the air we breathe, with wildfires smoke for example.
  • Sulfur dioxide (SO2) and Nitrogen oxides (NOx): The main components of acid rain. They can also react in the atmosphere in order to become more harmful pollutants, in particular nitrogen dioxide (NO2).
  • Carbon monoxide (CO): As it reduces the amount of oxygen that can be transported in the bloodstream.
  • Lead (Pb): Once it is inhaled, it is placed on the bloodstream and the bones involving almost every organ and system in the human body.
  • Ozone (O3): This gas become so toxic at ground levels.
  • Particulate Matter (PM): The smallest the particle is, the deeper it may penetrate into our organism, even to the bloodstream.
  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): Especially highly concentrated indoors since its emissions can be produced by a big amount of daily use gadgets.
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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.

radon

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.

house foundations

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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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?

smoking

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.

tobacco plantation

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?

cigarette stub

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.

cigarette stub

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?

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: 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.

house construction

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.

asbestos protection

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.

tobacco smoke

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.

cleaning products

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.

gas stove

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.

oil extraction

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.

fuel station

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.

Refinery

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.

power plant

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.

vehicles air pollution

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.