BEIJING — Outdoor air pollution contributed to 1.2 million premature deaths in China in 2010, nearly 40 percent of the global total, according to a new summary of data from a scientific study on leading causes of death worldwide. Figured another way, the researchers said, China’s toll from pollution was the loss of 25 million healthy years of life from the population. The data on which the analysis is based was first presented in the ambitious 2010 Global Burden of Disease Study, which was published in December in The Lancet, a British medical journal.
The authors decided to break out numbers for specific countries and present the findings at international conferences. The China statistics were offered at a forum in Beijing on Sunday. “We have been rolling out the India- and China-specific numbers, as they speak more directly to national leaders than regional numbers,” said Robert O’Keefe, the vice president of the Health Effects Institute, a research organization that is helping to present the study.
The organization is partly financed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the global motor vehicle industry. What the researchers called “ambient particulate matter pollution” was the fourth-leading risk factor for deaths in China in 2010, behind dietary risks, high blood pressure and smoking. Air pollution ranked seventh on the worldwide list of risk factors, contributing to 3.2 million deaths in 2010. By comparison with China, India, which also has densely populated cities grappling with similar levels of pollution, had 620,000 premature deaths in 2010 because of outdoor air pollution, the study found. That was deemed to be the sixth most common killer in South Asia.
The study was led by an institute at the University of Washington and several partner universities and institutions, including the World Health Organization. Calculations of premature deaths because of outdoor air pollution are politically threatening in the eyes of some Chinese officials. According to news reports, Chinese officials cut out sections of a 2007 report called “Cost of Pollution in China” that discussed premature deaths. The report’s authors had concluded that 350,000 to 400,000 people die prematurely in China each year because of outdoor air pollution.
The study was done by the World Bank in cooperation with the Chinese State Environmental Protection Administration, the precursor to the Ministry of Environmental Protection. There have been other estimates of premature deaths because of air pollution. In 2011, the World Health Organization estimated that there were 1.3 million premature deaths in cities worldwide because of outdoor air pollution. Last month, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, based in Paris, warned that “urban air pollution is set to become the top environmental cause of mortality worldwide by 2050, ahead of dirty water and lack of sanitation.” It estimated that up to 3.6 million people could end up dying prematurely from air pollution each year, mostly in China and India. There has been growing outrage in Chinese cities over what many say are untenable levels of air pollution.
Cities across the north hit record levels in January, and official Chinese newspapers ran front-page articles on the surge — what some foreigners call the “airpocalypse” — despite earlier limits on such discussion by propaganda officials. In February, the State Council, China’s cabinet, announced a timeline for introducing new fuel standards, but state-owned oil and power companies are known to block or ignore environmental policies to save on costs. A study released on Thursday said the growth rate of disclosure of pollution information in 113 Chinese cities had slowed. The groups doing the study, the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, based in Beijing, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, based in Washington, said that “faced with the current situation of severe air, water and soil pollution, we must make changes to pollution source information disclosure so that information is no longer patchy, out of date and difficult to obtain.” Chinese officials have made some progress in disclosing crucial air pollution statistics. Official news reports have said 74 cities are now required to release data on levels of particulate matter 2.5 micrometers in diameter or smaller, which penetrate the body’s tissues most deeply.
For years, Chinese officials had been collecting the data but refusing to release it, until they came under pressure from Chinese who saw that the United States Embassy in Beijing was measuring the levels hourly and posting the data in a Twitter feed, @BeijingAir. Last week, an official Chinese news report said the cost of environmental degradation in China was about $230 billion in 2010, or 3.5 percent of the gross domestic product. The estimate, said to be partial, came from a research institute under the Ministry of Environmental Protection, and was three times the amount in 2004, in local currency terms. It was unclear to what extent those numbers took into account the costs of health care and premature deaths because of pollution.
Air Pollution – Its Nature, Sources, and Effects
Last Updated: 04/09/2014
Summer View, mountains in the distance from Skyline Drive.
John F. Mitchell – NPS Volunteer
Air pollution occurs in many forms but can generally be thought of as gaseous and particulate contaminants that are present in the earth’s atmosphere. Gaseous pollutants include sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), ozone (O3), carbon monoxide (CO), volatile organic compounds (VOC), hydrogen sulfide (H2S), hydrogen fluoride (HF), and various gaseous forms of metals. These pollutants are emitted from large stationary sources such as fossil fuel fired power plants, smelters, industrial boilers, petroleum refineries, and manufacturing facilities as well as from area and mobile sources. They are corrosive to various materials which causes damage to cultural resources, can cause injury to ecosystems and organisms, aggravate respiratory diseases, and reduce visibility. Particulates come in both large and small or “fine” solid forms. Large particulates include substances such as dust, asbestos fibers, and lead. Fine particulates include sulfates (SO4) and nitrates (NO3). Important sources of particulates are power plants, smelters, mining operations, and automobiles.
Asbestos and lead affect organisms, while sulfates and nitrates not only cause health problems, but also contribute to acid rain or acid deposition and a reduction in visibility. Particulate matter, a term sometimes used instead of particulates, refers to the mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air. Toxic air pollutants are a class of chemicals which may potentially cause health problems in a significant way. The sources of toxic air pollutants include power plants, industries, pesticide application, and contaminated windblown dust. Persistent toxic pollutants, such as mercury, are of particular concern because of their global mobility and ability to accumulate in the food chain. More research is needed to fully understand the fate and effects of mercury and the many other toxic pollutants.
Primary pollutants are those that are emitted directly into the air from pollution sources. Secondary pollutants are formed when primary pollutants undergo chemical changes in the atmosphere. Ozone is an example of a secondary pollutant. It is formed when nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are mixed and warmed by sunlight. Ozone (O3) is a major component of what is often referred to as smog. The ozone which is present in the troposphere, or the atmosphere that is close to the ground, should not be confused with beneficial ozone that is located in the stratosphere or upper atmosphere. This beneficial ozone in the stratosphere helps protect the earth from harmful ultraviolet light from the sun. Sources of Air Pollution
A stationary source of air pollution refers to an emission source that does not move, also known as a point source. Stationary sources include factories, power plants, dry cleaners and degreasing operations. The term area source is used to describe many small sources of air pollution located together whose individual emissions may be below thresholds of concern, but whose collective emissions can be significant. Residential wood burners are a good example of a small source, but when combined with many other small sources, they can contribute to local and regional air pollution levels. Area sources can also be thought of as non-point sources, such as construction of housing developments, dry lake beds, and landfills.
A mobile source of air pollution refers to a source that is capable of moving under its own power. In general, mobile sources imply “on-road” transportation, which includes vehicles such as cars, sport utility vehicles, and buses. In addition, there is also a “non-road” or “off-road” category that includes gas-powered lawn tools and mowers, farm and construction equipment, recreational vehicles, boats, planes, and trains. Agricultural Sources
Agricultural operations, those that raise animals and grow crops, can generate emissions of gases and particulate matter. For example, animals confined to a barn or restricted area (rather than field grazing), produce large amounts of manure. Manure emits various gases, particularly ammonia into the air. This ammonia can be emitted from the animal houses, manure storage areas, or from the land after the manure is applied. In crop production, the misapplication of fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides can potentially result in aerial drift of these materials and harm may be caused.
Although industrialization and the use of motor vehicles are overwhelmingly the most significant contributors to air pollution, there are important natural sources of “pollution” as well. Wildland fires, dust storms, and volcanic activity also contribute gases and particulates to our atmosphere.
Unlike the above mentioned sources of air pollution, natural “air pollution” is not caused by people or their activities. An erupting volcano emits particulate matter and gases; forest and prairie fires can emit large quantities of “pollutants”; plants and trees naturally emit VOCs which are oxidized and form aerosols that can cause a natural blue haze; and dust storms can create large amounts of particulate matter. Wild animals in their natural habitat are also considered natural sources of “pollution”. The National Park Service recognizes that each of these sources emits gases and particulate matter into the atmosphere but we regard these as constituents resulting from natural processes.
Sources of air pollution that affect Shenandoah National Park are largely outside of the park. These include industrial facilities located throughout the mid-Atlantic region and the Ohio River Valley as well as urban centers in this same region. Because most areas adjacent to the park are rural and agricultural, it is clear that transport of pollutants from distant locations is an important element upon which park air quality hinges. Even some agricultural activities, such as ammonia from the poultry industry and pesticides that are applied to adjacent fields, may contribute to air pollution in the park. In-park emission sources are relatively small, but do include motor vehicles, maintenance equipment, small boilers and generators. The relative contribution from the in-park sources is very small compared to other sources. In a July 2002 report describing an emissions inventory for Shenandoah National Park, it was determined that less than 1% of emissions were produced from in-park sources.
How does air pollution move?
Air transport is the term used to describe the mechanism by which air pollution moves from an emissions source to a receptor. A source is a location (i.e., smokestack, chimney, exhaust pipe) from which the pollutant emanates and a receptor is the place (i.e., soil, vegetation, waterbodies, human lungs) where the pollutant is deposited. The atmosphere itself is the transporter of pollutants from sources to receptors. If the wind carries the plume of pollution high enough in the air, it may travel for hundreds of miles before being brought to earth. This is known as long-range or long-distance transport.
The air is an important component of the natural system of a park in its own right. The presence of pollution in the atmosphere results directly in air quality degradation. Air pollution is also a critical factor affecting the quality of other environmental resources as well as the human-made structures and facilities in the area. Polluted air can and has harmed park resources in a variety of ways depending upon the chemistry of the pollutant, weather and environmental conditions, and the nature or sensitivity of park resources. Examples of this harm include vegetative discoloration and growth disruption from ozone, loss of aquatic species from stream acidification, shifts in nutrient availability from acid deposition, and erosion of building surfaces and rock formations. Air pollution impairs visibility and contributes to climate change. Air pollution can also be detrimental to human health.
What causes air pollution?
Air pollution can result from both human and natural actions. Natural events that pollute the air include forest fires, volcanic eruptions, wind erosion, pollen dispersal, evaporation of organic compounds and natural radioactivity. Pollution from natural occurrences are not very often.
Human activities that result in air pollution include:
Have you seen a manufacturing company before? You will notice that there are long tubes (called chimneys) erected high into the air, with lots of smoke and fumes coming out of it. Waste incinerators, manufacturing industries and power plants emit high levels of carbon monoxide, organic compounds, and chemicals into the air. This happens almost everywhere that people live. Petroleum refineries also release lots of hydrocarbons into the air. 2. Burning Fossil Fuels
After the industrial age, transportation has become a key part of our lives. Cars and heavy duty trucks, trains, shipping vessels and airplanes all burn lots of fossil fuels to work. Emissions from automobile engines contain both primary and secondary pollutants. This is a major cause of pollution, and one that is very difficult to manage. This is because humans rely heavily on vehicles and engines for transporting people, good and services.
Fumes from car exhauts contain dangerous gases such as carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen, hydrocarbons and particulates. On their own, they cause great harm to people who breath them. Additionally, they react with environmental gases to create further toxic gases. Click here to see the effects
Crop dusting, fumigating homes, household cleaning products or painting supplies, over the counter insect/pest killers, fertilizer dust emit harmful chemicals into the air and cause pollution. In many case, when we use these chemicals at home or offices with no or little ventilation, we may fall ill if we breathe them. What are the common air pollutants around?
Carbon Monoxide (CO)
Fuel combustion from vehicles and engines.
Reduces the amount of oxygen reaching the body’s organs and tissues; aggravates heart disease, resulting in chest pain and other symptoms. Ground-level Ozone (O3) Secondary pollutant formed by chemical reaction of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and NOx in the presence of sunlight. Decreases lung function and causes respiratory symptoms, such as coughing and shortness of breath, and also makes asthma and other lung diseases get worse. More on Ground Level Ozone Here Lead (Pb)
Smelters (metal refineries) and other metal industries; combustion of leaded gasoline in piston engine aircraft; waste incinerators (waste burners), and battery manufacturing. Damages the developing nervous system, resulting in IQ loss and impacts on learning, memory, and behavior in children. Cardiovascular and renal effects in adults and early effects related to anaemia. Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2)
Fuel combustion (electric utilities, big industrial boilers, vehicles) and wood burning. Worsens lung diseases leading to respiratory symptoms, increased susceptibility to respiratory infection. Particulate Matter (PM)
This is formed through chemical reactions, fuel combustion (e.g., burning coal, wood, diesel), industrial processes, farming (plowing, field burning), and unpaved roads or during road constructions. Short-term exposures can worsen heart or lung diseases and cause respiratory problems. Long-term exposures can cause heart or lung disease and sometimes premature deaths. Sulfur Dioxide (SO2)
SO2 come from fuel combustion (especially high-sulfur coal); electric utilities and industrial processes as well as and natural occurances like volcanoes. Aggravates asthma and makes breathing difficult.It also contributes to particle formation with associated health effects. What are the effects of air pollution?
Chemical reactions involving air pollutants can create acidic compounds which can cause harm to vegetation and buildings. Sometimes, when an air pollutant, such as sulfuric acid combines with the water droplets that make up clouds, the water droplets become acidic, forming acid rain. When acid rain falls over an area, it can kill trees and harm animals, fish, and other wildlife.
Acid rain destroys the leaves of plants.
When acid rain infiltrates into soils, it changes the chemistry of the soil making it unfit for many living things that rely on soil as a habitat or for nutrition. Acid rain also changes the chemistry of the lakes and streams that the rainwater flows into, harming fish and other aquatic life. Eutrophication:
Rain can carry and deposit the Nitrogen in some pollutants on rivers and soils. This will adversely affect the nutrients in the soil and water bodies. This can result in algae growth in lakes and water bodies, and make conditions for other living organism harmful. Ground-level ozone:
Chemical reactions involving air pollutants create a poisonous gas ozone (O3). Gas Ozone can affect people’s health and can damage vegetation types and some animal life too. Particulate matter: Air pollutants can be in the form of particulate matter which can be very harmful to our health. The level of effect usually depends on the length of time of exposure, as well the kind and concentration of chemicals and particles exposed to. Short-term effects include irritation to the eyes, nose and throat, and upper respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia. Others include headaches, nausea, and allergic reactions. Short-term air pollution can aggravate the medical conditions of individuals with asthma and emphysema. Long-term health effects can include chronic respiratory disease, lung cancer, heart disease, and even damage to the brain, nerves, liver, or kidneys. Continual exposure to air pollution affects the lungs of growing children and may aggravate or complicate medical conditions in the elderly. Air pollution prevention, monitoring and solution.
Solution efforts on pollution is always a big problem. This is why prevention interventions are always a better way of controlling air pollution. These prevention methods can either come from government (laws) or by individual actions. In many big cities, monitoring equipment have been installed at many points in the city. Authorities read them regularly to check the quality of air. Let’s see more below: Government (or community) level prevention
Governments throughout the world have already taken action against air pollution by introducing green energy. Some governments are investing in wind energy and solar energy, as well as other renewable energy, to minimize burning of fossil fuels, which cause heavy air pollution.
Governments are also forcing companies to be more responsible with their manufacturing activities, so that even though they still cause pollution, they are a lot controlled.
Companies are also building more energy efficient cars, which pollute less than before. Individual Level Prevention
Encourage your family to use the bus, train or bike when commuting. If we all do this, there will be less cars on road and less fumes.
Use energy (light, water, boiler, kettle and fire woods) wisely. This is because lots of fossil fuels are burned to generate electricity, and so if we can cut down the use, we will also cut down the amount of pollution we create.
Recycle and re-use things. This will minimize the dependence of producing new things. Remember manufacturing industries create a lot of pollution, so if we can re-use things like shopping plastic bags, clothing, paper and bottles, it can help. Basic Air Pollution Facts
Below are some random facts and info on environmental pollution.
Air pollutants (dangerous things that make the air unclean)come in the form of gases or particles.
In March 2011, a very powerful earthquake in the sea (tsunami) hit the Japan coast. The sea level rose and water came into the land, damaging 4 of the 6 reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. World Health Organisation (WHO) experts confirm that there is slight increased risk of some cancer types for some people who were exposed to the radiation. These included people living in that area and some workers at the plant. Below is a peice of the information given on BBC website: “The biggest lifetime risks were seen in those exposed as infants, compared with children or adults.
For girls exposed to radiation from the accident as infants, the report found a 4% increase above the lifetime expected risk of solid tumours and a 6% increase above that expected for breast cancer. Boys exposed as infants are expected to have a 7% increased risk of leukaemia above that expected in the normal population. The biggest risk was seen in thyroid cancer, which for infant girls could be up to 70% higher than expected over their lifetime.” BBC Website: /news/health-21614722
It is estimated that you breathe 20,000 liters of air each day. This means the more polluted the air is, the more we breathe into our lungs dangerous chemicals. Air can be polluted both indoors and outdoors. Tobacco and other kinds of smoking are examples of indoor air pollution. Sick Building Syndrome is a health condition related to pesticides, insecticides and chemicals we use at home and offices. In the great “Smog Disaster” in London in 1952, four thousand people died in a few days due to the high concentrations of pollution. Air pollution affects kids more than adults because, for their body size, kids breathe more air and spend more time playing outside. More hazardous pollutants are discharged into the air each year than are released to surface water, ground water, and land, combined.
Motor vehicles produce more air pollution than any other single human activity. One full commuter bus can mean 40 less cars going through your neighborhood.
In America, vehicle exhaust contributes roughly 60% of all carbon monoxide emissions nationwide, and up to 95% in cities. Indoor air pollution and health
Around 3 billion people cook and heat their homes using open fires and leaky stoves burning biomass (wood, animal dung and crop waste) and coal. Nearly 2 million people die prematurely from illness attributable to indoor air pollution from household solid fuel use. Nearly 50% of pneumonia deaths among children under five are due to particulate matter inhaled from indoor air pollution. More than 1 million people a year die from chronic obstructive respiratory disease (COPD) that develop due to exposure to such indoor air pollution. Both women and men exposed to heavy indoor smoke are 2-3 times more likely to develop COPD Source: WHO
The ozone layer is a belt of naturally occurring ozone gas that sits 9.3 to 18.6 miles (15 to 30 kilometers) above Earth and serves as a shield from the harmful ultraviolet B radiation emitted by the sun. Ozone is a highly reactive molecule that contains three oxygen atoms. It is constantly being formed and broken down in the high atmosphere, 6.2 to 31 miles (10 to 50 kilometers) above Earth, in the region called the stratosphere. Today, there is widespread concern that the ozone layer is deteriorating due to the release of pollution containing the chemicals chlorine and bromine. Such deterioration allows large amounts of ultraviolet B rays to reach Earth, which can cause skin cancer and cataracts in humans and harm animals as well. Extra ultraviolet B radiation reaching Earth also inhibits the reproductive cycle of phytoplankton, single-celled organisms such as algae that make up the bottom rung of the food chain. Biologists fear that reductions in phytoplankton populations will in turn lower the populations of other animals.
Researchers also have documented changes in the reproductive rates of young fish, shrimp, and crabs as well as frogs and salamanders exposed to excess ultraviolet B. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), chemicals found mainly in spray aerosols heavily used by industrialized nations for much of the past 50 years, are the primary culprits in ozone layer breakdown. When CFCs reach the upper atmosphere, they are exposed to ultraviolet rays, which causes them to break down into substances that include chlorine. The chlorine reacts with the oxygen atoms in ozone and rips apart the ozone molecule. One atom of chlorine can destroy more than a hundred thousand ozone molecules, according to the the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The ozone layer above the Antarctic has been particularly impacted by pollution since the mid-1980s.
This region’s low temperatures speed up the conversion of CFCs to chlorine. In the southern spring and summer, when the sun shines for long periods of the day, chlorine reacts with ultraviolet rays, destroying ozone on a massive scale, up to 65 percent. This is what some people erroneously refer to as the “ozone hole.” In other regions, the ozone layer has deteriorated by about 20 percent. About 90 percent of CFCs currently in the atmosphere were emitted by industrialized countries in the Northern Hemisphere, including the United States and Europe. These countries banned CFCs by 1996, and the amount of chlorine in the atmosphere is falling now. But scientists estimate it will take another 50 years for chlorine levels to return to their natural levels.
The Earth is wrapped in a blanket of air called the ‘atmosphere’, which is made up of several layers. About 19-30 kilometres above the Earth is a layer of gas called ozone, which is a form of oxygen. Ozone is produced naturally in the atmosphere.
WHY DO WE HAVE AN OZONE LAYER?
The ozone layer is very important because it stops too many of the sun’s ‘ultra-violet rays’ (UV rays) getting through to the Earth – these are the rays that cause our skin to tan. Too much UV can cause skin cancer and will also harm all plants and animals. Life on Earth could not exist without the protective shield of the ozone layer.
WHAT IS THE OZONE HOLE?
Every spring, a hole as big as the USA develops in the ozone layer over Antarctica, in the South Pole. A smaller hole develops each year over the Arctic, at the North Pole. And there are signs that the ozone layer is getting thinner all over the planet. Scientists have discovered that the ozone hole over Antarctica started in 1979, and that the ozone layer generally started to get thin in the early 1980s. The loss of the ozone layer occurs when more ozone is being destroyed than nature is creating.
WHAT CAUSES THE OZONE HOLE?
One group of gases is particularly likely to damage the ozone layer. These gases are called CFCs, Chloro-Fluoro-Carbons. CFCs are used in some spray cans to force the contents out of the can. They are also used in refrigerators, air conditioning systems and some fire extinguishers. They are used because they are not poisonous and do not catch fire. Most countries have now stopped using new CFCs that can be released into the atmosphere, but many scientists believe we must stop using old ones as well.
THE OZONE HOLE AND OUR HEALTH
The ozone layer is like a sunscreen, and a thinning of it would mean that more ultra-violet rays would be reaching us. Too many UV rays would cause more sunburn, and because sunburn causes skin cancer, this too would increase deaths. These UV rays are also dangerous for our eyes and could cause an increase in people becoming blind. That is why sun cream and sunglasses are very important.
THE OZONE HOLE ON ANIMALS AND PLANTS
UV rays can go through water and end up killing small water animals or plants, called ‘plankton’ which form the base of the food chain in oceans and seas. Whales and other fishes have plankton as their main food, and if plankton die because of these UV rays, whales will start dying too, because they will not have anything to eat. Large amounts of UV rays could damage all green plants. If the ozone layer keeps getting thinner, there could be fewer and fewer plants on Earth, then there would be less food in the whole world.
THE TWO-FACED OZONE GAS
Ozone found between 19 and 30 kilometres high in the atmosphere is one of the reasons why we are alive on Earth. But when the gas ozone is found lower down where we can breathe it in, it becomes very dangerous for our health. This ozone is caused by a reaction between air pollution and sunlight and can cause modern-day smog. This is different to the smog that formed in the early 20th century from smoke and fog. What can you do:
There are many things we can do to help reduce air pollution and global warming. Use buses and trains instead of cars, as they can carry a lot more people in one journey. This cuts down the amount of pollution produced. Walking or cycling whenever you can will be even better, as it does not create any pollution. It will also be good for your body, as regular exercise will keep you fit and healthy. If your parents must use the car, ask them to avoid using it for very short journeys if possible, as this creates unnecessary pollution. Try to encourage them to share their journeys with other people, for example when they go to work or go shopping. Also encourage them to drive more slowly as this produces less pollution and less carbon dioxide.
Energy is produced to generate electricity and to keep us warm. Most energy is produced by the burning of fossil fuels, like coal, oil and gas, which release carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. Fuel burnt in our cars also releases carbon dioxide. As an individual, you do not have a lot of control on how your energy is produced. However, you can control the way in which you use that energy. Using less energy means less of it needs to be produced. So less carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. We can also help prevent pollution from our own homes which may contribute to acid rain and poor air quality, and increases emissions of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Turning off lights when they are not needed and not wasting electricity will reduce the demand for energy.
Less electricity will need to be produced and so less coal, oil and gas will have to be burnt in power stations, which means less air pollution and less carbon dioxide! Pollution formed indoors can be reduced by ensuring that all gas appliances are working correctly. Good ventilation will improve indoor air quality by dispersing biological pollutants like dust mite, and other pollutants such as cigarette smoke. Most of the rubbish we throw away can be recycled, such as glass bottles and jars, steel and aluminium cans, plastic bottles and waste paper. Recycling used materials uses less energy than making new ones. Composting fruit and vegetable waste reduces the amount of rubbish buried at rubbish dumps.
What are the Governments doing?
Governments throughout the world have already taken action for these different environmental problems (i.e. Acid Rain, Air Quality, Ozone Hole, Global Warming). In their plans they hope to reduce the amount of emissions of greenhouse gases produced by man. About half of the greenhouse effect is caused by our use of energy, especially from fossil fuels. Other sources of energy could be used which do not emit carbon dioxide, e.g. wind power, solar (sun power) and wave power. In the home and at school, we must learn to use energy efficiently and not waste it.
Rain is very important for life. All living things need water to live, even people. Rain brings us the water we need. But in many places in the world even where you live, rain has become a menace. Because of pollution in the air, acid gases from factories, cars and homes, the rain is becoming dangerous for the life of every living creature. This rain is known as ‘acid rain’.
WHAT IS ACID RAIN?
Acid gases are produced when fossil fuels like coal and oil are burned in power stations, factories and in our own homes. Most of these acid gases are blown into the sky, and when they mix with the clouds it can cause rain – or snow, sleet, fog, mist or hail – to become more acidic. The opposites of acid are alkalis; for example, toothpaste and baking powder are both alkalis. Strong alkalis can also be dangerous, such as ammonia and bleach. Lemon juice, vinegar and cola are all acidic. Rain is naturally acidic, but acid gases make it even more acidic, sometimes as acid as lemon! Nature can also produce acid gases, such as volcanoes. When they erupt, the smoke that comes out of the crater is also full of acid gases.
HOW DO WE MEASURE ACIDITY?
There is a special scale called the pH scale that measures the strength of acids and alkalis. A low pH number means something is acid. A high number means something is alkali. And something in the middle is called neutral. Acidity can be tested using litmus paper.
Usually rain is a little acidic, and has pH of about 5.5, if the pH of rainfall is less than 5.5, then the rain is probably polluted by acid gases. Acids turn litmus paper red, and alkalis turn it blue. With a special paper called universal indicator, you can test levels of acidity.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN GASES THAT CAUSE ACID RAIN?
When we burn fuels, chemicals called ‘sulphur’ and ‘nitrogen’ are released into the air. Once in the air, they mix with water in the air – rain, snow, etc – and are transformed into different chemicals called ‘sulphur dioxide’ and ‘nitrogen oxides’, which can be very dangerous for plants, animals and people. Most of the ‘sulphur’ comes from power stations, which make electricity, and also from volcanoes. Most of the ‘nitrogen oxides’ come from car and truck exhausts. We call ‘air pollution’ the bad gases that we produce and release in the air. ‘Sulphur dioxide’ and ‘nitrogen oxides’ are the most important causes of acid rain.
A PROBLEM ALL OVER THE WORLD
Air pollution can be carried over long distances. When acid gases are released, they go high up in the sky, and then they are pushed by strong winds towards other countries. The acid rain in Sweden is caused by air pollution in Britain and other countries of Europe. The pollution produced in Britain ends up mostly in Scandinavia – countries in northern Europe including Sweden, Norway and Denmark.
In the USA, the winds blow the air pollution to certain areas in Canada.
HOW BAD IS ACID RAIN?
When rain is acidic, it affects what it falls on: trees, lakes, buildings and farmland. Sometimes rain is not very acidic and does not cause a lot of problems, but when it is acidic, it can be very harmful to the environment. TREES AND PLANTS
Acid rain can have terrible effects on a forest. The acid takes away important minerals from the leaves and the soil. Minerals are like vitamins for trees and plants. Without them, trees and plants cannot grow properly. They lose their leaves and become very weak. They are no longer strong enough to fight against illnesses and frost. They become very ill and can even die. Some soils are alkaline, when acid rain falls on them the acid becomes neutral. Plants and trees living on these soils are not in any big danger..
LAKES AND WATER LIFE
Acid rain has a terrible effect on water life. Even if the acid rain does not fall straight into the lake, for example, it may enter from rivers and streams. Some of the life in the lake such as fish and plants may end up dying, because they cannot survive in acidic lakes. Thousands of lakes in Scandinavia have no more life in them. They have received so much acid rain for so many years, because of the winds pushing the acid gases, that nothing can survive. You can recognise a lake dead from acid rain by its clean and crystal clear water. But they look clean because there is very little living in them anymore. Tiny plants and animals are mostly unable to survive..
Particulates – very small particles of debris found in some of the air pollution – are one of the main causes of health problems. In towns and cities, these are released mainly by diesel engines from cars and trucks. When we breathe in air pollution, these very fine particulates can easily enter our body, where they can cause breathing problems, and over time even cause cancer. Water we drink from taps can be contaminated by acid rain, which can damage the brain.. BUILDINGS
Acid rain can also ruin buildings because the acid eats into metal and stone. It also damages stained glass and plastics. Some types of building materials are softer than others, and it is the softer ones which are most affected by acid rain. Sandstone and limestone are examples of stone which are fairly soft and are damaged easily. Granite is an example of a harder stone that can resist the effects of acid rain. In many places in the world, ancient and famous buildings and monuments are affected by acid rain. For example, the Statue of Liberty in New York, USA, has had to be restored because of acid rain damage. Buildings are naturally eroded by rain, wind, frost and the sun, but when acidic gases are present, it speeds up the erosion.