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Air Pollution
and Emissions Control Resources

Air pollution has been proven to play both short-term and long-term havoc on human health. Children, elderly and those with compromised immune systems tend to be more sensitive to the particulate and gaseous emissions that contribute to air pollution. Congress enacted the Clean Air Act of 1970 to help clean up the environment and to improve air quality. Air quality is gauged from good to hazardous. Sometimes pollution causes air quality to be dangerous enough that an “Ozone Action Day” is called and we are asked to reduce airborne emissions by not running fuel-based machinery, to carpool and to not gas up vehicles until after sundown.

The air we breathe consists of 78 percent nitrogen, and 21 percent oxygen. Carbon dioxide, hydrogen, argon, neon, helium, krypton and xenon make up the other one percent of air’s composition. This mixture of gases doesn’t fluctuate or vary until you get to an elevation of about 10,000 meters. The water content in the air varies no matter what elevation. Other components of air measured in parts per million (ppm) are sulfur dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, iodine, carbon monoxide and ammonia.

Air pollution happens when particulates are released into the air from human use. Particulates are very tiny particles that are no larger than .0001 inches. That is 2.5 microns. When you look to define air pollution you have to look at not only the cause, but also the effects that pollution has upon the environment and upon the living things within that environment. The byproducts of energy consumption that humans use every day—exhaust from fireplaces, vehicles, factories, even home barbeques release soot and toxic emissions into the air. Carbon monoxide, sulfur and nitrogen dioxides and all the chemicals we use to clean our homes, businesses and use on our lawns also contribute to smog and acid rain. But outdoor air pollution is only part of the problem. A greater problem: indoor air quality.

We spend upwards to 90 percent of our days indoors working, going to school, being home and sleeping. Cigarette smoke, cooking and cleaning products expose us to concentrated amounts of indoor pollution every day. It is impossible to avoid all indoor and outdoor pollutants. So the solution is not getting rid of it. The solution lies in controlling the amounts of emissions that rise into the air creating new and possibly more chemical reactions that can be hazardous to your health.

Pollution affects those with compromised immune systems the most—although anyone can have eye, ear, nose and respiratory irritation that can progress into infections such as sinusitis, bronchitis and pneumonia. Smokers and those with asthma, lung cancer, HIV-AIDS and emphysema are particularly at risk for aggravated symptoms such as impaired breathing and coughing. In 1952 London, 4,000 people died due to high concentrations of air pollution. They call it the great “Smog Disaster.”

Long-term effects include COPD and other chronic respiratory disease, lung cancer, cystic fibrosis and heart disease have all been associated with and aggravated by continuous exposure to pollutants. Once lung cells or “pockets” have been scarred, you can’t “unscar” them—the damage is permanent. Young children exposed to secondhand smoke airborne toxins suffer long-term and permanent lung ailments. Estimates state half a million people die annually from smoking and its byproducts in the United States.

Legal issues resulting from air pollution include “sick building” cases related to poor indoor air quality from chemical vapors, insulation and asbestos. Mesothelioma, which killed actor Steve McQueen in 1980, has been brought to the forefront as lawyers have taken up the cause. Secondhand smoke continues to prompt lawsuits. The most famous being the lawsuits of the 1980s and 1990s causing the tobacco companies to testify that yes, indeed, nicotine is addictive and that smoking may cause cancer.

Air pollution resources include the Environmental Protection Agency, the World Health Organization, the American Lung Association, local universities and colleges, grassroots health organizations and you. Many studies have been done that prove that the economic and health impact on American society is significant. Children exposed to secondhand smoke, for instance, may grow up to develop emphysema. Also, industries like automotive manufacturers continue to find ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from gasoline automobiles such as using catalytic converters to remove toxins and by concentrating on hybrid and electric vehicles. Industries and individuals working together can reduce air pollution and toxic emissions by educating themselves and doing their part each day to reduce pollution. Perhaps a few of those 3.3 million deaths worldwide each year can be circumvented.

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