Why air pollution requires the concerted efforts of stakeholders in

technology, science, and policy-making agencies to establish sustainable
solutions.
Topics of air pollution and sustainability have gained global
significance in the last few decades following the major environmental
impacts that are becoming prevalent worldwide. Debates on air pollution
and sustainability focus on sources of air pollution and means through
which human efforts can contribute towards establishment of sustainable
development without causing considerable damage to environment. Although
there are different types of pollution, air pollution has become more
controversial as a result of global warming that is mainly attributed to
air pollution. The World Health Organization (1) defined air pollution
as the contamination of environment (both indoor and outdoor) through
biological, chemical, or physical agents that have the capacity to
interfere with natural features of the normal atmospheric conditions.
Some of the key air pollutants that cause considerable impacts on human
life include sulfur dioxide, ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide,
and nitrogen dioxide. This paper will provide a discussion of air
pollution and sustainability with a focus on issues pertaining to
history, causes, effects, and solution of air pollution. Air pollution
is a major environmental issue that requires concerted effort of all the
stakeholders in technology, science, and policy-making agencies to put
in place sustainable measures of environmental protection.
Statement of purpose
Air pollution is a controversial issue in the present world where the
current policy and legal measures seems to fail to reduce its progress.
Large scale air pollution has been taking place for centuries with no
hope for establishment of sustainable solutions. The main frequently
asked questions, given the widespread awareness and resources dedicated
towards the research on the impacts of air pollution and possible
solution, why does emission of air pollutants continue to increase? This
question attracted attention of the researcher to evaluate the
historical evolution of air pollution, its effects, and sustainable
solutions that can guide the world towards the establishment of a
safe-live world.
The research will be guided by four major research questions, which
include what is the historical perspective of air pollution in
pre-industrial and industrial era? What are the major sources of air
pollution? What are the major effects of air pollution to human beings,
plants, and the entire biodiversity? What are the most effective and
sustainable measures of preventing air pollution?
Historical perspective of air pollution
The history of air pollution can be studied addressing both
pre-industrial and industrial air pollution. Although pre-industrial air
pollution was minimal compared to industrial air pollution, it cannot be
ignored given the significant health impacts it caused on human health.
Research shows that pre-industrial pollution was mainly characterized by
indoor sources of air pollution such as heating and cooking using open
and poorly ventilated shelters. Studies containing these findings were
conducted on mummified lungs collected from ancient human tissues from
Britain, Egypt, and Peru and indicated that the ancient society
experience various respiratory diseases such as anthracosis, which means
blackening of lungs as a result of being exposed to domestic fire and
smoke for long time. Despite the limited level of pollutants released by
indoor air pollution, its impact on ancient society was amplified by the
fact that these people spent about 80-90 % of their life in indoor
ambiance such as restaurants and homes (Mosley 1).
Outdoor pollution gained significance with the development of cities.
Early cities were characterized by congested buildings that contained
marketplaces, residential dwellings, and places of worship constructed
close to each other for easy access by foot. For example, research shows
that air pollution became an issue of significant concern in Athens
around 430 BC (Mosley 3). This resulted from the high rate of increase
in emissions from manufacturing workplaces, homes, potteries, and
smelting furnaces. The increase in smoke from wood burning blackened the
city buildings, caused respiratory diseases, and smoke clouds that were
referred by the ancient society as heavy heaven or infamous air. This
became a major concern to the society and the first court case on air
pollution was heard in 535 CE in a Roman court (Mosley 3). The decision
of this ruling highlighted on the significance of pollution free
environment with clean air (compared clean air with birthright) to
breath.
The increase in the need for large scale industrial processing and
manufacturing was a positive idea, but it resulted in high levels of air
pollution compared to pre-industrial periods. This is because running of
large scale industries required large amount of energy that could only
be sourced from combustion of fossil fuels. This elevated the level
vapor, gas, and particles released into the air, thus endangering human
existence. The dominant source of air pollution in the early stages of
industrial evolution include cement plants, ore processing, glass
manufacturing, metal foundries, and operations in chemical plants (Wiley
297). These experiences of large scale air pollution mainly occurred in
countries that are currently known as industrialized nations, which
include the United National, Britain, and Japan. There was little
knowledge on how technology could be utilized to minimize air pollution,
and this raised the public concern for the need to live and operate in
environmentally safe world.
The majority of initial measure to combat air pollution focused on legal
restrictions on use of particular sources of energy based on their
contribution to air pollution. These actions were enacted through the
rulings by the courts of law, leaders, or legislative bodies that were
prompted to take actions based on visible impacts of air pollution on
human life. For example, coal-smoke tat over-saturated fog killed about
268 people in London in 1873 while accumulation of smoke and winter
inversions killed about 1,000 people in Scotland in 1905 (Wiley 298). In
the increase in these visible impacts of air pollution triggered the
stakeholders to take initiatives to protect the environment by enacting
rules that could help in reduction in emission of air pollutants. For
example, several cities (such as Cincinnati and Chicago) had enacted
laws to reduce emission of smoke as well as ash from railroads, ships,
and factories by 1881. Environmental protection interventions of the
twentieth century focused on using technological innovations (such as
the use of fuel efficient engines) to reduce emissions instead of
prohibiting the use of certain source of energy.
Major sources of air pollution
Sources of air pollution can be categorized into natural and man-made
sources. However, emissions related to human activities have more
devastating impacts on environment compared to natural sources of air
pollutants. There are many types of gas that are emitted through natural
and man-related activities, but three of them are the primary causes of
impacts being experienced in the present world. Sulfur dioxide is one of
the gas emissions that have endangered human existence as a result of
its fatal health effects. Research shows that emission of sulfur dioxide
have been increasing by 4 % annually in spite of stringent measures
taken to reduce air pollution globally (Rai 80). The research also
indicated that emission of sulfur dioxide is still high even after the
introduction of natural gas to replace the sources of energy with high
sulfur content. The large amount of sulfur dioxide (15.8 tons) annually
by the year 2003 raises the doubt o whether the current projections to
reduce the emission by 5 % by the year 2020 will make any difference in
human efforts to maintain sustainability in environmental protection.
Nitrogen dioxide is another ambient air pollutant that requires the
attention of stakeholders in environmental protection. The most complex
issue in reducing air pollution through emission of nitrogen dioxide is
that the gas is emitted through both natural and human activities such
as automobiles and power plants operations. Although the gas was emitted
in high levels in Western countries (Europe and America) during the
industrial revolution, there are other emerging areas of high emission.
Emission of nitrogen dioxide increased by 2.5 % in Asia and 5.5 % in
India from 1980 to 2000 (Rai 81). This calls for drastic measures to
contain the trend.
Ozone gas has recently raised major concern globally due its capacity to
cause global warming. Although ozone is a secondary pollutant, human
activities have contributed towards it formation through the increase in
emission of primary pollutants (such as reactive hydrocarbon) that
triggers photo-chemical reactions that are responsible for the formation
of ozone gas (Ana 45). The high rate of production of primary pollutants
that stimulates production of ozone have been shifting from industrial
countries to developing worlds as a result of the increase in human
activities (such as industries) and general environmental pollution.
Effective measures are required to prevent the occurrence of current
projections that ozone level layer may increase by 20 % within the next
50 years (Rai 82).
Currently, there are two major sources of air pollutants that should be
given a priority by stakeholders in their endeavor to protect the future
of the world through sustainable methods of reducing air pollution.
First, motor vehicle related emissions contribute about 70 % of total
air pollution globally (Rai 80). This is a major challenge give the fact
that the number of motor vehicles is more likely to increase than to
reduce in the future. In addition, motor vehicle emissions will continue
to increase with the increase in population size and demand in
transport, especially in the urban areas. Effective mechanism to reduce
vehicular emissions can be formulated by studying the relationship that
exists between different variables such as population density, demand
for transport, ambient concentrations, and carbon emissions. Although
this may be difficult situation, stakeholders in air quality management
and motor industry need to formulate a sustainable solution to curtail
the trend.
Industrial pollution was the major source of air pollutant in the late
nineteenth century and early twentieth century, but it currently ranks
the second with about 20 % (on average) in global air pollution (Rai
80). Industries emit various types of air pollutants (including sulfur,
nitrogen, and carbon gases) that contribute to global warming and health
hazards to human beings and other forms of biodiversity. These gases are
produced through the use of sources of energy that contain hazardous
compounds to drive industrial machines for large scale production in an
objective of meeting the increase in demand for industrial products
worldwide. Industrial facilities that use petrochemicals to enhance
their operations has emerged as the major sources of highly reactive
sources of air pollutants such as reactive nitrogen compounds and
hydrogen (Ryerson 1). These two gases are the major contributors of the
high rate of increase in ozone gas in the atmosphere because they act as
the primary compounds that catalyze reactions that lead to ozone
formation.
Effects of air pollution
Air pollution is the major cause of risk to global biodiversity, and
more specific to human survival. It causes a range of effects (both
long-term and short-term) that have either direct or indirect impact on
human beings or other living things. The major effects considered in the
present study relate to human health, effects on plants, and issues of
global warming. Prolonged exposure to elevated levels of air pollutants
increases the risk of contracting different health complications to
human beings. Respiratory diseases caused by air pollutants account for
about 6 % of respiratory infections as well as mortality globally
(Chauhan 96). This implies that inhalation of sulfur, carbon, and
nitrogen oxides from both indoor and outdoor pollutants endanger human
health and subjects’ man to the risk of death. Although respiratory
diseases are given more emphasis, there are other types of health
hazards (such as skin infections) that are caused by elevated levels of
air pollutants.
The increases in levels of air pollutants in the atmosphere subjects the
world to the risk of reduced supply of food following the damage done on
plants by these pollutants. Research shows that crop yield have started
declining globally where maize production has been decreasing at a rate
of 3.9-15 % while production of soy bean and wheat has been decreasing
at a rate of 8.5-14 % (Wilkinson 1-2). This is a clear suggestion of
risk of death and loss of both animals and human beings in days to come.
Different air pollutants cause varying types of injuries to plants, thus
reducing their capacity to produce fruits or sufficient leaves to
support their own existence ad provide food for animals. For example,
local air pollutants damage plant leaves causing them to abscise and
senesce early. Patches on plant leaves and leave coloration are some of
the visible impacts of air pollutants that reduce plant growth rate and
production.
Climate change is a highly debated topic in the present world. Air
pollution is the major cause of climate change, which threatens human
life and loss of biodiversity if drastic measures are not taken. Climate
change occurs when the concentration of air pollutants in the atmosphere
increase beyond the norms or distort the normal composition of
atmosphere. Research shows that short-term oscillations and long-term
trends in global climates have taken place in the atmosphere within the
last 1,000 years as a result of air pollution (Xin-quan 141-142). This
has caused irregular changes in global temperature commonly referred to
as temperature reconstruction. Although climate change was initiated by
air pollution, it occurrence will elevate the level of air pollution.
For instant the increase in temperatures beyond norms will result in
high production of ozone and smog. This will continually endanger human
life and loss of biodiversity following the increase in inhabitable
climatic conditions.
Prevention of air pollution
Sustainable and effective measures of reducing air pollution should
focus at helping individuals and organizations to limit source of air
pollutants. Vehicle transport, being the largest contributor of air
pollutant should be reformed through public policies and legislative
measures that will ensure that emissions related with combustion of
fossil fuels are minimized. These efforts require the concerted efforts
of the government agencies, vehicle users, and environmental
conservation agencies. Gwilliam (1-161) proposed two broad approaches
through which vehicular emissions can be reduced. First, improving the
transport system can significantly reduce emissions in this sector. This
can be achieved through the efficient management of traffic and land use
to maintain a smooth flow of traffic, thus reducing fuel consumption.
This can also be achieved by encouraging the use of non-motorized means
of transport such as walking and the use of bicycles. This provides a
better option that can be practiced by the majority if not all members
of the public in an attempt to reduce the rate of vehicular emissions.
Secondly, vehicular emission can be reduced at vehicle level through
inspection and regular maintenance, recirculation of exhaust gas, using
high quality fuel, and the use of catalytic converters. These calls for
the environmental consciousness among vehicle users and government
agencies with the responsibility of formulate laws that regulate traffic
operations.
Industrial pollution may not be perfectly prevented, but there are
several measures that can used to reduce emissions from processing and
manufacturing plants. Technological methods of reduce air pollution
focus on reduction of fuel consumption or emission of hazardous
compounds into atmosphere. Industrialists have a role to play in
reducing industrial emission by adopting new technology. CNS
precipitator is one of the most effective technological approaches that
industrialists can use to filter exhaust gases. The filtration processes
involves the removal of hazardous compounds such as nitrogen and
sulfur oxides that contributes to ozone formation (Velan 9). In
addition, industrialists can use gasification technology to trap toxins
found in exhausts, thus preventing their release into the atmosphere.
The adoption of these technological measures will contribute
significantly towards the reduction of emission of air pollutant, thus
improving the quality of air now and in the future. However, these
measures will all for environmental consciousness among industrialists,
which will help them see things beyond profit making.
Environmental conservation cannot be left in the hands of well wishers
or at the will of industrialists and motorists. This means that
regulatory (laws and polices) measures should be put in place to ensure
that all the stakeholders conduct their operations in environmentally
friendly ways. Regulatory measures can address three major issues in an
attempt to guide the key stakeholders in reducing emission of air
pollutants in their respective operations. First, regulatory measures
should require the stakeholders (including the motorists and
industrialists) to adopt the cost-effective and environmentally friendly
technology to reduce emission of pollutants (Alvarez 24). This can be
achieved by enlightening the stakeholders on the importance of
contributing towards environmental protection, but it should be a
requirement they adopt environmentally safe methods in their operations.
Secondly, regulations can target at placing limits on gas emissions to
industries. Industries that emit ha level hazardous gases beyond the
requirement should either be forced to close down or fined. The third
regulatory approach is to require the stakeholders, especially
industrialists to report system failures that may lead to emission of
air pollutants to responsible authorities. This can help in warning the
public of the possible impact of emissions and speeding-up the repair
process.
Conclusion
Air pollution is a major environmental issue that requires concerted
effort of all the stakeholders in technology science, and policy-making
agencies to put in place sustainable measures of environmental
protection. Although air pollution has been going on for many years,
industrial revolution marked the beginning of large scale pollution that
produced visible impacts in the environment and on human health.
However, initial measures (such as court rulings and legislative
measures) to taken to combat air pollution failed to establish
sustainable mechanisms. Some of the major air pollutants that should be
addressed with urgency include ozone, sulfur dioxide, carbon, and
nitrogen oxides. Although these pollutants are produced through natural
and human activities, sustainable measures should mainly address human
contribution through industrial and traffic operations. Formulation and
implementation of sustainable measures of reducing air pollution will
help in protecting human health, safeguarding against the loss of
biodiversity, enhance food security, and reduce the impacts of climate
change. The process of formulating sustainable measures should focus on
empowering individuals and organizations in adopting environmentally
friendly methods in their operations. The most effective approaches
include the use of modern technology to reduce the amount of air
pollutants emitted and filtration of air pollutants to eliminate
hazardous compounds.
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