Air pollution is the introduction of gases, particulates or other harmful materials into the atmosphere that can harm human health and cause damage to plants, animals and natural or built environments. It is caused by a number of factors including anthropogenic (human) and natural sources, but is mostly related to fuel combustion.
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Fossil fuel burning is the most important source of pollution, and accounts for almost all emissions from anthropogenic sources. This is because when fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gasoline, are burned, they emit gases like carbon monoxide. The gas can cause a range of respiratory and heart problems.
Other harmful emissions include nitrogen oxides, particulates and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These pollutants are emitted from many industrial sources. They can be hazardous to humans and the environment, as well as to the ozone layer.
A number of measures are being taken to tackle air pollution, both at a national and local level. Measures include vehicle standards, pollution-control equipment and a wider use of renewable energy.
Road vehicles are the largest source of air pollution, releasing chemicals including carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and particulates. These pollutants can lead to a wide range of health problems, including breathing difficulties and premature death from cardiovascular disease.
Some countries and cities have implemented fuel and vehicle standards, reducing these emissions significantly. Other measures to improve air quality are conservation agriculture and waste recycling, which reduce the amount of waste that is burnt in landfills.
Trees and other vegetation also trap airborne particles, limiting their movement. The tallest trees with thick canopies planted along roads can act like roofs, trapping pockets of polluted air at ground level and preventing it from being diluted by currents of clean air.
These pollutants can have a big impact on air quality, causing diseases, deaths and damage to crops and other wildlife. This is because they cause the air to become smog-like, which can make visibility extremely poor and limit the ability of our bodies to breathe.
Weather plays a key role in affecting air pollution, with the intensity of smog varying widely across different regions. In Southern California, for example, temperature inversions and strong sunlight inhibit vertical mixing of air, allowing harmful emissions to settle close to the ground.
The study of air pollution dispersion is a crucial part of the science of environmental engineering and can be used to help predict the effects of changes in atmospheric conditions on air quality. The dispersion of air pollutants is influenced by a range of factors, including wind speed and direction, temperature, humidity and the chemical properties of particles that are being released into the atmosphere.
In the UK, a major contributor to air pollution is emissions from vehicles and household gas combustion. The majority of these emissions are mainly Nitrogen Oxides, but other pollutants such as Carbon Monoxide and Sulphur Dioxide can also be released from motor vehicle exhausts.
In addition, air pollution is often accompanied by ozone depletion, acid rain and other harmful environmental effects. The ozone layer is an important protective layer of the atmosphere that absorbs harmful ultraviolet radiation and prevents solar heating of the Earth’s surface. When ozone concentrations are high, smog can be formed.