If you live in an urban area, you have most likely experienced a smog filled day or an inversion.  It’s not a surprise, due to the fact that much of the pollution is caused by vehicle emissions and industrial factory byproducts.  Interestingly enough, studies show that living in a metropolitan area can actually reduce your life span by 2 to 3 years.  It is important to understand what the major pollutants are, and what people can do to decrease the damage that they cause.

The Environmental Protection Agency is required by the Clean Air Act to set quality standards for six of the most common and harmful air pollutants.  These air pollutants pose a particular threat to the environment, as well as people’s over-all health.  Since they have the potential to cause bodily damage, the EPA sets permissible levels for these air contaminates, and checks them on a regular basis.  Known as criteria air pollutants, the six most common pollutants include ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, lead, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter.

Greenhouse gases are another form of hazardous air pollution.  These gases have led to the occurrence of global warming, which is responsible for a shift in the Earth’s ecosystem.  People are trying to reduce their “carbon footprint”, or amount of carbon dioxide they leave behind.  They are doing this by recycling, driving their vehicles less often, and conserving.  The government is also taking this issue seriously by increasing the tax on gas, so that people will conserve their gas usage.

  1. Ozone:  Ground level ozone is different from the ozone that protects people from the sun.  It is actually created on the ground when volatile organic compounds chemically react with oxides of nitrogen in the presence of sunlight.  These chemicals are a result of motor vehicle exhaust, emissions from electric utilities and industrial facilities, chemical solvents, and gas vapors.  Ozone can have a detrimental effect on your health, especially if you have been diagnosed with asthma, COPD, or bronchitis.  Ozone can also have a harmful effect on the ecosystem, causing changes to the quality of habitats, nutrient cycles, and water.
  2. Carbon Monoxide:  A byproduct of the combustion process, carbon monoxide emissions most commonly come from transportation sources.  Carbon monoxide is harmful to the body in that is inhibits the blood’s ability to deliver oxygen to the organs.  At high levels, it stops oxygen delivery all together, and causes death.
  3. Sulfur Dioxide:  The combustion of fossil fuels at power plants, and other industrial facilities are responsible for the majority of sulfur dioxide production.  It is also extremely harmful to the respiratory system, causing increased asthma symptoms.  Sulfur dioxide can react with various compounds in the air forming small particles.  These particles can imbed in the lungs, and aggravate emphysema patients, as well as those affected by heart disease.
  4. Lead:  Lead emissions within the air have decreased dramatically as a direct result of the Environmental Protection Agency’s actions to remove the lead from gas.
  5. Nitrogen Oxides:  Produced by the emissions formed from power plants, on-road vehicles, and off-road vehicles, nitrogen oxides are one of the chemicals involved in the formation of harmful fine particle pollution and ground level ozone.  Is known for causing respiratory distress, and a number of other health issues.
  6. Particulate Matter:  Also referred to as particle pollution, this form of pollution is extremely harmful to the body.  Nitrates, organic chemicals, soil, metals, sulfates, and dust particles are responsible for creating particulate matter.  The EPA has classified the particulates into two categories, including inhalable course particles, and fine particles, depending on their size.
  7. Carbon Dioxide:  This greenhouse gas is a natural byproduct of respiration.  It is also associated with the burning of fossil fuel.
  8. Methane:  Comes from the gas emitted by livestock, and swamps.
  9. Chlorofluorocarbons:  Once used as propellants in aerosol items and in refrigerants, CFCs have been outlawed due to the hazardous effect on the ozone layer.

So, what can one do to prevent or lessen the damages that this air pollution has on the body?  There are several websites online where you can view the air quality in your area on a daily basis.  If the quality is particularly bad, you may want to stay indoors as much as possible.  Also, to improve the air quality in your home, make sure that you have a high-quality air filter that reduces indoor pollutants.  Doing your part to protect the environment, and keep the air clean can help to ensure that your family has clean air to breath for years to come.