Monday, March 30, 2009

Air Pollution : The Big Issue

While pollution of the upper atmosphere threatens the basic preconditions for life, pollution of the lower atmosphere is also a threat. Already it is estimated that one fifth of the world's population breathes air contaminated by pollutants in excess of World Health Organization (WHO) safety limits.

Acid emissions, especially oxides of sulphur and nitrogen are one of the major culprits. These arise primarily from the burning of fossil fuels for industry, power-generation and transport. It is estimated that £11 billion worth of damage is occurring annually in the EU alone to buildings, pipework, forestry and agriculture as a result of acidification.

This is a trans-boundary air pollution issue. The UK exports acid emissions due to its dilute and disperse control methods, which rely on tall chimney stacks to remove pollutants from the locality. Norway on the other hand imports 96% of its acid deposition from elsewhere.

Soil acidification also releases toxic metals such as aluminium, which can then accumulate in groundwater.

Other local effects include the build-up of photochemical smog from a cocktail of gases including nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons and ozone. This has been linked to an increase in respiratory diseases and asthma. Ozone is also implicated in $5.4 billion worth of damage to crops every year in the United States of America.

Volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), especially solvents used in industry are another health hazard. In Europe, stricter controls are being made on the use of VOCs but in many areas of the world, restriction on air emissions is limited to acid gases.

Waste incinerators are specifically implicated in the production of carcinogenic air pollutants such as dioxins. The point here is when we are going to think on Air Pollution?

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