A while ago, I talked about plastic pollution, a huge issue, but a very much visible one.  Even just on a walk you will likely find tons of litter everywhere. Air pollution, on the other hand, is not nearly as visible. But it is just as big as a threat, killing 7 million people annually.  It comes in two forms, primary and secondary. Primary air pollutants like greenhouse gases are directly emitted from their source. Secondary air pollutants like smog, come from the reaction of the primary pollutant with something else. There are many different types of air pollution, here are a few: 


  • Smog
    • Forms from the reaction of fossil fuel emissions and sunlight 
    • Can irritate eyes and throat, can damage the lungs 
  • Soot  
    • Tiny particles that are carried around in the air 
    • Can come from fossil fuel emissions
    • Can penetrate the bloodstream and lungs, worsening a variety of illnesses 
  • Greenhouse gases 
    • Come from fossil fuels  
    • Cause climate change, ocean acidification, and other threats 
  • Pollen and mold
    • Natural, but worsened due to climate change 
    • Bad for asthma 
    • Some molds release toxins, that are hazardous to human health 


Most forms of air pollution either disproportionally impact the sick or increase the chance of sickness. 


Unfortunately, those most affected by this issue are often people of lower-income, who more likely live in communities with multiple chemical plants or near highways, both of which are major sources of air pollution. Air pollution can also occur indoors, many people in poor countries generally do not have access to clean sources of fuel, so they have to burn crop, waste, dung, charcoal, and more. This exposes people to high levels of air pollutants in a relatively enclosed space without proper ventilation. Air pollution is believed to have a similar negative effect on wildlife as it does on humans. 


Two types of greenhouse gases, nitrous oxide, and sulfur dioxide can cause rain to become more acidic. Acid rain is a huge problem on its own, with effects ranging from tree damage, to crop damage to releasing aluminum from soil(where it then seeps out into the ecosystem as a poison). Nitrous oxide can also act as a nutrient. When it enters lakes, it speeds up algal growth. The increased population of algae depletes the oxygen levels in the lake, having a great impact on the local wildlife. One final major problem caused by air pollution is haze, which is made up of micrometer scaled particles that can cause heart attacks, respiratory issues, and more. Eventually, haze particles settle, and depending on where their environment is impacted can vary. They can deplete soil nutrients and make environments more acidic, among other things. Haze like some other forms of air pollution is visible, but many others are not.



If you are worried about the air pollution levels in your area, try to find your community’s air quality index, which should tell you if the air is safe. Check out this guide to air pollution safety as well. Many functional systems in our society can lead to some form of air pollution wether it’s vehicles, factories, building heating, etc. Thus, any kind of solution must be targeted at removing or reducing the emissions associated with those activities. 


Looking to help? 


  1. Avoid emissions, the best way to help contribute to air pollution reduction is to pollute less. This can be done by carpooling (fewer cars on the road), using electric equipment (like a mower) instead of gas-powered equipment, or buying energy-star-efficient appliances.  Check out this comprehensive guide by the new york times for more ways to reduce your emissions. 
  2. Use your voice, and vote for politicians that support policies that can contribute to healthier air. In general, a good way to help solve issues is to vote for officials who have them as important parts of their policy plans. 


Want to learn more about air pollution? Check out this link here.