It’s All Up in the Air

Although it seems simple and fairly straightforward, what makes up air pollution can be a little confusing, especially when sifting through all the countless data and articles. They throw around CO2, PM, SOX, NOX, and various other compounds and acronyms to the point that for the average person, it just turns into alphabet soup.

So, what exactly is polluting our air? What is it made out of and where is it coming from?

There are two major types of air pollutants: gases and particulates. Gases are most of what we hear about. Carbon dioxide, methane, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides and ozone are among the most well-known. These can be released from burning fuels (especially coal), agriculture, transportation, smoking, and even household products like paint and cleaning supplies.

Particulates, also known as particulate matter (PM), are physically suspended in the air and can also come from burning fuels, wood and leaves, and places like mining, factories, and construction zones. Although both pollutants are dangerous, PM tends to have the greatest effect because it can build up in the lungs and cause health effects such as irregular heartbeat, nonfatal heart attacks, decreased lung function and respiratory irritation.

Natural disasters and occurrences such as wildfires, volcanoes, organism decay, and air currents can cause gases and particulate matter to be released into the air as well. But with the continuous burning of fuels, increased transportation needs, and the need for agricultural growth, there needs to be some change, even if it’s small.

Instead of driving to class, try walking, riding a bike, or taking public transportation. Use environmentally friendly cleaning products. Make sure you’re turning the lights off when you leave the house (electricity = fuel burning somewhere).

For more ways to protect yourself and others, visit the American Lung Association or to learn more about air pollution, visit the Environmental Protection Agency website. 

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