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Causes and Effects of Air Pollution

Wind forces work by mixing and dispersing gases while rain dissolves substances in the air and wash such substances to the ground. Plants regulate the level of carbon dioxide in the air by absorbing the gas and replacing it with oxygen. However, urbanization and industrialization have led to an increase in the number of activities that release harmful particles and gases into the atmosphere. The ability of the earth’s natural forces to maintain satisfactory levels of air cleanliness had significantly declined in recent times. An increasing number of individuals and organizations concerned about the effects of air pollution on the climate, environment and human health are demanding immediate action to reverse the trend in air pollution. Air pollution results due to the presence of a combination of harmful solid particles and gases in the air. The particles and gases alter the balance in the atmosphere so that the natural forces and events, which protect the earth, cannot effectively clean the air. Air pollutants originate from a variety of natural and human sources. The most significant sources of air pollution include emissions from industries and automobiles, industrial chemicals and human activities that generate excessive dust. The major natural sources of air pollution include wildfire related to rising global temperatures, volcanic eruptions, pollen particle, organic compounds that evaporate into the atmosphere and natural radioactivity. Emissions from industries and automobiles constitute the greatest percentage of air pollutants, which scientists attribute to the increase in global warming due to the greenhouse effect. The main element of the emissions from industries and automobiles is carbon dioxide, which results due to combustion of hydrocarbons present in the fossil fuels used to drive automobile engines and heavy machinery. Other emissions related to industrial applications and automobiles include methane gas, organic compounds and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). The gases emitted from industries and automobiles react with environmental gases to form gases with even high toxic levels, which aggravate the impacts of these air pollutants on the environment. Human activities such as mining and construction generate large volumes of dust particles, which reach the upper atmosphere where they remain suspended for long.

Air pollutants have numerous effects including the development of smog, acidification, eutrophication, ozone interference and health effects attributed to the particulate matter in the atmosphere. Smog results when the smoke from industries and automobiles mixes with fog. Smog has adverse effects on visibility levels and temperature inversion due to the trapping of layers of cold air close to the ground. Low visibility levels related to smog, which could last for several days depending on the wind conditions, are responsible for a large number of road accident witnessed in highly industrialized cities. Photochemical smog, unlike the autumn and winter smog, has adverse health effects because it creates a cycle of hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides, which re-circulates as currents and contaminates most of the air. Acidification results from the effects of acidic compounds obtained due to the chemical reactions of air pollutants. The compounds have harmful effects on plant life and human structures such as buildings. Air pollutant such as sulfur dioxide are responsible for rising cases of acid rains, which result from the reaction between sulfur dioxide and water to form sulfuric acid. Sulfuric acid has adverse effects on the human health, plant life and aquatic ecosystem. Sulfuric acid is a corrosive chemical compound, which destroys forage, alters the chemical composition of soil so that it cannot support plant life and other soil habitats. Similarly, changes in the chemical composition of water sources, due to sulfuric acid contamination, affects the aquatic plant life and animal life due to the alteration of the natural balance in the ecosystem. Scientists have identified the role of sulfur dioxide and related chemicals in the alteration of global temperatures in terms of reflecting sunlight away from the earth. The main source of atmospheric sulfur dioxide was volcanic eruptions a few decades ago. Currently, human activities have become the main cause of the rising levels of sulfur dioxide in the air.

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