Air pollution occurs when harmful or excessive quantities of
substances including gases, particulates, and biological molecules are
introduced into Earth's atmosphere. It may cause diseases, allergies
and also death of humans; it may also cause harm to other living
organisms such as animals and food crops, and may damage the natural
or built environment. Human activity and natural processes can both
generate air pollution.
Indoor air pollution and poor urban air quality are listed as two of
the world's worst toxic pollution problems in the 2008 Blacksmith
Institute World's Worst Polluted Places report. According to the
World Health Organization
World Health Organization report, air pollution in 2012 caused
the deaths of around 7 million people worldwide, an estimate
roughly echoed by one from the International
Part of the nature series
Tropical cyclone (Hurricane)
Drizzle (Freezing drizzle)
Ice pellets (Diamond dust)
Rain (Freezing rain)
Rain and snow mixed
1.1.1 Anthropogenic (man-made) sources
1.1.2 Natural sources
1.2 Emission factors
Indoor air quality
Indoor air quality (IAQ)
4 Health effects
4.2 Cardiovascular disease
4.6 "Clean" areas
4.7 Central nervous system
5 Agricultural effects
6 Economic effects
7 Historical disasters
8 Alternatives to pollution
9 Reduction efforts
9.1 Control devices
13 Governing urban air pollution
14 See also
16 Further reading
17 External links
Pollutant and Greenhouse gas
An air pollutant is a substance in the air that can have adverse
effects on humans and the ecosystem. The substance can be solid
particles, liquid droplets, or gases. A pollutant can be of natural
origin or man-made. Pollutants are classified as primary or secondary.
Primary pollutants are usually produced from a process, such as ash
from a volcanic eruption. Other examples include carbon monoxide gas
from motor vehicle exhaust, or the sulfur dioxide released from
factories. Secondary pollutants are not emitted directly. Rather, they
form in the air when primary pollutants react or interact. Ground
level ozone is a prominent example of a secondary pollutant. Some
pollutants may be both primary and secondary: they are both emitted
directly and formed from other primary pollutants.
Before flue-gas desulfurization was installed, the emissions from this
power plant in
New Mexico contained excessive amounts of sulfur
Schematic drawing, causes and effects of air pollution: (1) greenhouse
effect, (2) particulate contamination, (3) increased UV radiation, (4)
acid rain, (5) increased ground level ozone concentration, (6)
increased levels of nitrogen oxides.
Thermal oxidizers are air pollution abatement options for hazardous
air pollutants (HAPs), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and odorous
Substances emitted into the atmosphere by human activity include:
Carbon dioxide (CO2) - Because of its role as a greenhouse gas it has
been described as "the leading pollutant" and "the worst climate
Carbon dioxide is a natural component of the
atmosphere, essential for plant life and given off by the human
respiratory system. This question of terminology has practical
effects, for example as determining whether the U.S. Clean Air Act is
deemed to regulate CO2 emissions. CO2 currently forms about 405
parts per million (ppm) of earth's atmosphere, compared to about 280
ppm in pre-industrial times, and billions of metric tons of CO2 are
emitted annually by burning of fossil fuels. CO2 increase in
earth's atmosphere has been accelerating.
Sulfur oxides (SOx) - particularly sulfur dioxide, a chemical compound
with the formula SO2. SO2 is produced by volcanoes and in various
Coal and petroleum often contain sulfur
compounds, and their combustion generates sulfur dioxide. Further
oxidation of SO2, usually in the presence of a catalyst such as NO2,
forms H2SO4, and thus acid rain. This is one of the causes for
concern over the environmental impact of the use of these fuels as
Nitrogen oxides (NOx) - Nitrogen oxides, particularly nitrogen
dioxide, are expelled from high temperature combustion, and are also
produced during thunderstorms by electric discharge. They can be seen
as a brown haze dome above or a plume downwind of cities. Nitrogen
dioxide is a chemical compound with the formula NO2. It is one of
several nitrogen oxides. One of the most prominent air pollutants,
this reddish-brown toxic gas has a characteristic sharp, biting odor.
Carbon monoxide (CO) - CO is a colorless, odorless, toxic yet
non-irritating gas. It is a product of combustion of fuel such as
natural gas, coal or wood. Vehicular exhaust contributes to the
majority of carbon monoxide let into our atmosphere. It creates a smog
type formation in the air that has been linked to many lung diseases
and disruptions to the natural environment and animals. In 2013, more
than half of the carbon monoxide emitted into our atmosphere was from
vehicle traffic and burning one gallon of gas will often emit over 20
pounds of carbon monoxide into the air.
Volatile organic compounds
Volatile organic compounds (VOC) - VOCs are a well-known outdoor air
pollutant. They are categorized as either methane (CH4) or non-methane
Methane is an extremely efficient greenhouse gas which
contributes to enhanced global warming. Other hydrocarbon VOCs are
also significant greenhouse gases because of their role in creating
ozone and prolonging the life of methane in the atmosphere. This
effect varies depending on local air quality. The aromatic NMVOCs
benzene, toluene and xylene are suspected carcinogens and may lead to
leukemia with prolonged exposure. 1,3-butadiene is another dangerous
compound often associated with industrial use.
Particulates, alternatively referred to as particulate matter (PM),
atmospheric particulate matter, or fine particles, are tiny particles
of solid or liquid suspended in a gas. In contrast, aerosol refers to
combined particles and gas. Some particulates occur naturally,
originating from volcanoes, dust storms, forest and grassland fires,
living vegetation, and sea spray. Human activities, such as the
burning of fossil fuels in vehicles, power plants and various
industrial processes also generate significant amounts of aerosols.
Averaged worldwide, anthropogenic aerosols—those made by human
activities—currently account for approximately 10 percent of our
atmosphere. Increased levels of fine particles in the air are linked
to health hazards such as heart disease, altered lung function and
Particulates are related to respiratory infections and
can be particularly harmful to those already suffering from conditions
Persistent free radicals connected to airborne fine particles are
linked to cardiopulmonary disease.
Toxic metals, such as lead and mercury, especially their compounds.
Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) - harmful to the ozone layer; emitted from
products are currently banned from use. These are gases which are
released from air conditioners, refrigerators, aerosol sprays, etc. On
release into the air, CFCs rise to the stratosphere. Here they come in
contact with other gases and damage the ozone layer. This allows
harmful ultraviolet rays to reach the earth's surface. This can lead
to skin cancer, eye disease and can even cause damage to plants.
Ammonia (NH3) - emitted from agricultural processes.
Ammonia is a
compound with the formula NH3. It is normally encountered as a gas
with a characteristic pungent odor.
Ammonia contributes significantly
to the nutritional needs of terrestrial organisms by serving as a
precursor to foodstuffs and fertilizers. Ammonia, either directly or
indirectly, is also a building block for the synthesis of many
pharmaceuticals. Although in wide use, ammonia is both caustic and
hazardous. In the atmosphere, ammonia reacts with oxides of nitrogen
and sulfur to form secondary particles.
Odours — such as from garbage, sewage, and industrial processes
Radioactive pollutants - produced by nuclear explosions, nuclear
events, war explosives, and natural processes such as the radioactive
decay of radon.
Secondary pollutants include:
Particulates created from gaseous primary pollutants and compounds in
Smog is a kind of air pollution. Classic smog
results from large amounts of coal burning in an area caused by a
mixture of smoke and sulfur dioxide. Modern smog does not usually come
from coal but from vehicular and industrial emissions that are acted
on in the atmosphere by ultraviolet light from the sun to form
secondary pollutants that also combine with the primary emissions to
form photochemical smog.
Ground level ozone
Ground level ozone (O3) formed from NOx and VOCs.
Ozone (O3) is a key
constituent of the troposphere. It is also an important constituent of
certain regions of the stratosphere commonly known as the
Photochemical and chemical reactions involving it drive many of the
chemical processes that occur in the atmosphere by day and by night.
At abnormally high concentrations brought about by human activities
(largely the combustion of fossil fuel), it is a pollutant, and a
constituent of smog.
Peroxyacetyl nitrate (C2H3NO5) - similarly formed from NOx and VOCs.
Minor air pollutants include:
A large number of minor hazardous air pollutants. Some of these are
regulated in USA under the Clean Air Act and in
Europe under the Air
A variety of persistent organic pollutants, which can attach to
Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are organic compounds that are
resistant to environmental degradation through chemical, biological,
and photolytic processes. Because of this, they have been observed to
persist in the environment, to be capable of long-range transport,
bioaccumulate in human and animal tissue, biomagnify in food chains,
and to have potentially significant impacts on human health and the
This video provides an overview of a NASA study on the human
fingerprint on global air quality.
There are various locations, activities or factors which are
responsible for releasing pollutants into the atmosphere. These
sources can be classified into two major categories.
Anthropogenic (man-made) sources
Controlled burning of a field outside of
Statesboro, Georgia in
preparation for spring planting.
These are mostly related to the burning of multiple types of fuel.
Stationary sources include smoke stacks of fossil fuel power stations
(see for example environmental impact of the coal industry),
manufacturing facilities (factories) and waste incinerators, as well
as furnaces and other types of fuel-burning heating devices. In
developing and poor countries, traditional biomass burning is the
major source of air pollutants; traditional biomass includes wood,
crop waste and dung.
Mobile sources include motor vehicles, marine vessels, and aircraft.
Controlled burn practices in agriculture and forest management.
Controlled or prescribed burning is a technique sometimes used in
forest management, farming, prairie restoration or greenhouse gas
abatement. Fire is a natural part of both forest and grassland ecology
and controlled fire can be a tool for foresters. Controlled burning
stimulates the germination of some desirable forest trees, thus
renewing the forest.
Fumes from paint, hair spray, varnish, aerosol sprays and other
solvents. These can be substantial; emissions from these sources was
estimated to account for almost half of pollution from volatile
organic compounds in the
Los Angeles basin in the 2010s.
Waste deposition in landfills, which generate methane.
highly flammable and may form explosive mixtures with air.
also an asphyxiant and may displace oxygen in an enclosed space.
Asphyxia or suffocation may result if the oxygen concentration is
reduced to below 19.5% by displacement.
Military resources, such as nuclear weapons, toxic gases, germ warfare
Fertilized farmland may be a major source of nitrogen oxides.
Dust storm approaching Stratford, Texas.
Dust from natural sources, usually large areas of land with little or
Methane, emitted by the digestion of food by animals, for example
Radon gas from radioactive decay within the Earth's crust.
Radon is a
colorless, odorless, naturally occurring, radioactive noble gas that
is formed from the decay of radium. It is considered to be a health
Radon gas from natural sources can accumulate in buildings,
especially in confined areas such as the basement and it is the second
most frequent cause of lung cancer, after cigarette smoking.
Smoke and carbon monoxide from wildfires
Vegetation, in some regions, emits environmentally significant amounts
Volatile organic compounds
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) on warmer days. These VOCs react
with primary anthropogenic pollutants—specifically, NOx, SO2, and
anthropogenic organic carbon compounds — to produce a seasonal haze
of secondary pollutants. Black gum, poplar, oak and willow are
some examples of vegetation that can produce abundant VOCs. The VOC
production from these species result in ozone levels up to eight times
higher than the low-impact tree species.
Volcanic activity, which produces sulfur, chlorine, and ash
Main article: AP 42 Compilation of Air
Pollutant Emission Factors
Beijing air on a 2005-day after rain (left) and a smoggy day (right)
Air pollutant emission factors are reported representative values that
attempt to relate the quantity of a pollutant released to the ambient
air with an activity associated with the release of that pollutant.
These factors are usually expressed as the weight of pollutant divided
by a unit weight, volume, distance, or duration of the activity
emitting the pollutant (e.g., kilograms of particulate emitted per
tonne of coal burned). Such factors facilitate estimation of emissions
from various sources of air pollution. In most cases, these factors
are simply averages of all available data of acceptable quality, and
are generally assumed to be representative of long-term averages.
There are 12 compounds in the list of persistent organic pollutants.
Dioxins and furans are two of them and intentionally created by
combustion of organics, like open burning of plastics. These compounds
are also endocrine disruptors and can mutate the human genes.
United States Environmental Protection Agency
United States Environmental Protection Agency has published a
compilation of air pollutant emission factors for a wide range of
industrial sources. The United Kingdom, Australia,
Canada and many
other countries have published similar compilations, as well as the
European Environment Agency.
Air pollution risk is a function of the hazard of the pollutant and
the exposure to that pollutant.
Air pollution exposure can be
expressed for an individual, for certain groups (e.g. neighborhoods or
children living in a country), or for entire populations. For example,
one may want to calculate the exposure to a hazardous air pollutant
for a geographic area, which includes the various microenvironments
and age groups. This can be calculated as an inhalation exposure.
This would account for daily exposure in various settings (e.g.
different indoor micro-environments and outdoor locations). The
exposure needs to include different age and other demographic groups,
especially infants, children, pregnant women and other sensitive
subpopulations. The exposure to an air pollutant must integrate the
concentrations of the air pollutant with respect to the time spent in
each setting and the respective inhalation rates for each subgroup for
each specific time that the subgroup is in the setting and engaged in
particular activities (playing, cooking, reading, working, etc.). For
example, a small child's inhalation rate will be less than that of an
adult. A child engaged in vigorous exercise will have a higher
respiration rate than the same child in a sedentary activity. The
daily exposure, then, needs to reflect the time spent in each
micro-environmental setting and the type of activities in these
settings. The air pollutant concentration in each
microactivity/microenvironmental setting is summed to indicate the
Indoor air quality
Indoor air quality (IAQ)
Main article: Indoor air quality
Air quality monitoring, New Delhi, India.
A lack of ventilation indoors concentrates air pollution where people
often spend the majority of their time.
Radon (Rn) gas, a carcinogen,
is exuded from the Earth in certain locations and trapped inside
houses. Building materials including carpeting and plywood emit
formaldehyde (H2CO) gas.
Paint and solvents give off volatile organic
compounds (VOCs) as they dry.
Lead paint can degenerate into dust and
be inhaled. Intentional air pollution is introduced with the use of
air fresheners, incense, and other scented items. Controlled wood
fires in stoves and fireplaces can add significant amounts of smoke
particulates into the air, inside and out. Indoor pollution
fatalities may be caused by using pesticides and other chemical sprays
indoors without proper ventilation.
Carbon monoxide poisoning and fatalities are often caused by faulty
vents and chimneys, or by the burning of charcoal indoors or in a
confined space, such as a tent. Chronic carbon monoxide poisoning
can result even from poorly-adjusted pilot lights. Traps are built
into all domestic plumbing to keep sewer gas and hydrogen sulfide, out
of interiors. Clothing emits tetrachloroethylene, or other dry
cleaning fluids, for days after dry cleaning.
Though its use has now been banned in many countries, the extensive
use of asbestos in industrial and domestic environments in the past
has left a potentially very dangerous material in many localities.
Asbestosis is a chronic inflammatory medical condition affecting the
tissue of the lungs. It occurs after long-term, heavy exposure to
asbestos from asbestos-containing materials in structures. Sufferers
have severe dyspnea (shortness of breath) and are at an increased risk
regarding several different types of lung cancer. As clear
explanations are not always stressed in non-technical literature, care
should be taken to distinguish between several forms of relevant
diseases. According to the
World Health Organisation
World Health Organisation (WHO), these may
defined as; asbestosis, lung cancer, and Peritoneal Mesothelioma
(generally a very rare form of cancer, when more widespread it is
almost always associated with prolonged exposure to asbestos).
Biological sources of air pollution are also found indoors, as gases
and airborne particulates. Pets produce dander, people produce dust
from minute skin flakes and decomposed hair, dust mites in bedding,
carpeting and furniture produce enzymes and micrometre-sized fecal
droppings, inhabitants emit methane, mold forms on walls and generates
mycotoxins and spores, air conditioning systems can incubate
Legionnaires' disease and mold, and houseplants, soil and surrounding
gardens can produce pollen, dust, and mold. Indoors, the lack of air
circulation allows these airborne pollutants to accumulate more than
they would otherwise occur in nature.
See also: Neuroplastic effects of pollution
Air pollution is a significant risk factor for a number of
pollution-related diseases and health conditions including respiratory
infections, heart disease, COPD, stroke and lung cancer. The health
effects caused by air pollution may include difficulty in breathing,
wheezing, coughing, asthma and worsening of existing respiratory and
cardiac conditions. These effects can result in increased medication
use, increased doctor or emergency room visits, more hospital
admissions and premature death. The human health effects of poor air
quality are far reaching, but principally affect the body's
respiratory system and the cardiovascular system. Individual reactions
to air pollutants depend on the type of pollutant a person is exposed
to, the degree of exposure, and the individual's health status and
genetics. The most common sources of air pollution include
particulates, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide. Children
aged less than five years that live in developing countries are the
most vulnerable population in terms of total deaths attributable to
indoor and outdoor air pollution.
World Health Organization
World Health Organization estimated in 2014 that every year air
pollution causes the premature death of some 7 million people
India has the highest death rate due to air
India also has more deaths from asthma than any other
nation according to the World Health Organization. In December 2013
air pollution was estimated to kill 500,000 people in
year. There is a positive correlation between pneumonia-related
deaths and air pollution from motor vehicle emissions.
Annual premature European deaths caused by air pollution are estimated
at 430,000. An important cause of these deaths is nitrogen dioxide
and other nitrogen oxides (NOx) emitted by road vehicles. In a
2015 consultation document the UK government disclosed that nitrogen
dioxide is responsible for 23,500 premature UK deaths per annum.
Across the European Union, air pollution is estimated to reduce life
expectancy by almost nine months. Causes of deaths include
strokes, heart disease, COPD, lung cancer, and lung infections.
Urban outdoor air pollution is estimated to cause 1.3 million deaths
worldwide per year.
Children are particularly at risk due to the
immaturity of their respiratory organ systems.
EPA estimated in 2004 that a proposed set of changes in diesel
engine technology (Tier 2) could result in 12,000 fewer premature
mortalities, 15,000 fewer heart attacks, 6,000 fewer emergency room
visits by children with asthma, and 8,900 fewer respiratory-related
hospital admissions each year in the United States.
EPA has estimated that limiting ground-level ozone
concentration to 65 parts per billion, would avert 1,700 to 5,100
premature deaths nationwide in 2020 compared with the 75-ppb standard.
The agency projected the more protective standard would also prevent
an additional 26,000 cases of aggravated asthma, and more than a
million cases of missed work or school. Following this
EPA acted to protect public health by lowering the
National Ambient Air Quality Standards
National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ground-level ozone
to 70 parts per billion (ppb).
A new economic study of the health impacts and associated costs of air
pollution in the
Los Angeles Basin
Los Angeles Basin and
San Joaquin Valley
San Joaquin Valley of Southern
California shows that more than 3,800 people die prematurely
(approximately 14 years earlier than normal) each year because air
pollution levels violate federal standards. The number of annual
premature deaths is considerably higher than the fatalities related to
auto collisions in the same area, which average fewer than 2,000 per
Diesel exhaust (DE) is a major contributor to combustion-derived
particulate matter air pollution. In several human experimental
studies, using a well-validated exposure chamber setup, DE has been
linked to acute vascular dysfunction and increased thrombus
The mechanisms linking air pollution to increased cardiovascular
mortality are uncertain, but probably include pulmonary and systemic
A 2007 review of evidence found ambient air pollution exposure is a
risk factor correlating with increased total mortality from
cardiovascular events (range: 12% to 14% per 10 microg/m3
Air pollution is also emerging as a risk factor for stroke,
particularly in developing countries where pollutant levels are
highest. A 2007 study found that in women, air pollution is not
associated with hemorrhagic but with ischemic stroke. Air
pollution was also found to be associated with increased incidence and
mortality from coronary stroke in a cohort study in 2011.
Associations are believed to be causal and effects may be mediated by
vasoconstriction, low-grade inflammation and atherosclerosis Other
mechanisms such as autonomic nervous system imbalance have also been
Research has demonstrated increased risk of developing asthma and
COPD from increased exposure to traffic-related air pollution.
Additionally, air pollution has been associated with increased
hospitalization and mortality from asthma and COPD. Chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) includes diseases such as chronic
bronchitis and emphysema.
A study conducted in 1960-1961 in the wake of the Great
Smog of 1952
London residents with 477 residents of Gloucester,
Peterborough, and Norwich, three towns with low reported death rates
from chronic bronchitis. All subjects were male postal truck drivers
aged 40 to 59. Compared to the subjects from the outlying towns, the
London subjects exhibited more severe respiratory symptoms (including
cough, phlegm, and dyspnea), reduced lung function (
FEV1 and peak flow
rate), and increased sputum production and purulence. The differences
were more pronounced for subjects aged 50 to 59. The study controlled
for age and smoking habits, so concluded that air pollution was the
most likely cause of the observed differences. More recent studies
have shown that air pollution exposure from traffic reduces lung
function development in children  and lung function may be
compromised by air pollution even at low concentrations. Air
pollution exposure also cause lung cancer in non smokers.
It is believed that much like cystic fibrosis, by living in a more
urban environment serious health hazards become more apparent. Studies
have shown that in urban areas patients suffer mucus hypersecretion,
lower levels of lung function, and more self-diagnosis of chronic
bronchitis and emphysema.
Cancer is mainly the result of environmental factors.
A review of evidence regarding whether ambient air pollution exposure
is a risk factor for cancer in 2007 found solid data to conclude that
long-term exposure to PM2.5 (fine particulates) increases the overall
risk of non-accidental mortality by 6% per a 10 microg/m3 increase.
Exposure to PM2.5 was also associated with an increased risk of
mortality from lung cancer (range: 15% to 21% per 10 microg/m3
increase) and total cardiovascular mortality (range: 12% to 14% per a
10 microg/m3 increase). The review further noted that living close to
busy traffic appears to be associated with elevated risks of these
three outcomes --- increase in lung cancer deaths, cardiovascular
deaths, and overall non-accidental deaths. The reviewers also found
suggestive evidence that exposure to PM2.5 is positively associated
with mortality from coronary heart diseases and exposure to SO2
increases mortality from lung cancer, but the data was insufficient to
provide solid conclusions. Another investigation showed that
higher activity level increases deposition fraction of aerosol
particles in human lung and recommended avoiding heavy activities like
running in outdoor space at polluted areas.
In 2011, a large Danish epidemiological study found an increased risk
of lung cancer for patients who lived in areas with high nitrogen
oxide concentrations. In this study, the association was higher for
non-smokers than smokers. An additional Danish study, also in
2011, likewise noted evidence of possible associations between air
pollution and other forms of cancer, including cervical cancer and
In December 2015, medical scientists reported that cancer is
overwhelmingly a result of environmental factors, and not largely down
to bad luck. Maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet,
minimizing alcohol and eliminating smoking reduces the risk of
developing the disease, according to the researchers.
In the United States, despite the passage of the Clean Air Act in
1970, in 2002 at least 146 million Americans were living in
non-attainment areas—regions in which the concentration of certain
air pollutants exceeded federal standards. These dangerous
pollutants are known as the criteria pollutants, and include ozone,
particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide,
and lead. Protective measures to ensure children's health are being
taken in cities such as
New Delhi, India
New Delhi, India where buses now use
compressed natural gas to help eliminate the "pea-soup" smog. A
recent study in
Europe has found that exposure to ultrafine particles
can increase blood pressure in children.
Ambient levels of air pollution have been associated with preterm
birth and low birth weight. A 2014
WHO worldwide survey on maternal
and perinatal health found a statistically significant association
between low birth weights (LBW) and increased levels of exposure to
PM2.5. Women in regions with greater than average PM2.5 levels had
statistically significant higher odds of pregnancy resulting in a
low-birth weight infant even when adjusted for country-related
variables. The effect is thought to be from stimulating
inflammation and increasing oxidative stress.
A study by the University of York found that in 2010 exposure to PM2.5
was strongly associated with 18% of preterm births globally, which was
approximately 2.7 million premature births. The countries with the
highest air pollution associated preterm births were in South and East
Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, and West sub-Saharan Africa.
The source of PM 2.5 differs greatly by region. In South and East
Asia, pregnant women are frequently exposed to indoor air pollution
because of the wood and other biomass fuels used for cooking which are
responsible for more than 80% of regional pollution. In the Middle
East, North Africa and West sub-Saharan Africa, fine PM comes from
natural sources, such as dust storms. The United States had an
estimated 50,000 preterm births associated with exposure to PM2.5 in
A study performed by Wang, et al. between the years of 1988 and 1991
has found a correlation between
Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) and total
suspended particulates (TSP) and preterm births and low birth weights
in Beijing. A group of 74,671 pregnant women, in four separate regions
of Beijing, were monitored from early pregnancy to delivery along with
daily air pollution levels of
Sulfur Dioxide and TSP (along with other
particulates). The estimated reduction in birth weight was 7.3 g for
every 100 µg/m3 increase in SO2 and 6.9g for each
100 µg/m3 increase in TSP. These associations were statistically
significant in both summer and winter, although, summer was greater.
The proportion of low birth weight attributable to air pollution, was
13%. This is the largest attributable risk ever reported for the known
risk factors of low birth weight.
Coal stoves, which are in 97% of
homes, are a major source of air pollution in this area.
Brauer et al. studied the relationship between air pollution and
proximity to a highway with pregnancy outcomes in a Vancouver cohort
of pregnant woman using addresses to estimate exposure during
pregnancy. Exposure to NO, NO2, CO
PM10 and PM2.5 were associated with
infants born small for gestational age (SGA). Women living
<50meters away from an expressway or highway were 26% more likely
to give birth to a SGA infant.
Even in the areas with relatively low levels of air pollution, public
health effects can be significant and costly, since a large number of
people breathe in such pollutants. A 2005 scientific study for the
Lung Association showed that a small improvement in
air quality (1% reduction of ambient PM2.5 and ozone concentrations)
would produce $29 million in annual savings in the Metro Vancouver
region in 2010. This finding is based on health valuation of
lethal (death) and sub-lethal (illness) affects.
Central nervous system
Data is accumulating that air pollution exposure also affects the
central nervous system.
In a June 2014 study conducted by researchers at the University of
Rochester Medical Center, published in the journal Environmental
Health Perspectives, it was discovered that early exposure to air
pollution causes the same damaging changes in the brain as autism and
schizophrenia. The study also shows that air pollution also affected
short-term memory, learning ability, and impulsivity.
Professor Deborah Cory-Slechta said that "When we looked closely at
the ventricles, we could see that the white matter that normally
surrounds them hadn't fully developed. It appears that inflammation
had damaged those brain cells and prevented that region of the brain
from developing, and the ventricles simply expanded to fill the space.
Our findings add to the growing body of evidence that air pollution
may play a role in autism, as well as in other neurodevelopmental
Air pollution has a more significant negative effect on
males than on females.
In 2015, experimental studies reported the detection of significant
episodic (situational) cognitive impairment from impurities in indoor
air breathed by test subjects who were not informed about changes in
the air quality. Researchers at the
Harvard University and SUNY
Upstate Medical University and Syracuse University measured the
cognitive performance of 24 participants in three different controlled
laboratory atmospheres that simulated those found in "conventional"
and "green" buildings, as well as green buildings with enhanced
ventilation. Performance was evaluated objectively using the widely
used Strategic Management Simulation software simulation tool, which
is a well-validated assessment test for executive decision-making in
an unconstrained situation allowing initiative and improvisation.
Significant deficits were observed in the performance scores achieved
in increasing concentrations of either volatile organic compounds
(VOCs) or carbon dioxide, while keeping other factors constant. The
highest impurity levels reached are not uncommon in some classroom or
India in 2014, it was reported that air pollution by black carbon
and ground level ozone had cut crop yields in the most affected areas
by almost half in 2011 when compared to 1980 levels.
Air pollution costs the world economy $5 trillion per year as a result
of productivity losses and degraded quality of life, according to a
joint study by the
World Bank and the Institute for Health Metrics and
Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington. These
productivity losses are caused by deaths due to diseases caused by air
pollution. One out of ten deaths in 2013 was caused by diseases
associated with air pollution and the problem is getting worse. The
problem is even more acute in the developing world. "
age 5 in lower-income countries are more than 60 times as likely to
die from exposure to air pollution as children in high-income
countries." The report states that additional economic losses
caused by air pollution, including health costs and the adverse effect
on agricultural and other productivity were not calculated in the
report, and thus the actual costs to the world economy are far higher
than $5 trillion.
The world's worst short-term civilian pollution crisis was the 1984
Bhopal Disaster in India. Leaked industrial vapours from the Union
Carbide factory, belonging to Union Carbide, Inc., U.S.A. (later
bought by Dow Chemical Company), killed at least 3787 people and
injured from 150,000 to 600,000. The
United Kingdom suffered its worst
air pollution event when the December 4 Great
Smog of 1952 formed over
London. In six days more than 4,000 died and more recent estimates put
the figure at nearer 12,000. An accidental leak of anthrax spores
from a biological warfare laboratory in the former
USSR in 1979 near
Sverdlovsk is believed to have caused at least 64 deaths. The
worst single incident of air pollution to occur in the US occurred in
Donora, Pennsylvania in late October, 1948, when 20 people died and
over 7,000 were injured.
Alternatives to pollution
There are now practical alternatives to the principal causes of air
Areas downwind (over 20 miles) of major airports more than double
total particulate emissions in air, even when factoring in areas with
frequent ship calls, and heavy freeway and city traffic like Los
Aviation biofuel mixed in with jetfuel at a 50/50 ratio
can reduce jet derived cruise altitude particulate emissions by
50-70%, according to a NASA led 2017 study (however, this should imply
ground level benefits to urban air pollution as well).
Ship propulsion and idling can be switched to much cleaner fuels like
natural gas. (Ideally a renewable source but not practical yet)
Combustion of fossil fuels for space heating can be replaced by using
ground source heat pumps and seasonal thermal energy storage.
Electric power generation from burning fossil fuels can be replaced by
power generation from nuclear and renewables. For poor nations,
heating and home stoves that contribute much to regional air pollution
can be replaced by a much cleaner fossil fuel like natural gas, or
Motor vehicles driven by fossil fuels, a key factor in urban air
pollution, can be replaced by electric vehicles. Though lithium supply
and cost is a limitation, there are alternatives. Herding more people
into clean public transit such as electric trains can also help.
Nevertheless, even in emission-free electric vehicles, rubber tires
produce significant amounts of air pollution themselves, ranking as
13th worst pollutant in Los Angeles.
Biodigesters can be utilized in poor nations where slash and burn is
prevalent, turning a useless commodity into a source of income. The
plants can be gathered and sold to a central authority that will break
it down in a large modern biodigester, producing much needed energy to
Induced humidity and ventilation both can greatly dampen air pollution
in enclosed spaces, which was found to be relatively high inside
subway lines due to braking and friction and relatively less
ironically inside transit buses than lower sitting passenger
automobiles or subways.
There are various air pollution control technologies and strategies
available to reduce air pollution. At its most basic level,
land-use planning is likely to involve zoning and transport
infrastructure planning. In most developed countries, land-use
planning is an important part of social policy, ensuring that land is
used efficiently for the benefit of the wider economy and population,
as well as to protect the environment.
Because a large share of air pollution is caused by combustion of
fossil fuels such as coal and oil, the reduction of these fuels can
reduce air pollution drastically. Most effective is the switch to
clean power sources such as wind power, solar power, hydro power which
don't cause air pollution. Efforts to reduce pollution from
mobile sources includes primary regulation (many developing countries
have permissive regulations), expanding regulation to
new sources (such as cruise and transport ships, farm equipment, and
small gas-powered equipment such as string trimmers, chainsaws, and
snowmobiles), increased fuel efficiency (such as through the use of
hybrid vehicles), conversion to cleaner fuels or conversion to
Titanium dioxide has been researched for its ability to reduce air
Ultraviolet light will release free electrons from
material, thereby creating free radicals, which break up VOCs and NOx
gases. One form is superhydrophilic.
In 2014, Prof. Tony Ryan and Prof.
Simon Armitage of University of
Sheffield prepared a 10 meter by 20 meter-sized poster coated with
microscopic, pollution-eating nanoparticles of titanium dioxide.
Placed on a building, this giant poster can absorb the toxic emission
from around 20 cars each day.
A very effective means to reduce air pollution is the transition to
renewable energy. According to a study published in
Environmental Science in 2015 the switch to
100% renewable energy
100% renewable energy in
the United States would eliminate about 62,000 premature mortalities
per year and about 42,000 in 2050, if no biomass were used. This would
save about $600 billion in health costs a year due to reduced air
pollution in 2050, or about 3.6% of the 2014 U.S. gross domestic
The following items are commonly used as pollution control devices in
industry and transportation. They can either destroy contaminants or
remove them from an exhaust stream before it is emitted into the
Mechanical collectors (dust cyclones, multicyclones)
Electrostatic precipitators An electrostatic precipitator (ESP), or
electrostatic air cleaner is a particulate collection device that
removes particles from a flowing gas (such as air), using the force of
an induced electrostatic charge. Electrostatic precipitators are
highly efficient filtration devices that minimally impede the flow of
gases through the device, and can easily remove fine particulates such
as dust and smoke from the air stream.
Baghouses Designed to handle heavy dust loads, a dust collector
consists of a blower, dust filter, a filter-cleaning system, and a
dust receptacle or dust removal system (distinguished from air
cleaners which utilize disposable filters to remove the dust).
Wet scrubber is a form of pollution control
technology. The term describes a variety of devices that use
pollutants from a furnace flue gas or from other gas streams. In a wet
scrubber, the polluted gas stream is brought into contact with the
scrubbing liquid, by spraying it with the liquid, by forcing it
through a pool of liquid, or by some other contact method, so as to
remove the pollutants.
Baffle spray scrubber
Cyclonic spray scrubber
Ejector venturi scrubber
Mechanically aided scrubber
Low NOx burners
Selective catalytic reduction
Selective catalytic reduction (SCR)
Selective non-catalytic reduction (SNCR)
Exhaust gas recirculation
Catalytic converter (also for VOC control)
Adsorption systems, using activated carbon, such as Fluidized Bed
Vapor recovery systems
Acid Gas/SO2 control
Sorbent Injection Technology
Electro-Catalytic Oxidation (ECO)
Dioxin and furan control
Miscellaneous associated equipment
Source capturing systems
Continuous emissions monitoring systems (CEMS)
Smog in Cairo
Main article: Air quality law
In general, there are two types of air quality standards. The first
class of standards (such as the U.S. National Ambient Air Quality
Standards and E.U. Air Quality Directive) set maximum atmospheric
concentrations for specific pollutants. Environmental agencies enact
regulations which are intended to result in attainment of these target
levels. The second class (such as the North American Air Quality
Index) take the form of a scale with various thresholds, which is used
to communicate to the public the relative risk of outdoor activity.
The scale may or may not distinguish between different pollutants.
In Canada, air pollution and associated health risks are measured with
the Air Quality Health Index or (AQHI). It is a health protection tool
used to make decisions to reduce short-term exposure to air pollution
by adjusting activity levels during increased levels of air pollution.
The Air Quality Health Index or "AQHI" is a federal program jointly
coordinated by Health
Canada and Environment Canada. However, the AQHI
program would not be possible without the commitment and support of
the provinces, municipalities and NGOs. From air quality monitoring to
health risk communication and community engagement, local partners are
responsible for the vast majority of work related to AQHI
implementation. The AQHI provides a number from 1 to 10+ to indicate
the level of health risk associated with local air quality.
Occasionally, when the amount of air pollution is abnormally high, the
number may exceed 10. The AQHI provides a local air quality current
value as well as a local air quality maximums forecast for today,
tonight and tomorrow and provides associated health advice.
Very high (above 10)
As it is now known that even low levels of air pollution can trigger
discomfort for the sensitive population, the index has been developed
as a continuum: The higher the number, the greater the health risk and
need to take precautions. The index describes the level of health risk
associated with this number as 'low', 'moderate', 'high' or 'very
high', and suggests steps that can be taken to reduce exposure.
Air Quality Health Index
At Risk population
Enjoy your usual outdoor activities.
Ideal air quality for outdoor activities
Consider reducing or rescheduling strenuous activities outdoors if you
are experiencing symptoms.
No need to modify your usual outdoor activities unless you experience
symptoms such as coughing and throat irritation.
Reduce or reschedule strenuous activities outdoors.
Children and the
elderly should also take it easy.
Consider reducing or rescheduling strenuous activities outdoors if you
experience symptoms such as coughing and throat irritation.
Avoid strenuous activities outdoors.
Children and the elderly should
also avoid outdoor physical exertion and should stay indoors.
Reduce or reschedule strenuous activities outdoors, especially if you
experience symptoms such as coughing and throat irritation.
The measurement is based on the observed relationship of Nitrogen
Dioxide (NO2), ground-level
Ozone (O3) and particulates (PM2.5) with
mortality, from an analysis of several Canadian cities. Significantly,
all three of these pollutants can pose health risks, even at low
levels of exposure, especially among those with pre-existing health
When developing the AQHI, Health Canada's original analysis of health
effects included five major air pollutants: particulates, ozone, and
nitrogen dioxide (NO2), as well as sulfur dioxide (SO2), and carbon
monoxide (CO). The latter two pollutants provided little information
in predicting health effects and were removed from the AQHI
The AQHI does not measure the effects of odour, pollen, dust, heat or
TA Luft is the German air quality regulation.
Air pollution hotspots are areas where air pollution emissions expose
individuals to increased negative health effects. They are
particularly common in highly populated, urban areas, where there may
be a combination of stationary sources (e.g. industrial facilities)
and mobile sources (e.g. cars and trucks) of pollution. Emissions from
these sources can cause respiratory disease, childhood asthma, cancer,
and other health problems. Fine particulate matter such as diesel
soot, which contributes to more than 3.2 million premature deaths
around the world each year, is a significant problem. It is very small
and can lodge itself within the lungs and enter the bloodstream.
Diesel soot is concentrated in densely populated areas, and one in six
people in the U.S. live near a diesel pollution hot spot.
AirVisual Earth – realtime map of global wind and air pollution
While air pollution hotspots affect a variety of populations, some
groups are more likely to be located in hotspots. Previous studies
have shown disparities in exposure to pollution by race and/or income.
Hazardous land uses (toxic storage and disposal facilities,
manufacturing facilities, major roadways) tend to be located where
property values and income levels are low. Low socioeconomic status
can be a proxy for other kinds of social vulnerability, including
race, a lack of ability to influence regulation and a lack of ability
to move to neighborhoods with less environmental pollution. These
communities bear a disproportionate burden of environmental pollution
and are more likely to face health risks such as cancer or
Studies show that patterns in race and income disparities not only
indicate a higher exposure to pollution but also higher risk of
adverse health outcomes. Communities characterized by low
socioeconomic status and racial minorities can be more vulnerable to
cumulative adverse health impacts resulting from elevated exposure to
pollutants than more privileged communities. Blacks and Latinos
generally face more pollution than whites and Asians, and low-income
communities bear a higher burden of risk than affluent ones.
Racial discrepancies are particularly distinct in suburban areas of
the US South and metropolitan areas of the US West.[clarification
needed] Residents in public housing, who are generally low-income and
cannot move to healthier neighborhoods, are highly affected by nearby
refineries and chemical plants.
See also: List of most polluted cities in the world by particulate
The factual accuracy of parts of this article (those related to the
first two images in this section) may be compromised due to
out-of-date information. Please update this article to reflect recent
events or newly available information. (October 2013)
Nitrogen dioxide concentrations as measured from satellite 2002-2004
Deaths from air pollution in 2004
Air pollution is usually concentrated in densely populated
metropolitan areas, especially in developing countries where
environmental regulations are relatively lax or nonexistent.
However, even populated areas in developed countries attain unhealthy
levels of pollution, with
Los Angeles and
Rome being two
examples. Between 2002 and 2011 the incidence of lung cancer in
Beijing near doubled. While smoking remains the leading cause of lung
cancer in China, the number of smokers is falling while lung cancer
rates are rising. Another project focusing on the effects on
pollution in vegetation has been researched by the local university in
Most polluted cities by PM
Governing urban air pollution
In Europe, Council Directive 96/62/EC on ambient air quality
assessment and management provides a common strategy against which
member states can "set objectives for ambient air quality in order to
avoid, prevent or reduce harmful effects on human health and the
environment . . . and improve air quality where it is
On 25 July 2008 in the case Dieter Janecek v Freistaat Bayern CURIA,
European Court of Justice
European Court of Justice ruled that under this directive
citizens have the right to require national authorities to implement a
short term action plan that aims to maintain or achieve compliance to
air quality limit values.
This important case law appears to confirm the role of the EC as
centralised regulator to European nation-states as regards air
pollution control. It places a supranational legal obligation on the
UK to protect its citizens from dangerous levels of air pollution,
furthermore superseding national interests with those of the citizen.
In 2010, the
European Commission (EC) threatened the UK with legal
action against the successive breaching of
PM10 limit values. The
UK government has identified that if fines are imposed, they could
cost the nation upwards of £300 million per year.
In March 2011, the Greater
London Built-up Area remains the only UK
region in breach of the EC's limit values, and has been given 3 months
to implement an emergency action plan aimed at meeting the EU Air
Quality Directive. The City of
London has dangerous levels of
PM10 concentrations, estimated to cause 3000 deaths per year within
the city. As well as the threat of EU fines, in 2010 it was
threatened with legal action for scrapping the western congestion
charge zone, which is claimed to have led to an increase in air
In response to these charges, Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, has
criticised the current need for European cities to communicate with
Europe through their nation state's central government, arguing that
in future "A great city like London" should be permitted to bypass its
government and deal directly with the
European Commission regarding
its air quality action plan.
This can be interpreted as recognition that cities can transcend the
traditional national government organisational hierarchy and develop
solutions to air pollution using global governance networks, for
example through transnational relations. Transnational relations
include but are not exclusive to national governments and
intergovernmental organisations, allowing sub-national actors
including cities and regions to partake in air pollution control as
Particularly promising at present are global city partnerships.
These can be built into networks, for example the C40 Cities Climate
Leadership Group, of which
London is a member. The C40 is a public
'non-state' network of the world's leading cities that aims to curb
their greenhouse emissions. The C40 has been identified as
'governance from the middle' and is an alternative to
intergovernmental policy. It has the potential to improve urban
air quality as participating cities "exchange information, learn from
best practices and consequently mitigate carbon dioxide emissions
independently from national government decisions". A criticism of
the C40 network is that its exclusive nature limits influence to
participating cities and risks drawing resources away from less
powerful city and regional actors.
Air pollutant concentrations
ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary
Asian brown cloud
Best Available Control Technology
Emissions & Generation
Resource Integrated Database
Flue-gas emissions from fossil-fuel combustion
Smog of London
Health Effects Institute (HEI)
Industrial Hygiene Foundation
International Agency for Research on Cancer
Light water reactor sustainability
List of smogs by death toll
Lowest Achievable Emissions Rate
NASA Clean Air Study
Particulate matter sampler
Polluter pays principle
Regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act
Global warming portal
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