Pollution and Pollutants
Many problems in the society today are centered on air pollution. And compared to other kinds of pollution, air pollution is something that merits attention from people all over.
Air pollution is when chemicals, and other types of matter, whether naturally or synthetically produced, are exposed in the atmosphere. This exposure potentially causes hazards not only to human life, but to other living organisms and the environment as well.
Air pollutants, any substance that can potentially cause harm to the atmosphere and to humans are the main focus in maintaining and controlling air quality. They can come from primary sources (directly from human activities or natural occurrences), or secondary sources (from reactions and interactions in the atmosphere). However, some pollutants can be a mix of both primary and secondary—being harmful on their own, and still capable of mixing with other substances.
If left alone, these pollutants can cause anything from asthma, to serious health concerns for humans such as cancer and pneumonia, even affecting birth rates in the long run.
Facts, Figures and Definitions
It is estimated that air pollution causes over two million deaths per year—directly and indirectly. What is especially alarming is the fact that exposure to air pollution is out of the individual’s hands; it comes with the environment. The task therefore is air quality control should be initiated by governments and other authorities to start programs, and make laws regarding the control and improvement of air quality. However, at the end of the day, it is up to individuals to follow and adhere to these rules and regulations.
Over the years, reduction efforts have been set in motion. Technological innovations and certain laws and regulations have been implemented to address the growing concern of air pollution. A huge setback despite the existence of this kind of technology is the fact that they are expensive to produce and maintain.
Air pollutants are generally broken down into the following:
*Particulates — tiny solid or liquid particles suspended in the atmosphere and are usually what air quality control machines clean out and/or regulate
*Nitrogen Oxide — a result of the combustion of air and fuel in engines, resulting in highly toxic mixtures of atmospheric nitrogen and oxygen
*Volatile Organic Compounds — organic chemical compounds that can participate in photoreaction, it has high vapor pressure and low water solubility
*Acid Gas — any gas mixture that has contaminants
*Sulfur Dioxide — generated from coal, petroleum, and volcanoes, substantially decreasing however because of flue gas desulfurization technologies
*Mercury — highly dangerous to humans, it is a common contaminant in water and air supplies
*Polychlorinated Dibenzodioxins — commonly known as dioxins, they accumulate in wildlife and come from daily activities of combustion and burning
Control devices destroy or break down the harmful chemicals or substances in machines before they are exposed to the atmosphere. Specific machines or devices are used in controlling and breaking down specific particles and substances. Here are a few that are currently being used:
*baffle spray scrubber
*cyclonic spray scrubber
*ejector venture scrubber
*mechanically aided scrubber
*low NOx burners
*selective catalytic reduction
*selective non-catalytic reduction
*exhaust gas recirculation
*vapor recovery systems
Acid Gas control:
*flue gas desulfurization
*sorbent injection technology
As mentioned earlier, it is very expensive to maintain and produce such technologies. Also, implementing rules and regulations on air pollution control can be very challenging for governments and organizations because of the radical change in activities and procedures that they call for.
Air Quality Control: Enter the United States
The United States however, has enough resources and infrastructures to implement, sustain, and support these systems and technologies. Numerous acts and amendments have been made to adjust to the specific changes that the changing environment and atmosphere call for.
One such act is the Clean Air Act. Implemented by the United States with the regulation of smog and air pollution, this arguably started a world-wide re-evaluation of practices and legal substances.
First among such acts was the Air Pollution Control Act of 1955. This was mainly in addressing and recognizing air pollution as an environmental problem, and was focused more on informing the general public of the dangers of then unknown pollutants. No specific provisions on how to regulate or control the problem of air pollution was passed yet, nor were any punishments for polluters and measuring degrees of pollution established.
Following the Air Pollution Control Act of 1955 was the Clean Air Act of 1963. The one passed in 1963 was a moderate bill that gave suggestions, support, and aid to state control agencies with regards to the problem of air pollution. An amendment in 1965 introduced regulations and a more active participation by the federal government.
However, the Clean Air Act of 1970 was the first direct and specific action towards addressing pollutants and starting programs for air pollution control. The act is a federal law that requires the Environmental Protection Agency to make and enforce regulations that will protect the general public from substances that are hazardous to human health. This is arguably the first environmental law in the United States to provide provisions for citizen suits.
The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 proposed emissions trading, which is exchanging economic incentives for achieving reductions in the emissions of pollutants. Cap limits are set to countries. If they go over their assigned cap rates, then they have to purchase cap space from other countries with lower emissions, thus exchanging “air space” for money.
Such trading systems have already been tried and implemented in the United States, among them the Acid Rain Program, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (for volatile organic compounds), and the Chicago Climate Exchange (tackling Carbon Dioxide allowances).
With such laws and rules in implementation, why is it that the overall situation seems to either be at a stand still, or progressing slowly at most?
Air Quality Control? What about the Rest of the World?
The main reason is that people are still generally undecided on what to believe in. The gravity of the situation the world is in seems to be misunderstood by many. Even in the United States itself, with all their programs, laws, and technology at the disposal, are not tackling the problem with full capacity because even their government is divided on the issue.
Like the United States, countries address the problem of air pollution differently, and with different degrees of commitment. Also like the States, the public in general is not fully aware of the consequences, the facts, and the available alternatives that can help alleviate air pollution and restore the environment to what it once was.
In Canada for example, the Canadian Council of Ministers for the Environment act like a governing body that sets standards for air quality. With these standards come so many limitations. These only apply to states with more than 100,000 people, and no harsh penalties or punishments are given for non-compliance.
Revisions have been proposed as of late, to address the problem more effectively and go beyond merely informing the public. Specific measures to decrease smog pollution and greenhouse gasses have been taken by political figures and government organizations alike.
The United Kingdom back then was not much different. In response to the Great Smog of 1952, where thick smog covered London from December five to December 9 in 1952, the Clean Air Act of 1956 and of 1968 was established. In these acts, zones where legislated to have smokeless fuels burnt at the said sites only, and power stations to be relocated in rural areas. The Clean Air Act of 1968 mainly focused on the use of tall chimneys to disperse smoke and other pollutants in burning coal, liquid, or other kinds of fuels.
Recently however, the task has been assigned to local government agents. They have established a kind of air quality system that keeps track of the levels of air pollutants in their atmosphere. A monitoring system compares these values with the national air quality objectives, with the necessary adjustments implemented to reach said values.
The problem of air pollution will not go away on its own. We cannot sit out the storm that is destroying our environment slowly, but more devastatingly as time goes on.
Air pollution will not go away with the collective efforts of a minority, no matter how powerful, strong, and rich they are either. The atmosphere is affected and used by everyone—no matter how clean and pollution-free your own country or space is, you are just as affected as you neighboring countries.
In the end, as evidenced by the above data and facts, it is neither about having the latest machines and technology, nor is it about having effective laws made — it all starts with understanding the facts, and having a common goal not just as a nation, but as a people saving the environment.