Top 10 Causes of Air Pollution and How Pollutants Affect Us

It’s estimated that if you live in a city, you’re exposed to air that is below World Health Organization guidelines. This is true of ambient air pollution and air pollution inside homes. The WHO also estimates that 4.2 million people deaths are due to exposure to ambient, outdoor air pollution.

What causes all this air pollution? 

We’re going to break down the top 10 causes of air pollution. You may be surprised by some of the items on the list. Air pollution is a problem that’s not unique to any one place or country. 

10 Causes of Air Pollution 

Air pollution is caused by many things and is split into two groups. 

The first group is ambient air pollution or that which you are exposed to when you are outside your home. The next group is indoor air pollution, which is the air pollution you are exposed to inside your home or office. 

1. Vehicle Exhaust 

The exhaust from vehicles and transportation accounts for one-half of all nitrogen oxide emissions. Vehicle exhaust is a major cause of both climate change and negative health impacts due to pollution. The more the population grows, and the more vehicles are on the road, the worse this impact gets.

Modern society requires extensive infrastructure to function. It’s not just the car you drive, but the truck that delivers your produce, meat, and health care products. Trains, boats, and planes all contribute substantial pollution to the air as well.

2. Refineries and Industrial Waste

Production of gas, oil, and other valuable commodities produces pollution. When we change the state of something, the byproduct of this is almost always air pollution. Chemicals released during this process can cause negative impacts to a variety of organs in our bodies. 

Refineries reported to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that they created 22,000 tons of air pollution. However, underreporting is a known issue. Studies estimate that the actual amount of air pollution from refineries is up to 100 times higher than what’s reported.

3. Pollution from Natural Disasters

Nature itself can cause the release of ample amounts of pollution. 

Volcanoes are the chief culprit here, releasing millions of tons of chemicals and debris into the air when they erupt. A volcanic eruption can poison the atmosphere miles into the sky, and all over the world. 

Volcanoes may be the worst direct natural disaster, but they aren’t the only danger. 

Some natural disasters don’t cause pollution on their own, but their impacts do. A famous example of this is the tsunami that hit Japan and damaged the Fukushima Nuclear Plant

4. Dust in the Air

Particulate matter such a dust is a major contributor to poor air quality. Climate change drives an increasing amount of dust as the world gets warmer and drier. As areas that were once cooler and wetter become dry, the amount of dust in the atmosphere will increase. 

Dust can be a big problem for both outside and inside air. Air filters can help protect you from the effects. If you have ever removed the air filter from your HVAC system, you have seen all the dust that it captures from the air. 

5. Agricultural Activity 

Large scale farming causes a lot of pollution. 

The exhaust of farm equipment, as well as the dust and chemical sprays, all contribute pollution. Agricultural pollution is not limited to only air pollution. It’s also one of the most significant causes of water pollution. 

6. Electricity Generation 

Power plants are notorious emitters of air pollution. This is true of any industry that combusts large amounts of fossil fuels. Over 60% of the energy created is done so using fossil fuels. Coal is one of the worst contributors to air pollution, while renewable sources of energy remain a low percentage. 

As the world requires more energy, our continued reliance on fossil fuel conversion to electricity will not slow down. Converting power generation to clean, renewable sources is not as easy or pervasive as many may think. 

7. Household Pollution

The air inside your home is constantly absorbing chemicals and pollutants. This air pollution comes in many forms, from aerosol cleaning chemicals to dead skin, which becomes dust in our houses. Breathing in this pollution has detrimental effects on our health. 

Even chemicals we use to make the air in our homes smell better cause air pollution. You should always try to use organic chemicals that are bio-friendly such as citric cleaners. This will lower the health impact of air pollution inside your home. There are many different ways you can strive to keep your air clean.

8. Air Conditioning and Heating

Not only do our HVAC systems cause pollution, but they also help to circulate that pollution in our home. This is a big problem if you don’t remember to change your filters regularly. Dirt and debris trapped by these filters travel through the system and back into your lungs. 

Energy use by these systems is also a significant contributor to the carbon footprint of each home. One of the best things you can do is to make sure that you keep your air conditioning and furnaces in good working condition. 

9. Loss of Trees

Trees breathe in carbon dioxide. When an area is deforested, that amazing natural filter of harmful pollution is destroyed. 

Trees convert carbon dioxide to oxygen, which we need to survive. Deforestation for lumber and space clearing is a major contributor to air pollution. 

10. Mining and Smelting 

Extracting minerals from the ground requires the use of a lot of dangerous chemicals. Pools of acid are common sights around mines and have to be taken care of by companies. Turning minerals that are leached out by this acid into solid blocks of material is also a pollution heavy industry. 

Air Pollution and You 

All around the world, air pollution permeates our environment. 

You don’t have to see smog to be breathing in chemicals. Protecting yourself and your family with high-quality filters is the best thing you can do to stave off the harmful impacts on health. 

Until we as a society change how infrastructure and agriculture are handled, this will continue to be a problem. Use air and water filters to avoid as many of the top 10 causes of air pollution as possible. 

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