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The battle against air pollution

Nov 10,2023 - Last updated at Nov 10,2023

Air pollution within the closest layer of the atmosphere where life exists, which is called the biosphere, has experienced a global environmental crisis that affects the health and well-being of people and other living beings around the world. It's an issue that transcends borders and requires urgent attention.

The combustion of fossil fuels of industries and the built environment is a major source of air pollution. Factories and houses burning fossil fuels for construction, heating and cooling release pollutants such as sulfur, carbon and nitrogen oxides, among others. Encouraging industries and buildings in general to adopt energy-efficient and clean renewable energy practices can cut emissions while saving cost, maintenance and investment.

The transportation sector powered by gasoline and diesel, contributes significantly to air pollution. An average vehicle passenger emits around 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year depending on the vehicle’s fuel, car fuel economy, and the distance covered. Short-term exposure to high levels of certain air pollutants, such as carbon monoxide or lead, can lead to acute neurological symptoms, including confusion, dizziness and seizures.

Agriculture is another source emitting gases, such as ammonia, nitrous oxide and methane, primarily from ploughing, fertilisers, land changes and livestock. Land-use changes, such as deforestation, can affect air quality and reduce the planet's capacity to absorb and store carbon dioxide.

Power plants that rely on coal, oil, or natural gas to produce electricity release pollutants into the air, including greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane. Coal combustion emissions can exceed one kilogramme of carbon dioxide for each Kilo Watt hours of electricity generated.

As glaciers melt due to rising global temperatures, various gases are released into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change. Two prominent gases are methane, and carbon dioxide which occurs as ice containing ancient air pockets melts, intensifying the greenhouse effect further warming the planet.

Global warming has intensified wildfires, releasing gases into the atmosphere as trees and vegetation burn. Fine particulate matter is also released, impacting air quality, human health and exacerbating climate change, air pollution, and associated health issues and biodiversity damage, emphasising the urgent need for effective wildfire management and climate mitigation strategies.

Air pollution can lead to respiratory diseases such as asthma, bronchitis, and lung infections. Long-term exposure to pollutants is linked to heart diseases and increased mortality rates. Children exposed to air pollution may experience reduced lung development, leading to lifelong health problems. Exposure to fine particulate matter, ozone, and nitrogen dioxide can lead to eye irritation, redness, and dry eyes. This can result in discomfort, itching, and a feeling of grittiness in the eyes. Airborne allergens like pollen and mold spores can become more concentrated in polluted air, increasing the risk of allergy. Prolonged exposure to air pollution may affect visual acuity. In Jordan, you can visit MOE site to monitor air quality in different locations of Amman (https://en.jordanenv.com/).

Airborne pollutants like fine particulate matter and airborne heavy metals can trigger inflammation in the body, including the nervous system. Chronic inflammation may lead to neuroinflammation, which is associated with various neurological disorders. Long-term exposure to air pollutants has been associated with deficits in cognitive function. Prenatal exposure to air pollution, especially in areas with high pollution levels, has been linked to adverse neuro-developmental outcomes in children. This can include behavioral problems, developmental delays, and a higher risk of conditions like autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. There is also growing evidence that air pollution may be associated with mood disorders such as depression and anxiety.

Excess carbon dioxide in the air dissolves in seawater, leading to ocean acidification that can harm marine organisms with calcium carbonate shells or skeletons, including corals, mollusks, and some types of plankton. Excess nitrogen compounds can lead to the proliferation of harmful algal blooms, which can produce toxins that harm marine life, including fish and shellfish. These toxins can also pose risks to human health when seafood is consumed. Airborne micro plastics and other pollutants can find their way into the oceans, contributing to the growing problem of marine debris. 

In conclusion, solutions to combat air pollution include increasing the scale of using renewable energy sources like solar and wind power. Promoting electric vehicles and expanding charging infrastructure can decrease emissions from transportation. Promoting vehicle pooling, biking and walking can further decrease emissions. Encourage sustainable farming and precision agriculture practices that reduce ammonia emissions from fertilisers and livestock. Implement urban planning that reduces congestion, encourages clean public transportation, and enhances air quality. Increase green spaces in cities with less heat islands and protect forests that can help in absorbing pollutants, providing cleaner air and thus better health for all biodiversity. 

 

The writer is an energy and green buildings consultant

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