Understanding Air Pollution

24th November 2021

Not all air pollution is visible to the naked eye. You might see dark smoke from your car exhaust pipes, more often however it is invisible. Air pollution, in either form can be dangerous, it can make breathing difficult, burn your eyes and can increase the risk of lung cancer.

Air pollution can also be the result of a natural disaster, such as the volcanic ashes and gases from an eruption, with the effect lasting for months. However, the major source of pollution comes from burning of fossil fuels. When gasoline for cars is used, it produces carbon monoxide, a harmful gas when in high concentrations, or amounts. City traffic produces highly concentrated carbon monoxide.

Other common pollutants created by cars and factories include nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, and hydrocarbons. These chemicals have multiple effects on the environment, including the creation of smog, and when they react with moisture in the air it can fall back on earth as acid rain. Wind carries acid rain away from the pollution source, effecting areas outside cities and can kill trees, pollute lakes and waterways, effecting fish and other forms of life.

Air pollution can be created from greenhouse gases (GHG), such as carbon dioxide and methane which occur naturally in the atmosphere. These gases absorb sunlight reflected from Earth, preventing it from escaping into space. By trapping heat in the atmosphere, they keep Earth warm enough for people to live. This is called the greenhouse effect. But with the excessive burning of fossil fuels and destruction of trees, the amount of GHGs has also increased, meaning the earth is warming up, causing global warming. More information about global warming is available here.

This rise in temperatures also contributes to ocean acidification. Oceans are absorbing higher amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, threatening plants and sea animals due to the warmer and more acidic oceans.

air pollution

What can you do to reduce Air Pollution?

  • Regularly inspect your car to maximise fuel efficiency, reduce emissions, and increase the operating life of a vehicle.
  • Check that the tires are at the right pressure, otherwise more fuel will be burned.
  • Use public transportation so that less cars are on the road, resulting in fewer emissions.
  • When your destination is not far, walk or use your bike, also improving your physical well-being.
  • Choose new cars wisely by opting for an energy efficient and zero-emission car or hybrid vehicles
At Home
  • Turn the lights off when electrical equipment is not in use.
  • Get energy efficient bulbs like compact fluorescent and even LED bulbs.
  • Now that the weather is getting colder, sleep under a heavier blanket or wear extra layers of clothing instead of using heating.
  • Insulate your home as it reduces the amount of energy needed to maintain the temperature.
  • Dry your clothes on the clothesline to dry naturally as the tumble dryer wastes a lot of energy.
  • Make sure to reuse your bags
  • Work at home to save on emissions caused by travel.
As a Consumer
  • Eat organic locally produced vegetables and meats as they have travelled less distances than if imported.
  • Buy products with recycled materials as this helps to reduce raw materials consumption.
  • Buy appliances which have an energy star, showing they meet the latest standards for energy savings.
  • Water-based paints and cleaners: Chemical based paints/cleaning products have volatile organic compounds that contaminate the air. Switching to water-based products helps reduce air pollution and limit the need for oil products.
  • Use rechargeable batteries to avoid waste.
  • Purchase solar panels to reduce the demand on the power grid, save energy and cash, and reduce the strain on the environment from fossil fuels.
Improve Your Habits
  • Stop smoking cigarettes as it is a major contributor to indoor air pollution, but quitting can avoid this problem and the health effects it can cause.
  • Use cold water when washing your laundry as heating up water consumes extra energy
  • Use your voice and be an advocate for the reduction of pollution. Join a local environmental group and participate in activities that focus on sustainability and reducing air pollution.


Sources: Pollution, https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/pollution/, [Accessed 12 November 2021] 25 Impactful Ways to Reduce Air Pollution, 2017, https://blog.arcadia.com/25-impactful-ways-reduce-air-pollution/, [Accessed 12 November 2021]

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