Air Pollution: Effects on the Environment

Air pollution effects not only the human population, but also has serious impact upon animals and the natural environment.

What is Air Pollution?

Sulphur dioxide is produced by the burning of fossil fuels, and is one of the most common pollutants produced. Sulphur dioxide can act in concert with other pollutants, such as airborne particles, to produce other air pollution effects.

Nitrogen Dioxide is produced through the burning of fossil fuels, and combines with another gas called nitrogen oxide to form a pollutant called NOx. This combination gas destroys organic matter, and exposure to high levels of NOx air pollution causes immune system problems, respiratory problems and lung cancer.

Carbon monoxide is a toxic gas which is produced by car exhausts, and can lead to problems with the heart, and can exacerbate problems in people with underlying conditions.

Ozone is not directly produced by burning fossil fuels or by factories, but sunlight shining on factory air pollution causes the creation of photochemical smog, of which ozone is the end product. Ozone affects the heart and lungs, as well as the immune system.

Ammonia is produced through industrial farming techniques, and is one of the biggest air pollution causes produced by agriculture. Ammonia affects the heart and lungs, causes nose and throat irritation; Ammonia released into the air can become a massive gas cloud, which causes death and serious injury.

Airborne particles are the byproducts of factory and mass production; they are also dust particles caused by soil erosion; but burning of fossil fuels is a major particle air pollution cause.

Air Pollution Impact on Animals

Sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide have been shown to have serious effects on freshwater animals. These compounds are taking into the air, but are released back to the ground as acid rain, which falls into streams and lakes, and is also run-off into pools and ponds. Water animal populations that suffer air pollution effects include trout, mayflies, beetles, molluscs, and water bird species. In one instance, that of Sweden, fish died out in 18000 lakes.

Air pollution effects the plants that animals consume. Insects and larvae eat these plants and are poisoned, but larger animals such as beetles and birds that consume the larvae are exposed to higher levels of sulphur dioxide.

Ultraviolet radiation coming through the air pollution can cause skin cancers in wildlife.

Air Pollution Impact on Trees and Plants

Plants can be seriously affected by the gases contained within air pollution. Studies have shown that air pollution causes damage to leaves: Ozone creates speckles, sulphur bleaches leaves, and ammonia causes the leaf to dry out and die.

Sulphur dioxide is the most common damager of forests and plants: large areas of Germany and Poland have been damaged by coal deposited in the area; industry led to high sulphur emissions, and there have been wide destruction of native trees, including Norway spruce forests. Sulphur causes the metabolism of tree cells to be disrupted, erodes leaves, and inhibits growth.  Sulphur also encourages lichens to die –these algae are essential to the eco-systems around forests and woodlands