Air Pollution

Air pollution reiterates to gasses and pollutants released into the air / atmosphere. Common pollutants such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) can cause a number of problems for both the Earth itself (ozone layer depletion and global warming), and for individuals breathing in the polluted air.

Some of the main consequences of air pollution are:

Ozone depletion
Chlorine atoms found in gases such as refrigerants and CFCs destroy ozone molecules in the atmosphere. The Earth's ozone layer acts as a barrier preventing much of the UV radiation from the sun reaching the surface of the planet. The thinner the ozone layer becomes, the more UV radiation is able to penetrate through. This UV radiation can damage the cells of all living things, causing skin cancer and crop failure.

Greenhouse Effect
Whilst too little ozone is a problem, too much of gasses such as carbon dioxide and methane also have negative consequences. Known as greenhouse gasses, they work like a greenhouse by allowing thermal radiation in but keeping the major of it trapped. This net one way effect causes an increase in temperature. Under stable conditions, the same amount of thermal radiation would be lost as is absorbed, maintaining an equilibrium. But an increase in the layer of these greenhouse gasses will trap more heat in than can escape. The consequent increase in temperature causes problems such as melting the polar ice caps which raise sea levels and cause flooding to low-lying land, as well as causing more extremes in seasons which threatens wildlife survival and the natural rhythm of life.

Large cities containing millions of people produce a great quantity of emissions. As well as some being harmful in their own right, these gases can also react with each other to create secondary pollutants and ozone, causing problems for people like skin irritation and respiratory complaints.

Acid Rain
When certain types of gas such as sulphur dioxide or hydrogen chloride are released into the atmosphere, they react with the water to produce acids like sulphuric acid, which falls to the ground as acid rain. Not only does this corrode and damage buildings, it will also harm / kill wildlife and vegetation.

The growing industrialization of the world's nations has led to an increasing number of factories being built, as well as more power generation facilities that are needed to support them. As well as this, citizens in countries such as China and India are becoming wealthier, allowing many to purchase a car for the first time. The sheer size of their proportional populations means that the problem of harmful emissions into the planet's atmosphere is likely to get a great deal worse.

With so many negative consequences, air pollution is a key area to concentrate on when assessing your organization's environmental impact. Any environmental risk assessment should look at how your operations affect air quality, including any waste material that is disposed of and may give off harmful gases such as rotting waste which can produce methane.