pollution in our land, water, and air, especially in urban areas and where industrial activity occurs. A form of waste, this pollution has consequences for both our own health and for the environment of our world.
In this article, we focus on many of the environmental impacts of air pollution that are affecting our world on a daily basis. Perhaps by understanding the connections between the pollution that humanity produces and its impacts on wildlife, natural resources, and ourselves, we can together make the changes that are necessary to prevent such pollution and live in harmony with nature, passing a more sustainable world on to future generations.
Precipitation that contains nitric and sulfuric acids, is formed when nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides produced from the burning of fossil fuels, enter the atmosphere. Acid rain falls to the Earth in the form of rain, snow, or fog, or as gas and particulates, damaging trees and acidifying soils and water bodies, making them inhospitable for fish and for wildlife. Acid rain also wears away at buildings, statues, and sculptures.
Eutrophication occurs where an overabundance of nutrients such as nitrogen in the atmosphere leads to an overgrowth of algae in water bodies. This can kill living organisms such as fish, plants, and animals. While there are algal blooms that naturally occur in nature, human activity contributes to much higher levels of these nutrients from power plants, automobiles, and other sources, which then contaminate and negatively impact aquatic ecosystems.
Haze is produced when sunlight hits particles such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide in the air, emitted from power plants and industrial facilities. Haze-causing air pollutants can be carried by the wind and form particles large distances away from where the pollutants were produced. Haze in the air makes it difficult for people and wildlife to see objects.
When toxic pollutants are in the air, soils, or surface waters, the health of wildlife can suffer in the form of birth defects, reproductive problems, and other diseases¹. In aquatic ecosystems, persistent air pollutants accumulate in sediments and then biomagnify up the food chain in much higher concentrations.
Ozone occurs in the atmosphere, where it is natural and helps to protect the Earth from the sun’s UV rays, as well as at ground level where it can be detrimental for our health. Unfortunately, the ozone in the atmosphere is being greatly damaged by ozone-depleting chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons, hydrofluorocarbons, and halons. In certain cases, these chemicals are still being used in coolants, foaming agents, fire extinguishers, solvents, pesticides, and aerosol propellants. Harmful effects of ozone depletion include an increased incidence of skin cancer, cataracts, and impaired immune systems, which can impact both humans and animals alike. Increased UV radiation can also damage plant life and lead to a reduction in growth².
Crop and Forest Damage
Air pollutants such as ozone can cause a great deal of damage to plant life such as reduced forest yields, reduced growth of tree seedlings, and an increased susceptibility to diseases, pests, and other stressors such as storms².
Global Climate Change
Due to humanity’s excessive burning of fossil fuels, there is now an overabundance of carbon-based greenhouse gas pollutants in the atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide and methane, that are facilitating an increase in global temperatures. Global climate change has many negative impacts, including stronger storms, droughts, and an increase in pests and diseases, facilitated by warmer average global temperatures and longer periods of warmer weather seasons and erratic weather patterns. Such effects now appear to have become the Earth’s “new normal.” Climate change is also predicted to have major impacts on human health, agriculture, water resources, forests, wildlife, and coastal areas.