Understanding the Health Impacts of Air Pollution

As a planet, we are facing unique and unprecedented times. The exponential rise and rise of industrial pursuit over the past two centuries has yielded multiple catastrophic impacts for the delicate balance of our global ecosystem, bringing environmental collapse to our doorstep should significant remedial changes not be made.

Climate change is undeniably the most important issue we face globally, but conversations about it often overlook the direct and damaging localised impacts of unsustainable emissions – particularly where the burning of fuels and execution of industrial chemical processes are concerned. What is there to know about air pollution, and what are its impacts for human health?

Air Pollution – The Basics

Air pollution describes the release of harmful materials into the air, via a variety of different processes. A excellent initial example of air pollution presents in the burning of wood or coal, where smoke carries carbon particulates into breathable air – making it noxious. More impactfully, air pollution is experienced in urban areas where high concentrations of fossil-fuelled vehicles emit exhaust fumes.

Air pollution is not limited to the burning of biofuels and fossil fuels in domestic settings, though. Industrial activity is responsible for a greater proportion of air pollution, with agriculture the brunt of responsibility through off-gassing of animal byproducts like manure. Similarly, manufacturing and processing plants utilise numerous processes with gaseous byproducts, which can be extremely harmful to local environments.

Health Impacts of Air Pollution

Air pollutants are many and varied, with different pollutants bringing about different impacts for the people exposed to them. The most common pollutants to which we are exposed are carbon particulates, borne by smoke and car exhaust fumes; these have been indelibly linked to serious health issues, from heart attacks and asthma incidences to increased risks of developmental issues with unborn children.

Chemical and other manufacturing processes can also see the release of toxic and heavy metals into the atmosphere, which have their own deleterious impacts on human health. This is demonstrated by the furore surrounding the Cadia gold mine, which has drawn scrutiny for its failure to adequately address dust pollution and its potential impacts on both workers and local residents.

How to Reduce Air Pollution

But how can air pollution be adequately addressed? For some industries, it is much simpler than for others. Facilities that engage in industrial and chemical engineering practices can employ air pollution solutions like exhaust filtration, ensuring that heavy metals and carbon particulates are not unduly released into the local atmosphere.

The automotive industry is under the most pressure with regard to urban air pollution, with ever-more stringent regulations relating to exhaust fumes and incoming government regulation looking to force manufacturers over to electric vehicle production full-time. On the local governance end of the spectrum, emission zone schemes like London’s ULEZ are being rolled out in cities across the country, disincentivising drivers from using emissive vehicles in city centres altogether.

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