Air Pollution

Air pollution is a physical, biological, or chemical form of contamination of the atmosphere. It often occurs due to the release of harmful gasses, smoke, or dust. These potential pollution sources can harm the ozone layer and affect the climate in ways that are harmful to all life on Earth. The ozone layer is a crucial "blanket" in the atmosphere that protects us from solar radiation, and it can be damaged by chemicals like solvents, propellants, and CFCs. Meanwhile, the release of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane into the air is causing climate change that threatens habitats, causes severe storms and droughts, and raises sea levels.

Common Causes

Since pollutants can't be seen with the naked eye, people may not notice where they're coming from. Pollutants come from a variety of sources, both natural and human-made, but no matter where the pollutants come from, they can cause serious health conditions and other damaging effects.

Some of the most common causes of air pollution are:

Air Pollution Catastrophes

Air pollution can have drastic effects on people's lives. One of the biggest examples is the Bhopal disaster in Bhopal, India. In December 1984, the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant suffered a gas leak. At the time, pesticide sales were going down, so an excess of product was being stored there, and the plant's safety systems were in poor condition. Water got into a tank of liquid methyl isocyanate, setting off a chain reaction that raised the pressure in the tank until it began to leak. Tons of methyl isocyanate were released into the air, along with a host of other chemicals. Thousands of people died from inhaling the toxic fumes: The official death toll was given as 3,787, but it's believed that the actual number of casualties is closer to 20,000.

The biggest and most well-known of all air pollution disasters has been the Chernobyl disaster, the worst nuclear disaster in history. In 1986 in Ukraine, a nuclear power plant melted down, releasing radioactive dust into the air. Only 31 people died in the immediate aftermath, but thousands more were sickened due to radiation exposure.

Natural Disasters

There are so many human-made contributions to air pollution that it's easy to forget that natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions can contribute to air pollution. Smoke from wildfires and ash from volcanoes are the biggest natural contributors.

How You Can Help

With so many big contributors to air pollution, it may seem like anything you do won't make a difference, but every little bit counts, and it's really easy to make small changes to your life to cut down on air pollution. Some of the easiest things you can do to help are: