By AMANDA WHEELER
6:00 AM PDT, September 17, 2012
Last week I began a two-part column about air pollution and discussed three of the six most common air pollutants as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency. This week, I’ll take a look at the other three.
As a refresher, the most common air pollutants are ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and lead.
This week, I will take a closer look at nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxides and lead.
Just as with the three pollutants I talked about last week, nitrogen oxides form from emissions from motor vehicles and power plants.
Nitrogen oxides contribute to the formation of two other pollutants — ground level ozone (bad ozone) and fine particle pollution.
One nitrogen oxide — nitrogen dioxide — has also been linked to respiratory system problems like airway inflammation. People who have asthma are affected negatively as well.
Because nitrogen dioxide comes from motor vehicles and power plants, walking, biking and carpooling all help reduce the amount of it in the air.
Sulfur dioxide is one of a group of gasses known as oxides of sulfur. Fossil fuel emissions contribute 73 percent of the sulfur dioxide in the air, while industrial facilities generate 20 percent.
Other smaller causes of sulfur dioxide include metal extraction from ore and high-sulfur fuels often used by large ships, trains, and non-road equipment.
Sulfur dioxide has effects similar to nitrogen oxides. Scientific evidence links short-term exposure to adverse respiratory effects such as bronchoconstriction and increased asthma symptoms.
Studies have also linked short-term exposure to increased emergency department visits and increased hospital admissions for respiratory issues.
As with nitrogen dioxide and the pollutants I talked about last week, cutting back on driving and other activities that burn fossil fuels is the best way to reduce the amount of sulfur dioxide in the air.
Try to avoid using or limit your use of other things besides cars that burn fossil fuels, like golf carts, go-carts, lawn mowers and leaf-blowers. Use an electric or push mower instead of a gas one. Rake up your leaves instead of using a blower. Or go for a weekend hike instead of a ride in your ATV.
The last of the six most common air pollutants is lead. When I first read the list, lead really surprised me. I thought we only had to worry about lead being in our water and paint, but apparently we have to worry about it being in our air as well.
Lead is found naturally in the environment and it is also found in manufactured items. For a long time, the largest contributor to lead in the air was the emissions from automobiles on the road, but as a result of the EPA’s regulatory efforts to remove lead from gasoline, the levels of lead in the air decreased by 94% between 1980 and 1999.
Currently, the largest concentration of lead in the air can be found near lead smelters. Lead smelting is the process in which lead ore or recovered lead from old products is melted down.
These factories not only generate airborne lead, but also put lead into the water and soil.
Today, the leading contributor to lead in the air is ore and metal factories and leaded airplane fuel.
Lead can be taken into the body through breathing, drinking or eating. Once in the body, lead gets into the blood and accumulates in the bones. The adverse effects of lead in the body depend on the amount of exposure, but it can affect nervous systems, kidney functions, immune systems, reproductive and developmental systems and the cardiovascular system. It can also affect the ability of blood to carry oxygen.
Every little bit helps when it comes to cutting back on the pollutants we put in the air, and education is a large part of effecting change. Without knowledge, people won’t know the cause of the problems.
You can make a difference by reducing your own pollutant-generating activities, and you can make an even bigger difference by helping your friends reduce as well.