Air pollution and health

Air pollution is a direct hazard to the environment and to our health. According to the World Health Organisation, polluted air is air whose chemical composition may adversely affect the health of humans, animals and plants, as well as water and soil, which is usually contaminated by sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter.

Breathing: a basic function of the body

Without water man can survive a few days, without food even a month, but without air, only a few minutes. Breathing is a basic function of the body. The process is quite complicated, and it is regulated automatically by the body. Breathing consists in providing oxygen to all body cells and removing carbon dioxide from them. The quality of the air we breathe is of great importance to our bodies.

What is the air composed of?

Air is a combination of gases which create a layer around the Earth known as the atmosphere. The main components of air are nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide. Air also contains noble gases: helium, neon, argon, krypton and xenon, as well as hydrogen and methane. Oxygen is necessary for all organisms living on the Earth to breathe. Carbon dioxide, on the other hand, is harmful in large quantities to humans and animals. Too much carbon dioxide in the air changes living conditions as it elevates the temperature of the atmosphere. One hundred litres (L) of air contain approximately 78 L of nitrogen, 21 L of oxygen and 1 L of other gases. Water vapour, which constitutes between 1% and 4% of the air, is an important component as it directly affects air humidity.

What factors affect air pollution?

Composition of the air may change due to environmental pollution, atmospheric conditions and geographical location. If substances that are not naturally found in the air are detected, or if the concentrations of certain gases are too high, we are dealing with pollution. It means that the contaminated air contains less oxygen and more particulate matter and harmful gases.
Atmospheric pollution may be classified according to a few categories. Air pollutants include particulate matter, gases and aerosols. Among them we may distinguish sulphur dioxide, hydrogen fluoride, carbon oxide and tobacco smoke.

The simplest system classifies pollution as natural, i.e. arising from volcanic eruptions, forest fires, sand storms, hurricanes etc., or artificial, resulting from the activities of man. Undoubtedly, the factors that have negative impact on the environment include:

  • exhaust fumes,
  • dangerous substances from central heating boilers,
  • particulate matter from industrial plants,
  • and fossil-fuelled or nuclear power stations.

Effects of pollution on health

Air pollution adversely affects our health and is one of the causes of allergies and respiratory diseases. Therefore, the quality of the air we are breathing is of the utmost importance.