By Zoe Zhang.
According to a survey conducted by Massachusetts Institute of Technology released in late August, industrial smokestacks, trains, boats, and commercial heating systems contribute to the death of 113 people per 100,000 population per year in Maryland — more than any other state.
The problem is particularly acute in Baltimore, which boasts the highest emissions-related mortality rate of large cities in the country, according to the study. Of every 100,000 residents in the city, the study found that 130 were likely to die prematurely each year of causes related to air pollution, more than in New York City, Los Angeles, and the entire Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.
The large output of emissions in Baltimore and elsewhere in Maryland accounted for the high rate of premature deaths related to polluted air, said Steven Barrett, an MIT professor and lead author of the study. Large amounts of ozone, ethane and small particulate matter in the air can contribute to the development of heart disease, asthma and other lung diseases like cancer. On average, Barrett said, those who died prematurely did so an average of 10 years earlier than expected.
Air pollution causes damage to crops, animals, forests, and bodies of water. It also contributes to the depletion of the ozone layer, which protects the Earth from the sun’s UV rays. Another negative effect of air pollution is the formation of acid rain, which harms trees, soils, rivers, and wildlife. Some of the other environmental effects of air pollution are haze, eutrophication, and global climate change.
Air pollution can further be classified into two sections – visible air pollution and invisible air pollution. Another way of looking at air pollution could be any substance that holds the potential to hinder the atmosphere or the well being of the living beings surviving in it. The sustainment of all things living is due to a combination of gases that collectively form the atmosphere; the imbalance caused by the increase or decrease of the percentage of these gases can be harmful for survival.
According to Sheryl Erhman, a co-author of the paper on Atmospheric Environment, chair of UM’s chemical and bimolecular engineering department, many poisonous substances such as ethane has “leaked into the air and then the air is carried into Maryland as the winds move into our region.”
“We measured ethane,” according to Erhman, “which is the second most abundant compound in natural gas. If we see the increase in ethane we believe there is a corresponding increase in methane. The levels of ethane steadily increased since 2009 we believe because of the increased drilling operations upwind of our state. There are many possibilities for gas to leak out during the different stages of the drilling process and during routine natural gas processing and transport through pipelines.”
“Second world countries face a much more serious problem than that of Maryland,” according to Yifei Zhang, CEO of CSD Beijing, an environmental protection based company. “The atmosphere in Beijing is a mixture of nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, water vapor and solid contaminant particles thereof in a certain proportion. In terms of dry air, by volume, 78.08% of nitrogen, 20.94% of oxygen, 0.93% of noble gas, carbon dioxide comprises 0.03% is accounted while the volume of other gases and impurities are approximately 0.02%. Natural changes often lead to changes in atmospheric composition.”
The origin of the pollution is quite clear for Zhang, “When a large number of volcanic eruptions of dust and gases such as carbon dioxide is injected into the atmosphere, causing volcanic eruptions smoky area, it pollutes the atmosphere; a large area of forest fires caused by lightning and other natural causes will increase the amount of carbon dioxide and other substances alike.”
The air in much of China is so bad the government has repeatedly declared “war” on it. The enemies are tiny particulates, which spew forth from countless cars, coal-fired power stations and steel plants to create dense, putty-colored smog.
“The issue really is spending a bigger part of the government’s budget on pollution control equipment. Governments today are rich enough that this is no longer such a very big issue. We are not talking about building houses versus building pollution control equipment. This is no longer the stark choice facing China today,” according to Mun Ho from BBC news.
Scientist have discovered solutions to the severe and global environmental problem such as an artificial film that filters the poisonous gas into containers that will be sealed and treated. There are many reasons for people in North America and Europe to try to reduce their use of fossil fuels. Air pollution has tremendous health and environmental costs. There are other reasons as well. Much of the oil we use comes from the Middle East, which is a politically unstable region of the world. Also, fossil fuels are running out, although some will run out sooner than others. The most easily accessible fossil fuels are mostly already gone and harder to use or recover fuels are now being used. There are other types of fossil fuels that can eventually replace coal and petroleum, such as tar sands and oil shale. But these have even more environmental problems than traditional fossil fuels have: mining them from the ground causes severe environmental damage and burning them releases pollutants, including greenhouse gases.
Alternative energy sources are important. They currently are not a large part of the energy supply, but they will increase rapidly over the coming years and decades. Several sources of alternative energy, including solar and wind are not currently being used much because the technologies are not well enough developed. Converting sunlight into usable solar power, for example, is still very expensive relative to using fossil fuels. For solar to be used more widely, technology will need to advance so that the price falls. Also, solar power is not practiced in all parts of the United States because some areas get low amounts of sunlight. These locations will need to develop different power sources. While the desert Southwest will need to develop solar, the Great Plains can use wind energy as its energy source. Perhaps some locations will rely on nuclear power plants, although current nuclear power plants have major problems like safety and waste disposal.
Some pollutants can be filtered out of the exhaust stream before they are released into the atmosphere. Other pollutants can be broken down into non-toxic compounds before they are released.