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What are the effects of pollution? They can thus be evaluated

Several organisms have certified through clinical studies the harmful consequences that prolonged exposure to high concentrations of polluting gases has on human health. In fact, the effects of pollution on the human being have served as a storyline for several articles published in this blog.

But the damage caused by air pollution is not only there. These damaging environmental conditions also affect the natural environment or the architectural elements, as will be seen throughout this text.

What is the solution? Reducing polluting emissions, without a doubt, a mission in which continuous monitoring in real time can be very useful.

How does air pollution affect people?

The effect of pollution on people depends on various factors such as the type of pollutant, its concentration, the exposure time to which the individual is subjected, their physical conditions, etc. In the case of polluting parameters, for example, organisms such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the United States (1) define six pollutants especially harmful to human health:

Carbon monoxide (CO)

A colorless and odorless gas that is toxic when inhaled in large quantities, as it decreases the amount of oxygen that carries blood to vital organs such as the heart or brain. The main source of generation is the burning of fossil fuels, as is the case of most motor vehicles. – Nitrogen oxides (NO and NO2), which have their main source of generation in vehicle traffic. Its inhalation in high concentrations can irritate the respiratory tract, being able to trigger or aggravate the attacks of asthma.

Sulfur dioxide (SO2)

Which produces a narrowing of the respiratory tract, making it difficult for people suffering from asthma or bronchitis. This pollutant is also associated with eye and nose irritation. Its main source of generation is the burning of fossil fuels, volcanic activity and industrial processes. This compound was one of the main triggers of the so-called Great Fog of 1952 in London, an episode of high pollution that lasted for 5 days and that killed about 12,000 people (2,3).

Tropospheric ozone (O3)

A secondary pollutant that is generated by the chemical reaction experienced by nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds or CO in the presence of sunlight. Its effect on human health can be expressed through morphological, functional, immunological and biochemical alterations (Balali-Mood, Ghorani-Azam & Riahi-Zanjani, 2016). It is also detrimental for asthmatics, children and elderly people, people who work outdoors and individuals with a deficit of certain nutrients such as vitamins C and E.

Suspended particles (PM)

A mixture of particles (dust, ash, pollen, metallic compounds, etc.) present in the air whose danger is defined by its size and its capacity to reach the depths of the respiratory system, where they can even be absorbed by the bloodstream. The whistling breathing, cough or dry mouth feeling are some of the most common effects, although prolonged exposure to high concentrations can lead to a reduction in life expectancy due to the development of cardiovascular problems and cancer (Balali-Mood et al., 2016).

Lead (Pb)

A heavy metal naturally present in the earth’s crust whose productive exploitation has caused an increase in its concentration in the atmosphere. Although the commercialization of unleaded fuels has had a positive effect in reducing their emissions in many countries, the processing of minerals and metals or waste incinerators remain important sources of generation of this pollutant. Once absorbed by the human body, it tends to accumulate in the bones, and it may cause adverse effects on the nervous system, the kidneys or the immune system.

ENVIRA is specialized in the monitoring of some of these pollutants such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, ozone and PM10 and PM2.5. The air quality monitoring stations composed of gas and/or particle analyzers are located in areas with a high concentration of pollution. Likewise, they can be tailored with a hierarchical warning system by sending alerts based on the degree of pollution.

The effects of air pollution on ecosystems

Ecosystems are not alien to the effects of pollution. This impact has possibly received less attention if it is compared with other problems such as climate change. But pollution can endanger the provision of the so-called ecosystem services (4), the resources or services provided by nature such as drinking water, food, climate regulation, protection against extreme weather events, etc.

In 2009 Lovett et al. distinguished the following effects depending on the type of ecosystem:

  • In aquatic ecosystems, air pollution causes or contributes to the acidification of water and the processes of eutrophication as a consequence of the deposition of sulfur and nitrogen compounds. Acidification is, for example, one of the major risks for the continuity of the fisheries for salmon in Norway, as pointed out by Forseth et al. in 2017 or the European Environment Agency in 2014 (5), or the cultivation of mussels in areas such as Galicia (Spain) (6).
  • In terrestrial ecosystems, the effects of air pollution affect above all the correct operation of the biogeochemical cycles (nitrogen, carbon, sulfur, water and oxygen cycle).

Thus, there is strong evidence of the negative effect caused by the deposition of nitrogen and sulfur, through acid rain, for example, in pastures, alpine areas or wetlands. There is also evidence of the impact caused by tropospheric ozone on photosynthesis of plants function, causing less growth and development of vegetation and crops.

The cost of air pollution on infrastructure and buildings

The main impact of pollution on infrastructure and buildings is manifested through corrosion, a problem that requires spending large amounts of money for its renovation and maintenance. France, for example, taking as a reference the results of the study of the University of Karlsruhe (2000)

External costs of transport

Accident, environmental and congestion costs in Western Europe, in the year 2000 allocated about 3,400 million euros (7) alone for the repair of these damages. This corrosion occurs when precipitating nitrogen and sulfur compounds that have previously reacted with the water vapor present in the atmosphere. But the deterioration can also occur by abrasion, deposition and removal, direct chemical attack or indirect chemical attack, with materials such as marble or non-stainless steel that show a high sensitivity to air pollution (Venkat Rao, Rajasekhar & Chinna Rao, 2014).



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