Air Pollution Causes Variety of Problems

Article excerpt

Air pollution can directly affect our skin and our intestinal tract, but most frequently affects the respiratory system. In addition to the air we breathe, the food we consume and water we drink may also contain pollutants from the air.

Air is a mixture of gases and tiny particles including nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide and argon, with traces of a few other gases. Sometimes it contains salt from the sea, or sand, pollen and other organic or inorganic substances not normally harmful to plants, animals or humans.

However, technology has added other ingredients: sulfur, lead, oxides of nitrogen, hydrocarbons, lead, ozone, carbon monoxide and other culprits which may be unhealthy. In addition, weather, season and topography play important roles in extreme air pollution situations. Fog and rain intensify the problem; wind carries pollution away to contaminate cleaner areas.

Pollution is not a new problem. English kings long ago complained of the smoke from burning coal. Today's Los Angeles basin had a haze produced by the camp fires of resident Indians. But it wasn't until after World War II, when two major air pollution episodes were directly linked with human deaths, that the serious consequences of air pollution were recognized, prompting efforts of varying success to clean up our air.

In 1948, Donora, Penn., was a quiet town located on the Monongahela River with three main industrial plants _ a steel mill, a wire mill and a zinc plating plant. During October of that year, a heavy smog settled in and a weather inversion prevented it from moving the pollutants out of the valley. Nearly 20 people died within the week.

It wasn't until late in the week that emergency help was rushed in and attention was focused on the air pollution as the cause. Four years later, England suffered a similar disaster. …