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Air pollution is caused by mankind directly and indirectly making the air we breathe and live in dirtier.
The two causes of air pollution are...
Man-made air pollution is caused by releasing gases, chemicals and particulates (tiny, tiny particles like very dirty dust).
We release dangerous gases like carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide when we burn things.
Power plants which produce electricity often burn fossil fuels like coal, gas and oil. Burning these fuels releases gases which cause air pollution - like sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide.
Also, many forms of transport and factories rely on burning fuel to make them work, releasing more harmful gases into the earth's atmosphere.
Let's look at the most common gases which cause air pollution and see what they do:
Nitrogen Oxide (NOX) is released when fuel is burned in car engines, at factories and power plants. When large amounts of NOX are found in the air, especially in busy cities, it can help form smog which makes breathing very difficult and can cause long-term health problems.
Sulfur Dioxide is released when we burn coal and oil. This gas then mixes with rain and snow in the clouds and comes back down to earth causing damage to humans, plants and wildlife. This acid can kill fish that live in lakes and rivers, and make the soil which plants and trees grow in unsuitable, leading to them being unable to absorb the nutrients they need to survive.
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is damaging to the environment because it is a 'greenhouse' gas which causes global warming.
CFC's (chlorofluorocarbons) are released by old refrigerators and old spray cans but these chemicals can destroy the ozone layer above the earth. Thanks to great efforts in the past, CFC's are not released very widely today but the damage from many years ago is still causing problems. The ozone layer is a blanket of gas which wraps around the earth in the stratosphere and protects the earth from harmful ultraviolet radiation (UV sun rays) which can cause sunburn and skin cancer. We have to wear suncream to protect ourselves from harmful UV rays, and if the ozone layer is destroyed any more, being out in the sun could be deadly.
Particulates are released by car engines, power plants which burn fossil fuels and many other heavy machines which produce exhausts. These particulates are smaller than dust and float in the air close to roads, railways, factories and power plants. When we breathe these particulates in, they cause significant damage to our health.
Over a long period of time, these particulates can cause cancers and other lung-based diseases which can cause us to die much younger than we should. People who live in busy towns, cities and go to school near busy roads are at danger from these. Also, wood burning stoves can be extremely polluting if the wood burnt on them is dirty, wet, covered in paint or made from sawdust and glue.
There are two things we can do: change our behaviour and the choices we make, invent new ways to power vehicles and factories without polluting the air.