How Are Pollutants Affecting Us And Our Air? | Teen Ink

How Are Pollutants Affecting Us And Our Air?

April 7, 2008
By Anonymous


Air is an invisible gas, which is made up of 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, 1% argon and traces of many other gases. Six common pollutants are being introduced into the air; particle matter, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and lead. Greenhouse gases are heat trapping atmospheric gases that we pump into the air every day. Pollutants have very bad effects on our respiratory systems.

Air is essential to life. We need it to get the oxygen that drives our cells. Air is an invisible gas, which is, as seen in Figure 1, made up of 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, 1% argon and traces of many other gases.

Air is what composes the atmosphere. It is an invisible gas that takes up both mass and volume and so it is made of matter. This is proved by such things as balloons. Think of a deflated balloon. There is nothing inside it but when you blow air into that balloon you get a greater mass telling you that air is something and has to be made out of matter.
(Figure 1)
There are four layers of Earth’s atmosphere. The exosphere is the region where atoms and molecules escape into space. This is the true upper limit of the Earth's atmosphere. The exosphere extends from the thermosphere out to space. The thermosphere is the fourth layer of the Earth's atmosphere and is located above the mesosphere. The air is really thin. The Earth's thermosphere, in addition to containing the exosphere, includes the region of the atmosphere called the ionosphere. The ionosphere is filled with charged particles. The high temperatures in the thermosphere can cause molecules to ionize. The Earth's mesosphere is the layer in which a lot of meteors burn up while entering the Earth's atmosphere. The mesosphere extends from the top of the stratosphere (the stratopause, located at about 50 kilometers) to an altitude of about 90 kilometers.

In the Earth's stratosphere there is a layer of ozone near an altitude of 25 kilometers. The ozone molecules absorb high-energy UV rays from the sun, which warm the atmosphere at that level.
(Figure 2)
The terrestrial stratosphere is the region between the end of the troposphere, and the level at which the maximum warming due to the presence of ozone takes place, which is at an altitude of about 50 kilometers. Finally, the troposphere is the lowest region of the Earth's atmosphere. The air is heated from the ground up because the surface of the Earth absorbs energy and heats up faster than the air. Weather and clouds occurs in the Earth's troposphere.

(Figure 4)
The Background Information
Six common pollutants are being introduced into the air by human beings. These pollutants come directly from our pumping out gases and some indirectly. The first pollutant is ground level ozone. This comes from motor vehicle exhaust, industrial emissions, gasoline vapors, and chemical solvents. The second pollutant is nitrogen oxides. This comes from fuel burned at high temperatures, electrical utilities, other industrial, commercial, and residential sources that burn fuel

(Figure 5)
The third pollutant is sulfur dioxide. These come from electrical utilities, especially those using coal, and industrial facilities that derive their
products from raw materials. The fourth pollutant is carbon monoxide. This is produced by motor vehicles, industrial processing, residential wood burning, forest fires, stoves, cigarette smoke, and unvented gasoline. The fifth pollutant in our air is lead. Lead is produced by vehicles, industrial sources, waste incinerators, utilities, lead acid battery manufacturers, and manufactured products. The sixth final pollutant is particulate matter. This matter comes from roadways and dusty industries, construction sites, unpaved roads, fields, and smoke stacks or fires.

As you can tell from Figures 4 and 5, a majority of these pollutants come from vehicle exhaust. An article from the New York Times, called “Which Tunnel Is That Again?” by Josh Benson, talks about a new fright rail tunnel, which will reduce carbon emissions by reducing the number of drivers in one place.
‘Supporters of the tunnel say that it will lessen the miles that trucks travel on New Jersey roads by tens of millions each year, and would significantly curb emissions of greenhouse gasses and asthma-inducing exhaust in the metropolitan New York region.
At the same time, they say, it will prevent roads like Interstate 80 and Route 1-9, which are already prone to bottlenecks, from becoming paralyzed with expected traffic increases in the next 15 years.
''New Jersey has just become this thoroughfare for trucks crossing the state,'' said Marnie McGregor, director of Move NY & NJ, a coalition of mass transit advocates and labor groups that support construction of the tunnel. ''It's a problem that has to be addressed.''’

There is a great difference between primary pollutants and secondary pollutants. Sulfates, or compounds produced by sulfuric acids, are secondary pollutants. Secondary pollutants form in the atmosphere from chemical reactions involving precursor pollutants. For example, a precursor for sulfates is sulfur dioxide. While primary pollutants come straight from a source such as cars or power plants. In other words primary pollutants are directly from a source whereas secondary is caused by something already in the air. It’s just like firsthand and secondhand smoke.
Why are all these pollutants are a hazard to the world? First, they all affect the ozone layer that is deteriorating. As stated before the ozone layer protects us from the ultraviolet rays the sun emits. They also contribute to the ever growing problem of global warming. They affect our health as well as other species of the Earth.
Our class went onto a virtual city online called “Smog City”. This virtual city let you change variables in pollution and the weather, and the results were shocking. When we altered the levels of the sources of pollution the affect was devastating. Then when we increased temperatures and worsened weather conditions, which is a by-product of having so much pollution, the situation was horrible. One trend that was very noticeable was the size of the affect each source had. For example, increasing the cars and trucks made things a lot worse whereas the consumer products had a much less noticeable affect.
When are they a problem? They are problem in coming years when the temperature skyrockets and the effect, sometimes very literally, rains down upon us. You can even start to see the effects now all over the world. Where do they cause problems? Right now the affected areas are the urban areas. But this will not be true and it will soon spread as they get worse and worse. With every mile driven, with every pump of CO2 a factory emits, we get closer to our destiny.

The Research Problem
Greenhouse gases are heat trapping atmospheric gases that we pump into the air every day. The more greenhouse gases we pump into the air the hotter our planet gets and the effects of global warming become more apparent. This is caused by something called the

(Figure 3)
greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect is a warming of the lower atmosphere and surface of a planet by a complex process involving sunlight, gases, and particles in the atmosphere.

When the gases are pumped into the atmosphere they form a “blanket” over Earth. Every night the “blanket” grows to be thicker and thicker. This “blanket” traps all the heat it takes on, absorbing it like a Brawny paper towel. While it’s covering us, the temperature rises and rises. The polluting gases are also destroying the upper level above it, the ozone layer, which protects us from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. See Figure 3.
There are a plethora of reasons why temperatures varied on the Earth in the past and none of them, until more recently, are because of humans. One reason is volcanic eruptions. The ash is exploded into there air created an effect much like the greenhouse effect. Another reason is the Earth orbit around the sun. Other reasons include the sun’s radiation, earth’s ability to reflect solar radiation, and the ocean’s circulation.
The impact that global climate change will have is going to be on every part of the world. In North America some effects will be decreasing snowpacks and severe storms. In South America some effects will be changes in precipitation, species extinction, and water shortages. In Europe some effects will be heat waves, and species losses. In Africa some effects will be reduced growing seasons and drought. In Asia some effects will be changing yields, increasing disease, unsustainable development, and receding glaciers. In Australia some effects will be loss of biodiversity In the oceans some effects will be reductions in sea ice, rising sea levels, and threatened cultures.

Many things can be done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the greenhouse effect. One thing is buying more environmentally friendly cars such as hybrids and cars running on different sources. Driving less around town and traveling in your car less will help. Cranking the old thermostat down just a few degrees, like 5 or 7, in the winter could save all that pollution from being freed into the air. Other actions that can reduce gas emissions are, replacing all the old incandescent light bulbs, energy monsters, to fluorescent energy-saving light bulb ,replacing all those old appliances such as refrigerators and washing machines to new more environmentally safer models and replacing that gas or oil furnace or boiler with an energy saving model. You can also replace the single-glazed windows in your kitchen and living room with new energy efficient double glazed windows.

Companies such as PSE&G are already working to achieve a smaller carbon footprint. An article from The New York Times, called “THE WEEK; Public Service Energy Unit To Clean Up Two Coal Plants” by John Hall, talks about PSE&G’s plan to clean up and reduce emissions from two coal plants.
‘PSEG Fossil, a subsidiary of the Public Service Energy Group, says it will spend more than $1 billion to clean up two coal-fired power plants, in Jersey City and Hamilton, to make them more environmentally sound.
This follows a $6 million penalty that the federal Environmental Protection Agency levied against the utility in November for failure to comply with a 2002 order for the upgrades.
The utility will reduce the amount of nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter and mercury emitted by installing scrubbers and other technology designed to eliminate pollution, said Neil Brown, a utility spokesman. Environmental officials said the upgrades are sorely needed at the plants, considered to be among the dirtiest polluters in the state.
The utility says it will spend nearly $703 million at the Hudson Unit 2 in Jersey City, a 608-megawatt unit. Upgrades at the Hamilton operations, which are known as Mercer Units 1 and 2 and which create a combined 648 megawatts, will cost about $451 million, Mr. Brown said.
The utility will have until 2010 to complete the upgrades or plan for a shutdown of the plants.
''The agreement contains new, more stringent requirements than those to which we originally agreed,'' said Alan J. Steinberg, the E.P.A. regional administrator.’

PSE&G Fossil

My Greenhouse Gas-Saving Experiment
Research Question
Can turning off all of the phantom loads in my household reduce greenhouse gas emissions?
Background information
Phantom loads are the electricity consumed by an electronic device when it is turned off, standby power, or leaking electricity consumed by any device while it is turned off. It is also called a vampire load. The average consumption of each phantom load is 7 watts. One kWh of energy produces about 1.55 pounds of CO2.
Turning off all devices that create a phantom load will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Control Test

Variable Test
Counting all the different appliances including,
Counting all the different appliances including, TV’s, cable TV’s, cable boxes, and computers,

boxes, and computers, turn every one off for 1 year

keep every one on for 1 year


Data and Analysis
Amount of Phantom loadsConsuming electricity
Watts Consumed
Pounds of Carbon produced
Control Test:Phantom loads on
175 watts
27.125 pounds
Variable Test:Phantom loads off
0 watts
0 pounds

(Figure 4)

I checked my watt usage before and after the experiment. The difference was 175 watts. The difference for the carbon emissions was 27.125 pounds of carbon. That’s 27.125 pounds of carbon just from all those flashing lights and computers in sleep mode around the house.


I was very surprised at these results. I couldn’t believe that I was letting out an extra 27.125 pounds of carbon emissions just from this phantom load. Just imagine if this is going on in the 111 million households in the United States. That would be 111 million x 27.125 or 3,010,875,000 pounds of carbon yearly! The country should be aware of what this is doing to our environment.

Alternatives to Fossil Fuels

Wind energy is a form of solar energy made by wind patterns that are made from the heat of the sun. Wind energy is available over a widespread geographical area. This range is much larger than hydropower and other ‘green’ sources. If wind energy provided 20% of all the nation’s electricity, it could displace one-third of the emissions from coal-fired power plants, or all radioactive waste and water pollution from nuclear power plants. Below, (Figure 6) is a diagram of how a wind turbine works.

(Figure 5)

New Jersey Wind Farm Editorial
The big question is should New Jersey allow the construction of coastal wind farms for the purpose of generating electricity? I think there should be wind farms in New Jersey. Here are my reasons for my choice. Reason #1: It is a more environmentally sound way of producing energy. Reason #2: It will save us a lot of money. Reason #3: It will not obstruct the view but it will be more of a site to see.
It is a more environmentally sound way of producing energy. It will save some of the billions of tons of pollution being pumped in the air The 10 billion kilowatt-hours currently generated by wind plants in the U.S. each year displace some 13.5 billion pounds (6.7 million tons) of carbon dioxide, 35,000 tons of sulfur dioxide (98 tons per day), and 21,000 tons of nitrogen oxides (58 tons per day). Think of what more wind farms can do.

It will save us a lot of money. Buying natural gas and oil is becoming more and more expensive. Wind farms will give you more money than it costs to make. (See Figure 5) A reasonable estimate for income to a landowner from a single utility-scale turbine is about $3,000 a year. For a 250-acre farm, with income from wind at about $55 an acre, the annual income from a wind lease would be $14,000, with no more than 2-3 acres removed from production. Such a sum can significantly increase the net income from farming. The chart below shows the inexpensiveness of wind farms.

(Figure 6)
It will not obstruct the view but it will be more of a site to see. It will be a nice site to see as the white blades spin across the vast blue sea. It will be nice to see a view that you know is saving our planet breeze by breeze. It’s the least we can do for speeding up a process that should be taking 100’s of millions of years and making it happen in 200 years and ruining nature.

I believe that wind farms are necessary to have in New Jersey. They will make us money. They are environmentally safer. They do not obstruct the view but rather make another. The side for the wind farms is greater than the side against wind the farms in New Jersey.

My Alternative Fuel Source
My alternative fuel source for cars that interests me is air. The main idea is to launch and commercialize a hybrid car using compressed air and electricity. The use of compressed air for storing energy is a method that is not only efficient and clean, but also economical. In 1973 CAES (Compressed Air Energy Storage) installed their first compressed air energy storage plant in Germany, making use of natural underground caves for compressed air storage and taking advantage of the surplus energy produced by the generating plants. Later on similar plants were installed in the United States (Alabama and Ohio).
The same cycle is used in these “air cars”. Fiber tanks store 90m3 of compressed air. The expansion of this air pushes the pistons and creates movement. The atmospheric temperature is used to re-heat the engine and increase the road coverage. The air conditioning system makes use of the expelled cold air. Because of the absence of combustion and the fact there is no pollution, oil changes are necessary only every 31.000 miles.
But it does have its disadvantages. One is storing the compressed air. It needs to be kept in a cold condition and by doing this you could freeze up the engine. Another problem is when the air is being compressed at sensible pace it creates heat, and if that heat isn’t retained in some way the cycle won’t be efficient. One final disadvantage would be that in an accident the compressed air tanks might be dangerous.

Health Affects
You’re an air molecule. You’re floating around doing what air molecules do, when suddenly a great suction pulls you into a bike rider’s mouth as he speeds down a hill. You travel at blazing speeds down the nasal cavity, next to the larynx, down through the trachea, and into the lungs. You decide to move towards the left lung, so you’re sucked in again through the bronchi and down into the smaller tubes called bronchioles. As you are swept down you stop as you finally reach the alveoli. Here you are sucked into the bloodstream and a big red blood cell opens its cell wall and scoops you in. Suddenly a big red misshapen object appears from around corner. It’s the hemoglobin, the delivery molecule that picks you up and takes you wherever oxygen is needed.

PM10 ,or big particles, stands for particulate matter up to ten microns across. This is caused by many different things; pieces of dirt and dust from roads, factories and farming, bits of mold, pollen or spores, and bits of tire and dirt from trucks. These particles can build up in the airways. As particles build up flow of oxygen is less. Mucous is then produced to trap these particles, and when that happens we have to cough out the mucous.

PM2.5, or small particles, stands for particulate matter less than 2.5 microns across. (To give you an idea 1 micron is .001 mm!) They are made of heavy metals or other toxic chemicals. They are produced by cars, trucks, brush fires, and metal purifying and processing and can be very toxic. They can travel deeper into your lungs when you breathe them in, and farther in they can cause a greater effect. These particles can make it hard to breathe and catch your breath. It depends what they’re made of but they can also cause health problems such as cancer.
(Figure 7)

Ozone is made up of 3 oxygen atoms opposed to the two oxygen atoms in the oxygen we breathe. It is produced by automobiles, industry, and utilities. It is formed when the sun comes out and reacts with the substances provided by the producers. Ozone is a very powerful chemical. It attacks the cells that line your airways. It feels like you have irritating sunburn in your lungs. If you already have respiratory problems or have asthma it can trigger more irritation.

Carbon monoxide is produced when things burn. The majority is from cars and trucks. It travels deep into your lungs and into your alveoli, where the bloodstream gives the lungs carbon dioxide and the lungs give the oxygen. The Carbon monoxide, or CO, then gets inside of the red blood cells. The delivery molecule, hemoglobin, picks up and delivers the CO instead of the oxygen. When your body can’t get enough oxygen you start getting headaches, feeling dizzy, and you can suffocate.

Below, in Figure 7, are the results of a survey conducted by our class to pinpoint the causes and numbers of asthma and allergy related problems.

(Figure 8)

Opposed to the national asthma rate of kids under the age of 18, which is 8%; we have a greater average of 13.1%. Although this isn’t the whole grade or a large number because it’s only out of 61, there’s still a difference. There doesn’t seem to be one great cause of asthma attacks, but there were a few patterns. One was that 5 out of 8 people who had asthma that participated in this survey reported that their attacks are more frequent outdoors. That’s 62.5% of the people who had asthma. Another pattern was that only 1 person out of the 8 who had asthma said that there attacks occurred more often in school. This could be because of the controlled air of the school. Outside with pollutants and spores asthma could be triggered but inside the school buildings things stay at one normal condition with no spores or pollutants.

There are many things that you can do to reduce indoor air pollution. One thing is proper ventilation and/or filters. Pollution creating appliances such as furnaces should be properly ventilated as to not have pollution floating around in the air. You should also control these pollutants by making sure appliances like furnaces and stoves are working properly to minimize indoor air pollutants. One other thing to do is controlling the humidity. If it’s too damp you’ll have indoor air pollutants.

Action Plan

There are so many things to choose from to do. Things like submitting this essay or changing light bulbs or getting an environmentally safe hybrid car. I have decided to submit this essay to Teen Ink. Teen Ink is a magazine with no staff writers just articles submitted to them by kids. When it reaches the magazine all the readers will get the facts and know what’s going on and what can be done.
Also doing this project as opened my eyes to how much power we are wasting subconsciously. So, one thing I plan to do is turn off the lights when nobody’s upstairs, or unplug the laptop when it’s already fully charged. Since I’ll be living in a mess if we don’t do anything I might as well start to do something.

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Benson, Josh. "Which Tunnel Is That Again?". New York Times August 14, 2005: 1-2.
Chen, Loris. Wyckoff Schools. 3 Apr 2008.
"Child Health USA 2005". US Department of Health and Human Services. 6 April 2008 .
Fields, Jason. 2003.America’s Family and Living Arrangements: 2003. Current population Reports, P20-553.

US Census Bureau, Washington, D.C.
Fishbein, Dr. Michael . "Smoker's Lung Pathology Photo Essay". 3 April 2008

Holl, John. "The Week; Public Service Energy Unit To Clean Up Two Coal Plants". New York Times
March 18, 2007: 1-2.

"Layers of the Earth's Atmosphere". Windows to The Universe. 27 Feb. 2008.


"Lung Attack". 3 April 2008 .

“The Most Frequently Asked Questions About Wind Energy”. AWEA American Wind Energy

Association. 2002. 27 Feb. 2008.

"Reference Page Microns and More". 5 April 2008

“Q&A About Visibility Basic Visibility Concepts for Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Agencies.” MARMA

Mid Atlantic Regional Air Management Association. 9-10 Jan. 2001. 26 Feb. 2008.


“Welcome to IFA 2007". Phillips. 7 April 2008 .

“Where Does Pollution Come From?". Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. 5 April 2008 .

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