Although the United States has made great progress in the last two decades in lessening the combustion gasses and other pollutants that enter the air Americans breathe, more work still needs to be done. Just because you can't see or smell these pollutants doesn't mean they aren't there. In fact, the air in most U.S. cities contains quite a number of pollutants.
Five commonly-found air pollutants
1. Carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide (CO2) is a byproduct of combustion. It's produced by everything from your vehicle to your heating system to the local energy plant. This colorless, odorless gas can be deadly in large quantities. It kills by preventing the human body's organs from absorbing oxygen. The good news is that the amount of CO2 in the U.S. air has decreased by 84 percent since 1980.
2. Ground level ozone. Unlike CO2, ground level ("bad") ozone isn't emitted. Instead, it's created when nitrogen oxide (from car emissions and industrial combustion) mixes with sunlight and naturally-occurring organic compounds. Ozone can cause breathing issues, especially in very young and very old people. It can also exacerbate existing breathing problems, like COPD and asthma as well as destroy vegetation.
3. Particulates. "Particulates" is an umbrella term to describe the many, tiny dry and liquid pieces of matter than are suspended in the air we breathe. These include dust, soil particles, metal shavings, acids and organic chemicals. The number of particulates in the air is especially high in areas where wood burning or forest fires are prevalent.
4. Sulfur dioxide. Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is primarily a byproduct of industrial manufacturing and energy plants and, to a lesser degree, from train engines and large ships. SO2 has been linked to breathing disorders, such as COPD. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the amount of SO2 in the air has decreased by 81 percent since 1980.
5. Lead. Lead is another common pollutant found in the air in most U.S. cities. Like CO2, lead is a byproduct of gasoline-powered vehicle engines. It is also produced from some manufacturing processes and from aviation engines. The switch in the U.S. to unleaded gasoline has reduced the amount of lead in the air in U.S. cities by 94 percent between 1980 and 1999.
While great strides have been made in controlling the amount of pollutants in the air in American cities over the last few decades, large levels of carbon monoxide, particulates, ground level ozone and other pollutants continue to be found in the air we breathe.
For more information, contact an environmental specialist in your area.
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