Air Contamination Types

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Every time you take a breath you may be inhaling something really harmful, even if you're indoors and nowhere near some power plant. Find out how that's the case in this lesson!

Air Pollutants

Other than food and water, what is the most precious thing for our existence? Nope, it's not our smartphone or Facebook. It's air. Why? Air is made up of numerous gases, one of which is oxygen. Oxygen is necessary for our body to create energy, energy that allows us to live! But the air we breathe contains much more than just oxygen or other natural gases. It also contains contaminants or pollutants. Let's look at some of the many different types of contaminants found in our air.

Particle Pollution & Carbon Monoxide

You might be thinking that air pollution is an outdoor problem, but you'd be wrong! Let's begin with two very important air contaminants, ones that can be and are easily found in your home.

One of them is called particle pollution or particulate matter. It's just a fancy term for liquid and solid particles floating in the air. Still confused? One type is floating in the room you're sitting in right now, and you can even see it with your eyes. It's dust. Dust is particular matter. Dust, smoke, soot, and even dirt are all different types of particular matter, and they may cause various health problems. Depending on their size and chemical composition, particulate matter can cause coughing or difficulty breathing or it can cause or aggravate heart or lung disease.

But some things that may be found in your home are not as visible as some particulate matter. In fact, not only is this air contaminant invisible, it also odorless and tasteless. It's a gas called carbon monoxide (CO). Potential sources of carbon monoxide contamination in our home include cars (like a car running in a closed garage), furnaces, tobacco smoke, water heaters, and fireplaces (gas or wood burning). Carbon monoxide can damage the heart and brain and lead to death.

Carbon monoxide is labeled as a very toxic gas, and for good reason too.

Lead & Sulfur Dioxide

Of course, there are plenty of air contaminants outside of the home. One of these is lead. Now, many consider lead to be more of a contaminant of water, as per lead pipes or lead naturally seeping into our drinking water from the ground. However, lead can also be found in the air. Lead is emitted as a result of metal processing facilities, lead smelters, lead battery manufacturing plants, or aircraft flying on leaded fuel. If you breathe in too much of this lead, it can damage the nervous system, immune system, and the kidneys.

This is lead but in it solid state.

The combustion of fossil fuel, as per power plants, can release large amounts of a highly reactive air contaminant, a gas called sulfur dioxide (SO2). Even short-term exposure to sulfur dioxide can lead to a worsening of someone's asthma. SO2 can also lead to serious lung disease like emphysema and bronchitis.

Nitrogen Dioxide & Ozone

Another gas nitrogen dioxide (NO2) comes from emissions as well, including power plants just like sulfur dioxide, but also various vehicles, like cars and trucks. Like sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide can also aggravate asthma symptoms, even with very little exposure, and just like SO2, NO2, can eventually cause or worsen other serious lung disorders, like emphysema and bronchitis.

Finally, the last major air contaminant is actually a normal part of our atmosphere, it's called ozone. When ozone is really high above us, it actually serves to protect us from the sun's harmful radiation. However, when ozone is found nearer to the ground (as per smog), then that is when it causes us a problems.

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