What are the effects of Air Pollution?


The year 2020 will be remembered as the year that shook the conscious of many and forced them to make life choices that would help them lead a healthy lifestyle. Now people are cautious of what type of food, air and water is going into their body. With this wish of leading a healthy lifestyle, people have taken initiatives to keep themselves informed, so I would like to add on to the existing pile of information regarding health issues that are related to air pollution that can affect humans as well as plants and animals. The purpose is to make you understand that pollution and environmental degradation is not limited to books but is also severely affecting you and your loved ones – its high time to take action at an individual and community level.

Air pollution effects on human health

The upper respiratory system known as nasopharyngeal filters larger particles of the air inhaled by humans. Particles of size 5 micron or less easily pass via the lungs and deposit in the alveoli. In case you were wondering, cigarette smoke particles are smaller than 1 micron. Some particles in the air absorb and adsorb gases, these gas particles reach the extreme parts of the lungs and affect the gastrointestinal system.

The following are the pollutants and their effects on human health.

PollutantsSourceEffect on Health
Suspended Particulate MatterSmoke from burning fossil fuels, garbage zinc, and lead fumes, dust storms, cigarette smoke.Damage to lung tissues, carcinogenic effects, effects on breathing and respiratory system, premature mortality, elderly people, and children are the target audience.
Carbon Monoxide (CO)Incomplete combustion of oil and coal.A maximum threat to those having cardiovascular diseases as it reduces oxygen delivery to organs and tissues.
Nitrogen oxides (NOx)High-temperature combustion in automobiles and to some extent in the thermal power plant.Major contributor in tropospheric ozone formation.
Sulfur dioxide (SO2)Combustion of oil and coal.Asthmatics and those suffering from chronic lung and cardiovascular diseases.
LeadLeaded petrol used by cars, ingestion, and inhalation may also occur from the soil, water, or dust.Mental retardation, behavioral disorders, infants, and children most sensitive to low doses.
Ozone (O3)Secondary pollutants are produced by photochemical smog.Ozone disrupts the lung functions and leads to coughing, sneezing, chest pain, and pulmonary congestion.
Carbon Dioxide (CO2)Combustion of coal, petrol, and diesel.Cumulative concentrations cause the Greenhouse effect that eventually leads to global warming.
Nuclear WasteNuclear weapons testing, as well as power plants.Cancers, Mutations, and deaths.
Table 1: Air Pollutants and their effects on human health.

When we discuss air pollution our concerns are very ‘anthropocentric’, we tend to ignore the fact that plants and animals are one of the stakeholders of the same planet. They are equally affected by air pollutants.

The pollutant Fluorine releasing from aluminium, glass, fertilisers and other manufacturing industries damage the plants. The concentration of fluorine over 0.3 µg/m3 causes Phyto-toxicological effects on plants. The major effect of all the pollutants on plants occurs in the leaf structure, as the pollutants block the stomata of the leaf that hinders carbon-absorbing capacity of the plants which further lead to increased levels of carbon in the atmosphere. Apart from fluorine, plants absorb lead or arsenic that is grazed upon by cattle and animals causing harm to both plants and animals.

When animals consume lead, arsenic or fluorine affected vegetation they can suffer from diseases like:

Lead Poisoning

Symptoms –  Complete loss of appetite, paralysis of the digestive tract, inability to stand, and diarrhea.

Arsenic Poisoning

Symptoms – Vomiting, uneasiness, salivation, and thirst.


Symptoms –  Ill health due to malnutrition, lack of appetite, lowered fertility and reduced milk production.

Apart from humans, these pollutants affect aquatic life by mixing with rain causing the acidity of the water which can further lead to the extinction of fishes. Some air pollutants cause damage to the building material, glass surfaces, painted surfaces, etc.

Like many, I am not a big fan of 2020. I mean to seek solutions to the current environmental adversities but sometimes, it is important to focus on the problem itself. We need to figure out the intensity of a problem. I don’t want to drop depressing information about how the air that we breathe can someday become a cause of your ill-health, but the truth is with the current attitude, saving the Environment is not an easy job. We are too far gone but with the human potential at hand and a history of survival, we have started our journey. Ironically we still need to cover miles to reach a sustainable, pollution-free Earth.

Remember people together we can and we will Save the Environment!

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