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Air Pollution

Our overview of indoor and outdoor air pollution.

By: Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser

This article was first published in October 2017 and last revised in February 2024.

Air pollution is one of the world's largest health and environmental problems. It develops in two contexts: indoor (household) air pollution and outdoor air pollution.

In this topic page, we look at the aggregate picture of air pollution – both indoor and outdoor. We also have dedicated topic pages that look in more depth at these subjects:

Indoor Air Pollution

Look in detail at the data and research on the health impacts of Indoor Air Pollution, attributed deaths, and its causes across the world

Outdoor Air Pollution

Look in detail at the data and research on exposure to Outdoor Air Pollution, its health impacts, and attributed deaths across the world

Look in detail at the data and research on energy consumption, its impacts around the world today, and how this has changed over time

See all interactive charts on Air Pollution ↓

Other research and writing on air pollution on Our World in Data:

  • Air pollution: does it get worse before it gets better?
  • Data Review: How many people die from air pollution?
  • Energy poverty and indoor air pollution: a problem as old as humanity that we can end within our lifetime
  • How many people do not have access to clean fuels for cooking?
  • What are the safest and cleanest sources of energy?
  • What the history of London’s air pollution can tell us about the future of today’s growing megacities
  • When will countries phase out coal power?

Air pollution is one of the world's leading risk factors for death

Air pollution is responsible for millions of deaths each year.

Air pollution – the combination of outdoor and indoor particulate matter and ozone – is a risk factor for many of the leading causes of death, including heart disease, stroke, lower respiratory infections, lung cancer, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), in its Global Burden of Disease study, provides estimates of the number of deaths attributed to the range of risk factors for disease. 1

In the visualization, we see the number of deaths per year attributed to each risk factor. This chart shows the global total but can be explored for any country or region using the "change country" toggle.

Air pollution is one of the leading risk factors for death. In low-income countries, it is often very near the top of the list (or is the leading risk factor).

Air pollution contributes to one in ten deaths globally

In recent years, air pollution has contributed to one in ten deaths globally. 2

In the map shown here, we see the share of deaths attributed to air pollution across the world.

Air pollution is one of the leading risk factors for disease burden

Air pollution is one of the leading risk factors for death. But its impacts go even further; it is also one of the main contributors to the global disease burden.

Global disease burden takes into account not only years of life lost to early death but also the number of years lived in poor health.

In the visualization, we see risk factors ranked in order of DALYs – disability-adjusted life years – the metric used to assess disease burden. Again, air pollution is near the top of the list, making it one of the leading risk factors for poor health across the world.

Air pollution not only takes years from people's lives but also has a large effect on the quality of life while they're still living.

Who is most affected by air pollution?

Death rates from air pollution are highest in low-to-middle-income countries.

Air pollution is a health and environmental issue across all countries of the world but with large differences in severity.

In the interactive map, we show death rates from air pollution across the world, measured as the number of deaths per 100,000 people in a given country or region.

The burden of air pollution tends to be greater across both low and middle-income countries for two reasons: indoor pollution rates tend to be high in low-income countries due to a reliance on solid fuels for cooking, and outdoor air pollution tends to increase as countries industrialize and shift from low to middle incomes.

A map of the number of deaths from air pollution by country can be found here .

How are death rates from air pollution changing?

Death rates from air pollution are falling – mainly due to improvements in indoor pollution.

In the visualization, we show global death rates from air pollution over time – shown as the total air pollution – in addition to the individual contributions from outdoor and indoor pollution.

Globally, we see that in recent decades, the death rates from total air pollution have declined: since 1990, death rates have nearly halved. But, as we see from the breakdown, this decline has been primarily driven by improvements in indoor air pollution.

Death rates from indoor air pollution have seen an impressive decline, while improvements in outdoor pollution have been much more modest.

You can explore this data for any country or region using the "change country" toggle on the interactive chart.

Interactive charts on air pollution

Murray, C. J., Aravkin, A. Y., Zheng, P., Abbafati, C., Abbas, K. M., Abbasi-Kangevari, M., ... & Borzouei, S. (2020). Global burden of 87 risk factors in 204 countries and territories, 1990–2019: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2019 .  The Lancet ,  396 (10258), 1223-1249.

Here, we use the term 'contributes,' meaning it was one of the attributed risk factors for a given disease or cause of death. There can be multiple risk factors for a given disease that can amplify one another. This means that in some cases, air pollution was not the only risk factor but one of several.

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What You Need to Know About Climate Change and Air Pollution

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How big a problem is air pollution globally?

Air pollution is the world’s leading environmental cause of illness and premature death. Fine air pollution particles or aerosols, also known as fine particulate matter or PM 2.5 , are responsible for 6.4 million deaths every year, caused by diseases such as ischemic heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pneumonia, type 2 diabetes, and neonatal disorders. About 95% of these deaths occur in developing countries, where billions of people are exposed to outdoor and indoor concentrations of PM 2.5 that are multiple times higher than guidelines established by the World Health Organization. A World Bank report estimated that the cost of the health damage caused by air pollution amounts to $8.1 trillion a year, equivalent to 6.1% of global GDP.

Poor people, elderly people, and young children who come from poor families are the most affected and the least likely to be able to cope with the health impacts that come with air pollution. Global health crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic weaken the resilience of societies. Compounding this, exposure to air pollution is linked to increased incidence of COVID-19-related hospital admissions and mortality. In addition to health, air pollution is also linked to biodiversity and ecosystem loss , and has adverse impacts on human capital . Reducing air pollution, on the other hand, not only improves health but strengthens economies. A recent World Bank study found that a 20% decrease in PM 2.5 concentration is associated with a 16% increase in employment growth rate and a 33% increase in labor productivity growth rate .

A World Bank report estimated that the cost of the health damage caused by air pollution amounts to $8.1 trillion a year, equivalent to 6.1% of global GDP.

How is air pollution related to climate change?

Air pollution and climate change are two sides of the same coin, but they are typically addressed separately. They should be tackled jointly, with a focus on protecting peoples’ health – particularly in low- and middle-income countries – to strengthen human capital and reduce poverty.

Air pollutants and greenhouse gases often come from the same sources, such as coal-fired power plants and diesel-fueled vehicles. Some air pollutants do not last long in the environment, notably black carbon – a part of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5 ). Other short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) include methane, hydrofluorocarbons, and ground-level or tropospheric ozone. SLCPs are far more potent climate warmers than carbon dioxide. Methane is a precursor of ground-level ozone, which according to the Climate and Clean air Coalition and Stockholm Environment Institute, kills about a million people each year, and is 80 times more potent at warming the planet than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. Their relatively short lifespans, coupled with their strong warming potential, means that interventions to reduce SLCP emissions can deliver climate benefits in a relatively short time. If we address short-lived climate pollutants, we gain dual benefits: better air quality and improved health where we live, and the global benefit of mitigating climate change.

A World Bank study found that PM 2.5 from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal combustion or diesel-fueled vehicle emissions is among the most toxic types of PM 2.5 . Particles from these sources are more damaging to health than particles from most other air pollution sources. Addressing these sources of PM 2.5 -- like coal combustion and traffic – would address the most toxic air pollution. Given that these sources are also key contributors to climate warming, tackling air pollution from these sources also mitigates climate change.  

What are some requirements for effectively addressing air pollution?

Measure it and monitor it . Many developing countries do not have even rudimentary infrastructure for measuring air pollution. A World Bank study found that there was only one PM 2.5 ground-level monitor per 65 million people in low-income countries , and one per 28 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa;  in contrast, there is one monitor per 370,000 people in high-income countries. This is a serious issue, because you cannot properly manage what you do not measure. If you don't know how bad your problem is, you won’t know whether anything you do to fix it is effective. Countries need to establish ground-level monitoring networks and operate and maintain them properly so they yield reliable air quality data.

Know the main sources of air pollution and their contributions to poor air quality. For example, in City A, transport may be the biggest contributor, but in City B, it could be something completely different, such as emissions from dirty cooking fuels seeping from homes into the outside environment. With this information you can target interventions appropriately to abate air pollution. There are certainly intuitive, no-regret steps cities and countries can take to tackle air pollution, such as shifting to clean buses or renewable energy. But if you want to address air pollution comprehensively, you need to understand what your own sources are.

Disseminate air quality data to the public . People have a right to know the quality of the air they're breathing. Disseminating this information exerts pressure on those who can make the needed changes. Air quality data should be easily accessible in formats that are widely understood so people can reduce their exposure to air pollution and protect vulnerable groups such as young children, the elderly, and people with health conditions that can be exacerbated by poor air quality.

What are some interventions that countries can implement to reduce air pollution?

Reducing air pollution may require physical investments or it may require policy reforms or both. Not every intervention fits every context. Interventions whose benefits (notably improved health) outweigh the costs should be selected. Part of our work at the World Bank is to incorporate climate change considerations into analysis so that the climate benefits of improving air quality can be taken into account in the decision-making process. A few examples of interventions to improve air quality in different sectors:

  • Energy : Change the energy mix to include cleaner, renewable energy sources and phase out subsidies that promote use of polluting fuels.
  • Industry: Use renewable fuels, adopt cleaner production measures, and install scrubbers and electrostatic precipitators in industrial facilities to filter particulates from emissions before they are released into the air.
  • Transport : Change from diesel to electric vehicles, install catalytic converters in vehicles to reduce toxicity of emissions, establish vehicle inspection and maintenance programs.
  • Agriculture : Discourage use of nitrogen-based fertilizers; improve nitrogen-use efficiency of agricultural soils; and improve fertilizer and manure management. Nitrogen-based fertilizers release ammonia, a precursor of secondary PM 2.5 formation. Nitrogen-based fertilizers can also be oxidized and emitted to the air as nitrous oxide, a long-lived greenhouse gas.
  • Cooking and heating : Promote clean cooking and heating solutions including clean stoves and boilers.
Part of our work at the World Bank is to incorporate climate change considerations into analysis so that the climate benefits of improving air quality can be taken into account in the decision-making process.

What is the World Bank doing to help?

The World Bank has invested about $52 billion in addressing pollution in the past two decades. However, we need to scale this up. Some successful projects that address air pollution include:

In China , we supported a program in the Hebei region , the largest contributor to air pollution in the country. The overall result was a reduction in the concentration of PM 2.5 in the atmosphere by almost 40% between 2013 and the end of 2017. The program linked loan disbursements to tangible results. Hebei issued the most stringent industrial emission standards in the country, replaced diesel buses with electric buses, coal stoves with gas stoves, and improved the efficiency of fertilizer use in agriculture. The program also supported effective use of a continuous emission monitoring system to track and enforce compliance by all major industrial enterprises in the province. The project delivered about 5 million tons of CO2 equivalent emissions reductions per year through interventions such as the installation of new stoves in municipalities, and addition of a new clean energy bus fleet. The emissions reductions generated from the installation of 1,221,500 new stoves alone were equivalent to taking more than 860,000 passenger cars off the road each year.

In Peru , the World Bank is supporting a project to develop environmental information systems that includes expanding the country's air quality monitoring network to six new cities. The project is also developing new systems to disseminate information on environmental quality to the public.

In Egypt, we assessed the health impacts from environmental pollution, including the effects of ambient air pollution in Greater Cairo. We found that 19,200 people died prematurely and over 3 billion days were lived with illness in Egypt in 2017 as a result of PM 2.5 air pollution in Greater Cairo and inadequate water, sanitation, and hygiene in all of Egypt. This analytical work has led to a project to reduce vehicle emissions, improve the management of solid waste, and strengthen the air and climate decision-making system in Greater Cairo .

In Vietnam , we are working with the rapidly growing city of Hanoi to simultaneously combat the issues of climate change and air pollution. We are supporting the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources to improve the Air Quality Monitoring Network and develop an understanding of emissions sources, as well as an Air Quality Management Plan for the city.

In Lao PDR , the World Bank program supported the government in establishing stringent ambient air quality standards, including a standard for annual average concentrations of PM 2. in line with the World Health Organization’s air quality guideline value at the time. The program also supported the adoption of regulated procedures for sampling and analyzing PM 2.5 and PM 10 in air, and other pollutants in water.

We need to tackle air pollution and climate change challenges jointly rather than separately with a focus on protecting peoples’ health today, particularly in developing countries.

Can we expect better air quality in the future as countries decarbonize their economies?

First, we must continue to reduce poverty and meet the needs of poor people, whether through lower energy costs, ensuring cleaner air, or other means. With these goals in mind, we need to tackle air pollution and climate change challenges jointly rather than separately with a focus on protecting peoples’ health today, particularly in developing countries. The health benefits of reducing emissions from the burning of fossil fuels can occur in the near term. However, the reduction of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would occur over a longer timeframe. If decarbonization efforts pay attention to non-CO 2 pollutants as well, notably PM 2.5 , we cannot only expect better air quality, but also health benefits in the short term.

Blog: Supporting a Breath of Fresh Air for Lagos

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Air pollution

Air pollution is contamination of the indoor or outdoor environment by any chemical, physical or biological agent that modifies the natural characteristics of the atmosphere.

Household combustion devices, motor vehicles, industrial facilities and forest fires are common sources of air pollution. Pollutants of major public health concern include particulate matter, carbon monoxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide. Outdoor and indoor air pollution cause respiratory and other diseases and are important sources of morbidity and mortality. 

WHO data show that almost all of the global population (99%) breathe air that exceeds  WHO guideline limits  and contains high levels of  pollutants , with low- and middle-income countries suffering from the highest exposures.

Air quality is closely linked to the earth’s climate and ecosystems globally. Many of the drivers of air pollution (i.e. combustion of fossil fuels) are also sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Policies to reduce air pollution, therefore, offer a win-win strategy for both climate and health, lowering the burden of disease attributable to air pollution, as well as contributing to the near- and long-term mitigation of climate change.

From smog hanging over cities to smoke inside the home, air pollution poses a major  threat to health  and climate.

Ambient (outdoor) air pollution in both cities and rural areas is causing fine particulate matter which result in strokes, heart diseases, lung cancer, acute and chronic respiratory diseases.  

Additionally, around 2.4 billion people are exposed to dangerous levels of household air pollution, while using polluting open fires or simple stoves for cooking fuelled by kerosene, biomass (wood, animal dung and crop waste) and coal.

The combined effects of ambient air pollution and household air pollution is associated with 7 million premature deaths annually.

Sources of air pollution are multiple and context specific. The major outdoor pollution sources include residential energy for cooking and heating, vehicles, power generation, agriculture/waste incineration, and industry. Policies and investments that support sustainable land use, cleaner household energy and transport, energy-efficient housing, power generation, industry, and better municipal waste management can effectively reduce key sources of ambient air pollution.

WHO promotes interventions and initiatives for healthy sectoral policies (including energy, transport, housing, urban development and electrification of health-care facilities), addressing key risks to health from air pollution indoors and outdoors, and contributing to achieving health co-benefits from climate change mitigation policies. 

WHO provides technical support to WHO’s Member States in the development of normative guidance, tools and provision of authoritative advice on health issues related to air pollution and its sources.

WHO monitors and reports on global trends and changes in health outcomes associated with actions taken to address air pollution at the national, regional and global levels.

WHO has also developed and implemented a strategy for raising awareness on the risk of air pollution, as well as available solutions that can be implemented to mitigate the risks of exposure to air pollution. Through digital outreach and partnerships, WHO has helped enrich the value proposition of addressing air pollution for health and environment ministries, city governments and other stakeholders from sectors with significant emissions. 

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Air Pollution: Everything You Need to Know

How smog, soot, greenhouse gases, and other top air pollutants are affecting the planet—and your health.

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What is air pollution?

What causes air pollution, effects of air pollution, air pollution in the united states, air pollution and environmental justice, controlling air pollution, how to help reduce air pollution, how to protect your health.

Air pollution  refers to the release of pollutants into the air—pollutants that are detrimental to human health and the planet as a whole. According to the  World Health Organization (WHO) , each year, indoor and outdoor air pollution is responsible for nearly seven million deaths around the globe. Ninety-nine percent of human beings currently breathe air that exceeds the WHO’s guideline limits for pollutants, with those living in low- and middle-income countries suffering the most. In the United States, the  Clean Air Act , established in 1970, authorizes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to safeguard public health by regulating the emissions of these harmful air pollutants.

“Most air pollution comes from energy use and production,” says  John Walke , director of the Clean Air team at NRDC. Driving a car on gasoline, heating a home with oil, running a power plant on  fracked gas : In each case, a fossil fuel is burned and harmful chemicals and gases are released into the air.

“We’ve made progress over the last 50 years in improving air quality in the United States, thanks to the Clean Air Act. But climate change will make it harder in the future to meet pollution standards, which are designed to  protect health ,” says Walke.

Air pollution is now the world’s fourth-largest risk factor for early death. According to the 2020  State of Global Air  report —which summarizes the latest scientific understanding of air pollution around the world—4.5 million deaths were linked to outdoor air pollution exposures in 2019, and another 2.2 million deaths were caused by indoor air pollution. The world’s most populous countries, China and India, continue to bear the highest burdens of disease.

“Despite improvements in reducing global average mortality rates from air pollution, this report also serves as a sobering reminder that the climate crisis threatens to worsen air pollution problems significantly,” explains  Vijay Limaye , senior scientist in NRDC’s Science Office. Smog, for instance, is intensified by increased heat, forming when the weather is warmer and there’s more ultraviolet radiation. In addition, climate change increases the production of allergenic air pollutants, including mold (thanks to damp conditions caused by extreme weather and increased flooding) and pollen (due to a longer pollen season). “Climate change–fueled droughts and dry conditions are also setting the stage for dangerous wildfires,” adds Limaye. “ Wildfire smoke can linger for days and pollute the air with particulate matter hundreds of miles downwind.”

The effects of air pollution on the human body vary, depending on the type of pollutant, the length and level of exposure, and other factors, including a person’s individual health risks and the cumulative impacts of multiple pollutants or stressors.

Smog and soot

These are the two most prevalent types of air pollution. Smog (sometimes referred to as ground-level ozone) occurs when emissions from combusting fossil fuels react with sunlight. Soot—a type of  particulate matter —is made up of tiny particles of chemicals, soil, smoke, dust, or allergens that are carried in the air. The sources of smog and soot are similar. “Both come from cars and trucks, factories, power plants, incinerators, engines, generally anything that combusts fossil fuels such as coal, gasoline, or natural gas,” Walke says.

Smog can irritate the eyes and throat and also damage the lungs, especially those of children, senior citizens, and people who work or exercise outdoors. It’s even worse for people who have asthma or allergies; these extra pollutants can intensify their symptoms and trigger asthma attacks. The tiniest airborne particles in soot are especially dangerous because they can penetrate the lungs and bloodstream and worsen bronchitis, lead to heart attacks, and even hasten death. In  2020, a report from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health showed that COVID-19 mortality rates were higher in areas with more particulate matter pollution than in areas with even slightly less, showing a correlation between the virus’s deadliness and long-term exposure to air pollution. 

These findings also illuminate an important  environmental justice issue . Because highways and polluting facilities have historically been sited in or next to low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, the negative effects of this pollution have been  disproportionately experienced by the people who live in these communities.

Hazardous air pollutants

A number of air pollutants pose severe health risks and can sometimes be fatal, even in small amounts. Almost 200 of them are regulated by law; some of the most common are mercury,  lead , dioxins, and benzene. “These are also most often emitted during gas or coal combustion, incineration, or—in the case of benzene—found in gasoline,” Walke says. Benzene, classified as a carcinogen by the EPA, can cause eye, skin, and lung irritation in the short term and blood disorders in the long term. Dioxins, more typically found in food but also present in small amounts in the air, is another carcinogen that can affect the liver in the short term and harm the immune, nervous, and endocrine systems, as well as reproductive functions.  Mercury  attacks the central nervous system. In large amounts, lead can damage children’s brains and kidneys, and even minimal exposure can affect children’s IQ and ability to learn.

Another category of toxic compounds, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), are by-products of traffic exhaust and wildfire smoke. In large amounts, they have been linked to eye and lung irritation, blood and liver issues, and even cancer.  In one study , the children of mothers exposed to PAHs during pregnancy showed slower brain-processing speeds and more pronounced symptoms of ADHD.

Greenhouse gases

While these climate pollutants don’t have the direct or immediate impacts on the human body associated with other air pollutants, like smog or hazardous chemicals, they are still harmful to our health. By trapping the earth’s heat in the atmosphere, greenhouse gases lead to warmer temperatures, which in turn lead to the hallmarks of climate change: rising sea levels, more extreme weather, heat-related deaths, and the increased transmission of infectious diseases. In 2021, carbon dioxide accounted for roughly 79 percent of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions, and methane made up more than 11 percent. “Carbon dioxide comes from combusting fossil fuels, and methane comes from natural and industrial sources, including large amounts that are released during oil and gas drilling,” Walke says. “We emit far larger amounts of carbon dioxide, but methane is significantly more potent, so it’s also very destructive.” 

Another class of greenhouse gases,  hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) , are thousands of times more powerful than carbon dioxide in their ability to trap heat. In October 2016, more than 140 countries signed the Kigali Agreement to reduce the use of these chemicals—which are found in air conditioners and refrigerators—and develop greener alternatives over time. (The United States officially signed onto the  Kigali Agreement in 2022.)

Pollen and mold

Mold and allergens from trees, weeds, and grass are also carried in the air, are exacerbated by climate change, and can be hazardous to health. Though they aren’t regulated, they can be considered a form of air pollution. “When homes, schools, or businesses get water damage, mold can grow and produce allergenic airborne pollutants,” says Kim Knowlton, professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University and a former NRDC scientist. “ Mold exposure can precipitate asthma attacks  or an allergic response, and some molds can even produce toxins that would be dangerous for anyone to inhale.”

Pollen allergies are worsening  because of climate change . “Lab and field studies are showing that pollen-producing plants—especially ragweed—grow larger and produce more pollen when you increase the amount of carbon dioxide that they grow in,” Knowlton says. “Climate change also extends the pollen production season, and some studies are beginning to suggest that ragweed pollen itself might be becoming a more potent allergen.” If so, more people will suffer runny noses, fevers, itchy eyes, and other symptoms. “And for people with allergies and asthma, pollen peaks can precipitate asthma attacks, which are far more serious and can be life-threatening.”

air pollution project report

More than one in three U.S. residents—120 million people—live in counties with unhealthy levels of air pollution, according to the  2023  State of the Air  report by the American Lung Association (ALA). Since the annual report was first published, in 2000, its findings have shown how the Clean Air Act has been able to reduce harmful emissions from transportation, power plants, and manufacturing.

Recent findings, however, reflect how climate change–fueled wildfires and extreme heat are adding to the challenges of protecting public health. The latest report—which focuses on ozone, year-round particle pollution, and short-term particle pollution—also finds that people of color are 61 percent more likely than white people to live in a county with a failing grade in at least one of those categories, and three times more likely to live in a county that fails in all three.

In rankings for each of the three pollution categories covered by the ALA report, California cities occupy the top three slots (i.e., were highest in pollution), despite progress that the Golden State has made in reducing air pollution emissions in the past half century. At the other end of the spectrum, these cities consistently rank among the country’s best for air quality: Burlington, Vermont; Honolulu; and Wilmington, North Carolina. 

No one wants to live next door to an incinerator, oil refinery, port, toxic waste dump, or other polluting site. Yet millions of people around the world do, and this puts them at a much higher risk for respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, neurological damage, cancer, and death. In the United States, people of color are 1.5 times more likely than whites to live in areas with poor air quality, according to the ALA.

Historically, racist zoning policies and discriminatory lending practices known as  redlining  have combined to keep polluting industries and car-choked highways away from white neighborhoods and have turned communities of color—especially low-income and working-class communities of color—into sacrifice zones, where residents are forced to breathe dirty air and suffer the many health problems associated with it. In addition to the increased health risks that come from living in such places, the polluted air can economically harm residents in the form of missed workdays and higher medical costs.

Environmental racism isn't limited to cities and industrial areas. Outdoor laborers, including the estimated three million migrant and seasonal farmworkers in the United States, are among the most vulnerable to air pollution—and they’re also among the least equipped, politically, to pressure employers and lawmakers to affirm their right to breathe clean air.

Recently,  cumulative impact mapping , which uses data on environmental conditions and demographics, has been able to show how some communities are overburdened with layers of issues, like high levels of poverty, unemployment, and pollution. Tools like the  Environmental Justice Screening Method  and the EPA’s  EJScreen  provide evidence of what many environmental justice communities have been explaining for decades: that we need land use and public health reforms to ensure that vulnerable areas are not overburdened and that the people who need resources the most are receiving them.

In the United States, the  Clean Air Act  has been a crucial tool for reducing air pollution since its passage in 1970, although fossil fuel interests aided by industry-friendly lawmakers have frequently attempted to  weaken its many protections. Ensuring that this bedrock environmental law remains intact and properly enforced will always be key to maintaining and improving our air quality.

But the best, most effective way to control air pollution is to speed up our transition to cleaner fuels and industrial processes. By switching over to renewable energy sources (such as wind and solar power), maximizing fuel efficiency in our vehicles, and replacing more and more of our gasoline-powered cars and trucks with electric versions, we'll be limiting air pollution at its source while also curbing the global warming that heightens so many of its worst health impacts.

And what about the economic costs of controlling air pollution? According to a report on the Clean Air Act commissioned by NRDC, the annual  benefits of cleaner air  are up to 32 times greater than the cost of clean air regulations. Those benefits include up to 370,000 avoided premature deaths, 189,000 fewer hospital admissions for cardiac and respiratory illnesses, and net economic benefits of up to $3.8 trillion for the U.S. economy every year.

“The less gasoline we burn, the better we’re doing to reduce air pollution and the harmful effects of climate change,” Walke explains. “Make good choices about transportation. When you can, ride a bike, walk, or take public transportation. For driving, choose a car that gets better miles per gallon of gas or  buy an electric car .” You can also investigate your power provider options—you may be able to request that your electricity be supplied by wind or solar. Buying your food locally cuts down on the fossil fuels burned in trucking or flying food in from across the world. And most important: “Support leaders who push for clean air and water and responsible steps on climate change,” Walke says.

  • “When you see in the news or hear on the weather report that pollution levels are high, it may be useful to limit the time when children go outside or you go for a jog,” Walke says. Generally, ozone levels tend to be lower in the morning.
  • If you exercise outside, stay as far as you can from heavily trafficked roads. Then shower and wash your clothes to remove fine particles.
  • The air may look clear, but that doesn’t mean it’s pollution free. Utilize tools like the EPA’s air pollution monitor,  AirNow , to get the latest conditions. If the air quality is bad, stay inside with the windows closed.
  • If you live or work in an area that’s prone to wildfires,  stay away from the harmful smoke  as much as you’re able. Consider keeping a small stock of masks to wear when conditions are poor. The most ideal masks for smoke particles will be labelled “NIOSH” (which stands for National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) and have either “N95” or “P100” printed on it.
  • If you’re using an air conditioner while outdoor pollution conditions are bad, use the recirculating setting to limit the amount of polluted air that gets inside. 

This story was originally published on November 1, 2016, and has been updated with new information and links.

This NRDC.org story is available for online republication by news media outlets or nonprofits under these conditions: The writer(s) must be credited with a byline; you must note prominently that the story was originally published by NRDC.org and link to the original; the story cannot be edited (beyond simple things such as grammar); you can’t resell the story in any form or grant republishing rights to other outlets; you can’t republish our material wholesale or automatically—you need to select stories individually; you can’t republish the photos or graphics on our site without specific permission; you should drop us a note to let us know when you’ve used one of our stories.

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Project report on air pollution.

air pollution project report

An exclusive project report on Air Pollution. This project report will help you to learn about: 1. Meaning of Air Pollution 2. Sources of Air Pollution 3. Causes 4. Major Air Pollutants that Affects Environment 5. Prevention 6. Objectives of Air Pollution Control Devices 7. Case Studies.

  • Project Report on the Case Studies of Air Pollution

Project Report # 1. Meaning of Air Pollution:


The main components of the atmosphere are — oxygen (O 2 ) to breath, carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) for photosynthesis, nitrogen (N 2 ) for forming products as ferti­lizers for plants and making the air inert and ozone (O 3 )-layer against sun rays. Any imbalance in quality of air so as to cause adverse effects on the living organisms is called air pollution.

Air pollution may also be defined as the presence of contaminants which are injurious to human beings, plants and animals (aquatic or terrestrial).

The natural air contains trace amounts (about 1 ppm) of gases like methane (CH 4 ), ammonia (NH 3 ), sulphur dioxide (SO 2 ), hydrogen sulphide (H 2 S), carbon mono-oxide (CO), hydrogen (H 2 ), argon (< 1 ppm) and variable amounts of dust particles.

The composition of pure and respiratory air is given in Tables 1 and 2:

So it is clear from the tables that chemical substances occur around us. They are fundamental parts of air, earth and oceans. The author is of the view that under very specific conditions, the combination of these chemical substances gave birth to creatures (male and female). The first to take birth was perhaps female ant, followed by birds and animals. Later on special species of animals changed into men and women.

Air pollution is a release into the atmosphere of any substances, e.g., chemicals or airborne particles, which are harmful both to the human and animal health as well as the health of the wider environment.

Atmospheric pollution occurs because the release of air pollutants takes place at a rate much faster than they can be accommodated by the environment or removed from the atmosphere without causing serious harm.

Every day, the average person inhales about 20,000 liters of air. Every time we breath in , we risk inhaling dangerous chemicals that have found their way into the air.

Air pollution includes all contaminants found in the atmosphere. These dangerous substances can be either in the form of gases or particles.

Air pollution can be found both outdoors and indoors. Pollutants can be trapped inside buildings, causing indoor pollution that lasts long.

Project Report # 2. Sources of Air Pollution:

The sources of air pollution are both natural and human based. As one might expect, human beings have been producing increasing amounts of pollutants as time has progressed, and they now account for the majority of pollutants released into the air.

Pollution had been known to exist centuries beach, but it became an issue of serious concern only in the last 200 years mostly due to the industrial revolution.

Atmospheric pollution originates from all the parts of the world and travels all around. It knows no borders. The effects of air pollution are diverse and numerous. Air pollution can have serious consequences for the health of human beings, and also severely affects natural ecosystems. This trans-boundary nature of air pollution makes it even more dangerous and difficult to control.

Some areas now suffer more than others from air pollution. Cities with large number of automobiles or those that use great quantities of coal often suffer more severely from problems of air pollution.

The Arctic Haze is perhaps one of the best examples of that. It is a visible reddish brown haze, which appears above the Arctic during winter months. The Arctic Haze is caused by air pollution from coal-burning which arrives mainly from Asia.

Project Report # 3. Causes of Air Pollution:

Natural causes of air pollution:.

Natural causes of pollution may include forest fires and volcanic eruptions as well as vegetation, oceans and decay processes in soil.

Fossil fuels (oil, gas & coal) are the largest anthropogenic sources of air pollution-they are widely used in industry and everyday life. But they are not the only ones.

The biggest source of using fossil fuels is running of power plants and automobiles that combust fuel. These two sources are responsible for about 90% of all air pollution.

Some cities suffer severally because of heavy industrial use of chemicals that cause air pollution. Places like Mexico City and Sao Paulo have some of the most deadly pollution levels in the world.

(i) Forest Fires :

A fire that occurs in a highly infested area through natural causes is known as a bush fire, and this is a very potent natural source of air pollution. There are several different causes that lead to forest fires, and the fact is that they are caused naturally without any human intervention.

These fires spread very rapidly, and release pollutants like smoke and carbon monoxide into the atmosphere. Though carbon monoxide is present in living bodies in small amounts, it can be toxic in nature when sniffed in larger amounts. Forest fires also lead to unpredictable weather changes and cyclones, and all this leads to a severe loss of life in the long run.

(ii) Volcanic Eruptions :

A volcano is an open fissure on the surface of the earth through which lava and volcanic ash escapes on a regular basis. There are several active volcanoes that are found around the planet today, and along with the air pollution that they cause, they also lead to a serious danger to life forms.

Carbon dioxide and sulpur dioxide are the primary gases that are released during volcanic eruptions, and these lead to dire consequences to the earth’s atmosphere and to all the life forms that reside there. Other gases like hydrogen sulphide, hydrogen chloride, hydrogen fluoride, carbon monoxide, halocarbons and some metal chlorides are also released into the atmosphere in smaller traces.

The materials released also lead to acid rain in many parts, and the volcanic ash that follows disrupts air travel and many other activities. The recent eruptions of Eyjafjallajokull over Iceland in 2010 also led to several restrictions in air travel over Europe.

(iii) Wind Erosion :

Though dust particles and dirt do not cause toxic effects on the human body, they are capable of inducing many respiratory diseases in human beings. These dust particles move around in the atmosphere due to strong winds, especially in geographical areas where wind erosion is a common occurrence.

This factor is not a very major contributor towards air pollution, but it does play a small role and is one of the most underestimated types of air pollution.

(iv) Methane Expulsion :

Farm animals like cattle release methane into the atmosphere during the end stages of their digestive cycles. Methane gas affects the ozone layer in the atmosphere since it is a very potent greenhouse gas, and it is also highly inflammable when it combines with other elements in the air.

Moreover, it can lead to severe asphyxiation if someone is trapped in a closed room with the presence of methane gas in the air. This is a factor that building construction sites also take into account, since the presence of methane in the airways of the buildings can lead to dire consequence.

(v) Radon Expulsion:

Nuclear elements like uranium are found inside the earth surface, and when these elements decompose they release a noble gas known as Radon into the atmosphere. This gas is highly radioactive in nature, and it can cause some serious health damage to people who breathe the air that contain it.

Interestingly, after smoking, Radon intake is the second largest contributing factor to lung cancer in human beings, so all possible measures to prevent the spread of Radon must be taken.

Other factors like the dispersal of large amount of pollen from flowers and the emission of VOCs (Voltage Organic Compounds) which get oxidized and transformed into aerosols from plants and trees also lead to air pollution which is not caused by man-made sources. There are plenty of natural causes of air pollution that are out of our control as well.

Anthropogenic Sources of Air Pollution :

During the last couple of centuries we have witnessed an emergence of several fundamental trends that became the major forces behind the dramatic levels of air pollution worldwide.

Industries are the main cause of anthropogenic air pollution.

The global industrial development gave rise to a large number of economic sectors, each generating air pollution to some degree.

So these economic sectors act as pollution causes in their own way.

Some major sources and types of major air pollutants produced by each of them are shown in Table 3:

Air pollutants are basically the waste products generated by the above mentioned economic sectors.

They come in the form of gases and finely divided solid and liquid particles suspended in the air (aerosols).

Air pollutants can also be of primary or secondary nature. Primary pollutants are the ones that are emitted directly into the atmosphere by the sources (e.g., power plants). Secondary pollutants are the ones that are formed as a result of reactions between primary pollutants and other elements in the atmosphere.

Air pollutants are direct pollution cause, in other words they are the actual polluting agents, which directly affect the health of living beings as well as the wider environment.

Project Report # 4. Major Air Pollutants that Affects Environment:

Some of the major air pollutants that pollutes the environment are:

i. Sulphur Dioxide (SO 2 ):

Sulphur dioxide (SO 2 ) is a colourless gas with a pungent, suffocating odour. SO 2 is corrosive to organic materials and it irritates the eyes, nose and lungs; therefore it is quite dangerous air pollutants.

Sulphur is contained within all fossil fuels, and is released in the form of sulphur dioxide during fossil fuel combustion. Fossil fuel combustion accounts for almost all anthropogenic sulphur emissions.

Effects of Sulphur Dioxide Emission:

Sulfur dioxide found in the air produces following effects:

I. Irritates eyes, nose, throat

II. Damages lungs when inhaled

III. As part of acid rain:

i. Acidifies lakes and streams

ii. Destroys plant and fish life in lakes and streams

iii. May deplete mineral nutrients in the soil

v. May cause reduction of forests and agricultural yields

v. Corrodes metals and

vi. Damages surfaces of buildings.

ii. Oxides of Nitrogen, NO i :

Nitrogen oxides (NO x ) are produced by combustion of all fossil fuels including coal-and gas-fired power stations and motor vehicles.

There are two main nitrogen oxides nitric oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO 2 )

NO is a colorless gas while NO 2 is a reddish-brown colour gas with a distinct sharp, biting odour.

Fossil fuel combustion produces both NO 2 and NO.

But almost 90% of the total NO x combustion products are released in the form of NO, which is then converted to NO 2 in the air.

Effects of Nitrogen Dioxide:

Depending on its different concentrations in the air, effects of nitrogen dioxide on human health include:

i. Increased incidence of respiratory illness

ii. Increased airway resistance (due to inflammation)

iii. Damage of lung tissues

iv. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD (narrowing of the airways)

v. Emphysema (as part of COPD)

vi. Pulmonary edema (accumulation of excessive fluid in the lungs) and

vii. Infant and cardiovascular death.

Exposure to high concentration of nitrogen dioxide can make living organisms more susceptible to bacterial infections and lung cancer.

Nitrogen dioxide affects people with existing medical conditions more severally than healthy people. Children are affected more easily than adults.

It is also a major component of the photochemical smog, which brings its own negative effects.

iii. Carbon Monoxide (CO) :

Fossil fuel combustion normally produces carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) but sometimes, when such combustion is incomplete it also becomes a source of carbon monoxide.

Effects of Carbon Monoxide :

i. Toxicity of the central nervous system and heart

ii. Headache, dizziness, nausea and unconsciousness

iii. Loss of vision

iv. Decreased muscular coordination

v. Abdominal pain

vi. Severe effects on the baby of a pregnant woman

vii. Impaired performance on simple psychological tests and arithmetical loss of judgment of time and

viii. In cases of prolonged exposure to high CO concentration, unconsciousness, convulsions and death may occur.

Carbon monoxide is the most common type of fatal poisoning in many countries around the world.

iv. Ammonia (NH 3 ):

Ammonia is a hazardous gas with pungent odour.

Agriculture, specifically livestock farming & animal waste, is the main source of ammonia emissions.

Effect of Ammonia:

i. Nose and throat irritation and burns (their severity increasing with the increased ammonia concentration)

ii. Swelling of the throat and airways; airways destruction

iii. Pulmonary edema

iv. Chronic lung disease

vii. Lung fibrosis

viii. Inhaling large amounts of ammonia may be fatal

ix. Skin burns

x. Skin conditions, ex. Dermatitis

xi. Burning sensation in the eyes

xii. Ulceration & perforation of the cornea (can occur months after exposure); blindness and

xiii Cataracts & glaucoma

v. Ozone (O 3 ):

Ozone (O 3 ) is a colourless, poisonous gas with a sharp, cold, irritating odour.

It can be found in:

i. The stratosphere (lowest layer of the atmosphere) where it occurs naturally and

ii. The troposphere (lowest of the atmosphere) where it occurs both naturally and as a product of anthropogenic emissions.

Effects of Ozone :

Ozone in the troposphere can have the following negative effects on animals (including human) and the natural environment:

i. Irritation of the respiratory system causing coughing, throat irritation and an uncomfortable sensation in the chest.

ii. Susceptibility of respiratory infections

iii. Compromised lung function harming the breathing process which may become more rapid and more shallow than normal

iv. Inflammation and damage to the lining of the lungs

v. Aggravation of asthma

vi. Reduction in agricultural yield

vii. Interference with photosynthesis and suppression of growth of some plant species.

viii. Burning nose and watering eyes

ix. Tightening of the chest

x. Coughing, wheezing and throat irritation and

xi. Rapid, shallow, painful breathing

vi. Other Air Pollutants:

Other air pollutants include volatile organic compounds (VOCS), persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and air-bone particles.

VOCs are organic compound which easily evaporate and enter the atmosphere. They may affect human and animal health directly, or indirectly as contributors to the formation of tropospheric ozone.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are defined as organic compounds, which easily evaporate and enter the atmosphere.

VOCs may include a wide range of organic air pollutants from pure hydrocarbons to partially oxidized hydrocarbons to orangic compound containing chlorine, sulphur, or nitrogen.

Historically, the definition of VOCs did not include methane compounds (non – methane VOCs:NMVOCs) since the atmospheric concentration of methane was considered to be a stable natural background. But it was ultimately recognized that methane is also an anthropogenic air pollutant that comes from intensive animal and rice production.

Though some of these compounds can have direct toxic effects, they have been grouped together because of their role in Ozone formation.

Air Pollutants: Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) :

Persistant organic pollutants are compounds which are resistant to degradation and are persistent in the environment, with half-life of years in the soil or sediment and days in the atmosphere.

Such compounds may include diexins, furans, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and organ chlorine pesticides such as DDT.

They enter the food chain via the process of bio-magnification, get accumulated in human and animal tissues, and are capable of long-range transport being attached to airborne particles.

Sources of Persistent Organic Pollutants :

Some POPs are used as pesticides.

Others are used in industrial processes as well as in the production of goods such as solvents, polyvinyl chloride and medicines.

Effects Persistant organic pollutants takes place through diet (specifically, consumption of animal fat) environmental exposure or accidents.

POPs may lead to:

i. Death and illness including disruption of endocrine, reproductive and immune systems

ii. Neurobehavioral disorder and

iii. Cancers

Please note that when POPs are present in the atmosphere in the form of aerosols, they may be classified as airborne particle (see below) rather than gaseous pollutants.

Airborne Particles as Air Pollutants :

Airborne particles are very small fragments of solid or liquid nature suspended in the air. Human and animal health may be affected by particles through inhalation. Airborne particles present one more type of air pollutants.

They are tiny fragments of solid or liquid nature suspended in the air (aerosols).

Particles may be primary-when emitted directly into the atmosphere by sources, or secondary-when particles and

Solid particles between 1 and 100 pm (micrometer) in diameter are called dust particles, while solid particles less than 1 pm in diameter are called fumes, or smoke.

Anthropogenic Sources of Airborne Particles:

Anthropogenic particles account for around 10% of the total amount of particles in the atmosphere.

Fossil fuel combustion is one of the main processes which cause vast amounts of particles to be emitted into the atmosphere.

The major anthropogenic sources of airborne particles are :

i. Road transport.

ii. Power generating plants.

Natural Sources of Airborne Particles:

i. Erosion of soil by wind which generates dust particles that travel around the globe

ii. Evaporation of droplets of sea water resulting in sea salt crystals being suspended in the air

iii. Volcanoes

iv. Forest fires

v. Living vegetation

vi. Stuffy noses, sinusitis

vii. Sore throats

viii. Wet cough, dry cough, phlegm

ix. Head colds

x. Burning eyes

xi. Wheezing; shortness of breath and

xii. Chest discomfort or pain

Project Report # 5. Prevention of Air Pollution:

Air pollution is a phenomenon wherein the release of harmful chemicals in the atmosphere results in contamination of air, and makes it unsuitable for various life forms on the planet. It is considered to be one of the most serious environmental issues in the world.

If air pollution statistics compiled by the World Health Organization (WHO) are to be believed, more than 3 million people in the world die due to health problems related to environmental air pollution every year. That’s not at all surprising, considering that the harmful effects of air pollution range from various health disorders in human beings to the destruction of the ozone layer of the atmosphere.

Air pollution is caused when various chemical substances are released into the Earth’s atmosphere, as a result of some natural occurrences or some human activities. Natural causes of air pollution include volcanic eruptions, release of methane gas, wildfires etc.; while the anthropogenic causes of the same include use of automobiles, power plants, use of solvents, waste deposits, use of nuclear weapons and a lot more.

The list of chemical substances which have the tendency to contaminate the air include carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, sulphur oxide, chlorofluorocarbons, ammonia, etc.

The high concentration of these substances in the atmosphere makes human and animal life more vulnerable to their hazardous effects. In fact, the effects of air pollution are much more intense than we can possibly imagine.

For instance, studies reveal that as many as 500,000 people die from cardiopulmonary disease, which is caused as a result of inhaling fine particles in the atmosphere, in the United States alone every year. Natural hazards such as global warming and acid rain are also associated with air pollution to a significant extent.

Due to these disastrous effects it becomes necessary to control air pollution. To accomplish this, governments, scientists and environmentalists are using or testing a variety of methods aimed at reducing pollution.

There are two main types of pollution control:

Air pollution is caused by gases and particles, both liquid and solid, which contaminate the environment. Scientists link this kind of contamination of the air to adverse health effects such as respiratory diseases and even cancer.

Some of the other harmful effects of air pollution are: damage to heritage buildings and artifacts, for example, due to air pollution in the city of Athens there is evidence of corrosion on the marble statues of the Parthenon; damage to agricultural products causing reduction in the growth of trees and crop yield; reduction in visibility in the atmosphere; and change in the climate, since particulate pollutants are absorbed by the gases in the atmosphere, resulting in global warming.

The anthropogenic causes of air pollution are more as compared to natural causes and it becomes necessary to control these sources.

Some efforts to control air pollution are discussed below:

Five major input control methods may be adopted. People may try to restrict population growth, use less energy, improve energy efficiency, reduce waste, and move to non-polluting renewable forms of energy production. Also, automobile-produced pollution can be decreased with highly beneficial results.

Output control, the opposite method, seeks to fix the problems caused by air pollution. This usually means cleaning up an area that has been damaged by pollution. Input controls are usually more effective than output controls. Output controls are also more expensive, making them less desirable to tax payers and polluting industries.

It is essential to know the cause of air pollution in order to look for methods to prevent them.

As doing so will help reduce the air pollution caused for its generation. Insulation of house with energy efficient equipment’s would save a lot of electricity consumption. Use Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFLs) to save electricity. Switch off the lights when not in use.

Use manual garden equipment’s rather than using an electric or gas-powered one. Use of fans or open windows for cool air as they are more beneficial than air conditioners. One of the air pollution facts is that air conditioners release harmful gas known as chlorofluorocarbons which leads to air pollution.

Using solar equipment’s is considered as the best of all alternatives for conserving electricity. When possible, walk or bike, or use roller blade or skateboards to close by work locations. Use of carpool or mass transit is also one of the most efficient ways to prevent air pollution.

Use other communication methods as well, instead of travelling all the way and losing out on fuel. Tailpipe emissions from vehicles are one of the most common and major reasons of air pollution. Service your vehicles on time and at regular intervals and always insist on cleaning air filters.

Switch off your vehicles in case you halt at a place for more than 30 sec, especially at railroad crossings, traffic signals, etc. One of the other ways to stop air pollution is to check the air conditioners used in vehicles at regular times of interval in order to prevent leakage of CFC (chloro carbon fluoro).

Fires emit harmful gases in the form of smoke. This smoke pollutes the environment and may sometimes be very harmful to the lungs when inhaled. Hence, prevention of smoke and any kind of fire is very essential. That also includes the use of fireplace in homes.

Buy and use only products or goods that are marked recyclable, as they can be reused and help in reducing pollution. Can sprays should be avoided for any purpose, as they contain Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), a poisonous gas. Packing of goods consumes a huge amount of electricity, and when burnt produces carbon dioxide as well as carbon monoxide further leading to be a greenhouse gas.

Plant trees to reduce the effects of air pollution. That will also help to maintain a cooling effect in surroundings. You should use organic products while gardening and avoid raising dust while gardening or digging. Input control involves preventing a problem before it occurs, or at least limiting the effects the process will produce.

A few other ways to stop air pollution include using water based paints or paints categorized as zero-VOC for painting. While purchasing appliances like refrigerators, television, etc. buy low energy consuming ones. Instead of using a heater, dry your clothes on a clothesline in the backyard. Using brooms or rakes instead of blowers to clean yard will raise less amount of dust in the area.

Project Report # 6. Objectives of Air Pollution Control Devices:

I. t o reduce particulate matter:.

(i) Wet Scrubbers:

These include a number of devices that remove pollutants from furnace flue gas as well as other gas streams. The pollutants are removed by the polluted gas stream being forced through a scrubbing liquid or by using some other method of bringing it into contact with the liquid. Wet scrubbers are used in a number of industries such as large power plants, asphalt plants, steel plants, fertilizer plants, and acid plants.

(ii) Electrostatic Precipitator (ESP) :

Also known as Electrostatic Air Cleaners, this air polluting control system is a particulate collecting device which uses the force created by an induced electrostatic charge to remove particulate matter from any flowing gas, e.g., air.

These filtration devices are highly efficient and are very effective in removing fine particles like smoke and dust from the air stream. ESPs are used for controlling particulate emissions in various industries like oil refineries, pulp mills, and oil and coal fired utilities that generate electricity, which produce smoke.

(iii) Dust Cyclones :

These are used to remove particulate matter from a gas or air stream, without using filters, using vortex separation instead. Mixtures of fluids and solids are separated by using gravity and rotational effects. There is large scale use of cyclones in oil refineries as well as the cement industry wherein they form a part of the kiln preheaters.

ii. T o Reduce NO x (Nitrogen Dioxide and Nitrogen Oxide) :

(i) Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) :

This is a technique used for reducing NO x that is used in most diesel and gasoline engines. A part of the exhaust of an engine is recirculated back into its cylinders. When the incoming air is intermixed with the recirculated exhaust gas, it results in diluting the mixture with inert gas, reducing the adiabatic flame temperature and also lowering the excessive oxygen in diesel engines.

The peak combustion temperature is also lowered because the specific heat capacity of the mix is increased by the exhaust gas. Since high temperatures cause NO x to form much faster, EGR helps in limiting NO x from being generated. NO x is produced when a mixture of oxygen and nitrogen is subjected to high temperature.

(ii) Catalystic Converter :

This is a device that is used to diminish the toxicity of emissions that are produced by internal combustion engines. First introduced in 1975 in the US in order to comply with the tightening regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency, catalytic converters are still used most commonly in the exhaust systems of motor vehicles.

Some of the other places they are used are – trains, mining equipment, forklifts, generator sets, and other machines equipped with engines.

iii. T o Decrease Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) :

(i) Gas Flare :

Also called a flare stack, this is a chimney that is erected on oil rigs or oil wells, as well as landfills, chemical plants, and refineries. When in flammable gas or unusable waste gas plus liquids are discharged by pressure relief valves, this device is used to burn them off. This device is also used in landfills to burn and/or vent the waste gas that is produced by the decomposing materials.

(ii) Biofilters:

This is a technique for pollution control, which uses living matter to trap and biologically degrade pollutants. In air pollution control, the pollutants in the air are subjected to microbiotic oxidation. In other words, when it is applied in the filtration and purification of air, microorganisms, such as fungi and bacteria that are embedded in a biofilm, are used to degrade the air pollutant.

(iii) Photochemical Smog :

The smog is a combination of smoke and fog prevent in London. The word smog was first used in 1905. This is, however, chemical reducing with high levels of SO2 and is called reducing smog, whereas photochemical smog is on oxidizing smog having a high concentration of oxidants.

Photochemical smog is characterized by brown, hazy fumes which irritate the eyes and lungs, lead to the cracking of rubber and extensive damage of plant life. The probable mechanism of smog-forming reactions is illustrated in the flow charts.

Project Report # 7. Case Studies of Air Pollution:

Human body is composed of chemicals both simple and intricate. All that we breathe eat and drink is chemical and that which we prepare is also chemical. A body requires about 25 kilograms of air a day for its requirement of oxygen. So one can well imagine the consumption of oxygen per day and its deficiency environmental pollution.

A person in an industrialized country produces about 1 tonne of garbage a year. In any developed nation, families of three discharges nearly 50 kg of refuse every week. In India, Bombay alone vitiates the land with 3500 tonnes of garbage every day and 400 million gallons of sewage pollutes the ocean daily.

It costs the city Rs.10 crores annually to collect the refuse and treat it partly. The proper use of city sewage in agriculture will cost more than Rs.200 crore a year.

Daily 1500 tonnes of pollutants, mostly from automobiles and industries, are befouling the atmosphere, which contains three times more sulphur dioxide than the tolerance limit. The amount of carbon particles is four times higher than the permissible limit.

The quantities of benzopyrenes and other hazardous chemicals have not been estimated till now but the effect is apparent as cancer has increased about three times higher in polluted areas like Chemibur and Lalbaug than other places, reports the Bombay Municipal Corporation. Cases of asthma, bronchitis, emphysema are also increasing.

It has been estimated that a man of an industrialized country will need:

1200 barrels of petroleum

26.2 million gallons of water

50 tonnes of food

28 tonnes of iron and steel

1300 pounds of paper and

$ 10,000 in public expenses.

The man pollutes the environment by throwing out:

27000 bottle caps

2.3 automobiles

35 rubber tyres

126 tonnes of garbage and

9.8 tonnes of particulate

According to the reports of the independent commission on International Development issues under Chairmanship of Willy Brandt, more than a million people are added to the population of the world every five days.

The human life has added hundreds of pollutants in the atmosphere. The important are SO 2 , CO 2 , hydrocarbons, and oxides of nitrogen, solid particles and heat. With the advent of industrializations, the presence of obnoxious gases and metal particles has increased tremendously in the atmosphere.

In Delhi, the Indraprastha thermal power station has an installed capacity of 284 MW but its normal generation is between 150 and 200 MW. For this generation, the power house consumes 2500 tonns of coal and 70 to 80 kilo litre of furnace oil daily.

The consumption of 2500 tonnes of coal leaves behind 1000 tonnes of ashes, out of which 200 tonnes settle down at the bottom. The remaining 800 tonnes is diverted into the three chimneys, to be tackled by their electrostatic precipitators.

The other two power stations at Rajghat and Badarpur also discharge the fly ash emission over the city. Thus at Delhi, the three power stations, 55000 industrials units and 6.50 lakh vehicles of various types combine to make Delhi’s atmosphere full of avoidable diseases which run the risk of serious respiratory oilments and lung diseases.

A recent study by the Central Pollution Control Board has brought out startling facts. The study covered Najafgarh Road, Lawrence Road, Wazirpur, Kirti Nagar, DLF industrial area and Moti Nagar. The Najafgarh area which has chemical, fertilizer, iron and steel rolling mills was found to be the most polluted.

According to Board’s findings, the Najafgarh Road area has 32 air polluting units which emit every month 75.3 tonns of sulphur dioxide and 794.5 tonnes of particulate matter (dust). The Lawrence Road area has 27 air polluting units, spewing into the atmosphere 20.4 tonnes of sulphur dioxide and 140.2 tonnes of dust every month. The Wazirpur area has 90 air polluting units, emitting every month 18.2 tonnes of sulphur dioxide and 254.1 tonnes of dust.

So the above data clearly indicate the pollution around the residents whether it is caused by industrial units in regular industrial area or in residential areas. This pollution is causing skin, eye and respiratory ailments.

In 1981, extensive pollution of the environment was reported in a cluster of 10 villages about 7 km. from Surat. The polluter was a refrigeration gas manufacturing factory at Bhestan located in the Udhna industrial belt. Large quantities of fluoride are discharged in the air, which ultimately settle down on the earth and finally mix in the Mindhola River, thus contaminating the potable water.

The result is that small children have dental lesions and even bone decay. Adults get afflicted with shooting pain in their joints. Bullocks, buffaloes and cows are slowly getting deformed and the fishes are fast disappearing from the river, due to enmasse destruction by the fluoride contaminant. The situation is worst today.

Calcutta releases 1100 tonnes of polluted matter per day from industries, energy houses, vehicles etc. The level of suspended particulate matter in the air is over three times the permissible limit. The people living even in Durgapur and Asansole have complaint of stomach and respiratory ailments.

The industries located on the banks of the Hoogly and Damodar Rivers discharge pollutants into the atmosphere which settle down causing pollution of cyanide, phenols, nitrogen oxides etc. in the rivers.

Similar is the case with Ganga at Farrukhabad, Varanasi and Kanpur. We know that cadmium and mercury can cause paralysis and damage bones. Methyl mercury can cause Minamata one of the most horribly wasting diseases ever suffered by man.

A large number of trace metals found in inorganic aerosols as well as in the air, constitute carcinogens and mutagens which cause cancer and genetic disorders respectively. Sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, oxides of nitrogen and particulates are effective poisons.

Environmental pollution has made the sky a virtually overloaded sewer, fertile land a wasteland, and rivers a poisonous sink (According to Thermax Pollution Control System).

In India Environmental Pollution is increasing with increase of industrialisation. About 50 tonnes of dust, grime, muck and general yech per kilometer is said to settle down on each of our big cities every year. The concentration of pollutants in the ambient air is high enough to cause adverse effects of any kind – whether to human health, factors of production, aesthetic, wild life or whatever.

The Man and Biosphere Committee in the Department of Environment and Forests of the Govt. of India better known as ‘MAB’ has selected. Somlipal as one of the 40-odd rich natural spots in the country suitable for implementation of the biosphere programme. The UNESCO launched a worldwide “MAB” programme in order to increase our understanding of the human impacts on its dynamics.

Under this programme an International network of Biosphere Reserve is being set up to preserve the representative samples of the earth eco-system with the genetic materials they contain and to provide testing grounds where the tolerance limits of these eco-systems to human manipulations can be studied.

In 1989, the Academy of Environmental Sciences, Meerut held seminar in which Dr. V. P. Kudesia had pleaded for a total rest of at least 5 years for the Simplipal forest. The society inventory of the floral and faunal wealth of Simplipal has called for immediate and effective measures for the upkeep of the environmental stability and protection of the ecological balance.

According to a study (1988), America had vitiated 22 crores tonnes of obnoxious gases along with particulate matter into the air every year out of which 10 crore tonnes is the carbon monoxide. America releases about 3 crore tonnes of sulphur dioxide, 3 crore tonnes of hydrocarbon and 3 crore tonnes of particulate matter (dust) every year.

In Tokyo, the situation is still worse. Due to obnoxious gases present in the atmosphere, the policeman on duty has the need of oxygen booth after every half an hour to inhale pure oxygen. There are many automatic machines filled with oxygen to cater the need of policemen on duty machines filled with oxygen to cater the need of policemen on duty controlling traffic in Tokyo.

According to data of 1980, the industries on Tokyo discharge 67 tonnes of particulate matter per year due to which more than 20% people of the city are suffering from bronchitis, asthma, no stril and ear diseases.

If this state continues then within 50 years, almost all trees will be destroyed and the beautiful mountain Fuziama will become a hilly chamber of foul gases. It will not be a big surprise if by 2030; every person of Tokyo will have to carry this oxygen cylinder on his back throughout the day.

On April 10, 1974 a storm hit a small town of Scotland and set a new record of air pollution. The rained storm was found to contain as much acid as in Vinegar. Similarly the presence of giant copper—nickel smelter complex in Canada showered so much acid in the environment that even fishes could not survive in the lakes in an area of 80 km. radius around it.

Beautiful man-made structures like Aeropolis in Greece, Lincon Memorial in U.S.A., Taj Mahal in India are showing signs of decay due to acid rain. The release of acid-producing pollutants by the factories in U.K. is killing salmon and trout in the lakes of Norway and Sweden drastically affecting their fishery industries and economy.

Most of these gases combine with water vapour to produce sulphurous and sulphuric acid along with nitrous and nitric acids (strong acids) thus destroying the fertility of soil and causing ailments to the living creatures.

During the last more than 200 years, the acidity in rains and snow over the eastern America and Western Europe has changed from almost neutral to dilute solutions of nitric, nitrous, sulphurous and sulphuric acids.

Some scientists claim that every year about 5, 26 and 70 million tonnes of sulphur dioxide gas being discharged into the atmosphere by various human activities in Canada, U.S. and Europe respectively. In India sulphur dioxide emissions are estimated to be much higher than permissible limits in Calcutta, Kanpur and Bombay.

In 1980 China extracted over 600 million tonnes of coal and used nearly one third of it as household fuel, either as lump coal or in the form of coal-dust briquettes. In Beijing during winter as much as 39 tonnes of soot per sq. km. descends each month in certain sections of the city.

Sri Lanka is also facing the problem of environmental pollution where smoke of a thousand chimneys taints the air and the waste from a thousand factories pollutes rivers, streams and seas. Besides Sri Lanka the other South Asian countries like Pakistan, Afganistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Maldives, Nepal and India also suffer from environmental pollution.

These countries have jointly established a South Asia Cooperative Environment Programme (SACEP) in 1981. The experts of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) are helping the aforesaid agency in solving the problems.

According to a survey of 1975 Sweden is releasing 10 tonnes carbon dioxide, 4 lakh tonnes sulphur dioxide and 2 lakh tonnes of particulate matter into the atmosphere per year. The data of France is more than double of Sweden. France is vitiating more than 30 lakh tonnes of sulphur compounds into the atmosphere per year.

According to a survey (1986), West Germany is polluting the atmosphere with 60 lakh tonnes of sulphur compounds in the air. It is also releasing vanadium in the atmosphere from petroleum fuel. This vanadium is very injurious to health and causes bone diseases and cancer. The vehicles are releasing 5 lakh tonnes of lead in the atmosphere per year.

Air pollution in Bhopal in 1984 due to leakage of methyl isocyanate and phosgene gas had killed more than 5000 persons and about 1 lakh human beings had become insane besides serious damages to animals and plants. The gases have decreased the reproduction capacity of living beings for at least 10 years. Is this not a serious warning against air pollution for the developing countries?

Air pollution due to rapid industrial expansion is becoming a cause of public concern in developing countries. The substances which pollute the air may be gaseous or particulate. The particulate may be organic or inorganic depending on the type of raw materials processed.

The inorganic particulates which are generally conglomerates of chemically heterogeneous substances are known to affect the flora and fauna in the area of their emission.

Air pollution is caused by discharge of contaminants such as dust, fume, gas, mist, odour, smoke or vapour in the atmosphere. Mainly sulphur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, freon, pesticides, fumigants, fluoride, phosphate, As, Cd, Hg, Pb, Ag, V and dust particles are destroying the plants, animals, human beings, soils water.

One can appreciate the importance of clean air as on an average a man inhales about 17 kg. air per day in comparison to 500 gm of solids. The discharge of contaminants into atmosphere may be due to some activity of man or natural processes but major source of air pollution is industrialization.

Related Articles:

  • Air Pollution: Origin, Nature, Size and Impact of Air Pollution
  • Project Report on Acid Rain

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Air Pollution: Current and Future Challenges

Despite dramatic progress cleaning the air since 1970, air pollution in the United States continues to harm people’s health and the environment. Under the Clean Air Act, EPA continues to work with state, local and tribal governments, other federal agencies, and stakeholders to reduce air pollution and the damage that it causes.
  • Learn about more about air pollution, air pollution programs, and what you can do.

Outdoor air pollution challenges facing the United States today include:

  • Meeting health-based standards for common air pollutants
  • Limiting climate change
  • Reducing risks from toxic air pollutants
  • Protecting the stratospheric ozone layer against degradation

Indoor air pollution, which arises from a variety of causes, also can cause health problems. For more information on indoor air pollution, which is not regulated under the Clean Air Act, see EPA’s indoor air web site .

Air Pollution Challenges: Common Pollutants

Great progress has been made in achieving national air quality standards, which EPA originally established in 1971 and updates periodically based on the latest science. One sign of this progress is that visible air pollution is less frequent and widespread than it was in the 1970s.

However, air pollution can be harmful even when it is not visible. Newer scientific studies have shown that some pollutants can harm public health and welfare even at very low levels. EPA in recent years revised standards for five of the six common pollutants subject to national air quality standards. EPA made the standards more protective because new, peer-reviewed scientific studies showed that existing standards were not adequate to protect public health and the environment.

Status of common pollutant problems in brief

Today, pollution levels in many areas of the United States exceed national air quality standards for at least one of the six common pollutants:

  • Although levels of particle pollution and ground-level ozone pollution are substantially lower than in the past, levels are unhealthy in numerous areas of the country. Both pollutants are the result of emissions from diverse sources, and travel long distances and across state lines. An extensive body of scientific evidence shows that long- and short-term exposures to fine particle pollution, also known as fine particulate matter (PM 2.5 ), can cause premature death and harmful effects on the cardiovascular system, including increased hospital admissions and emergency department visits for heart attacks and strokes. Scientific evidence also links PM to harmful respiratory effects, including asthma attacks. Ozone can increase the frequency of asthma attacks, cause shortness of breath, aggravate lung diseases, and cause permanent damage to lungs through long-term exposure. Elevated ozone levels are linked to increases in hospitalizations, emergency room visits and premature death. Both pollutants cause environmental damage, and fine particles impair visibility. Fine particles can be emitted directly or formed from gaseous emissions including sulfur dioxide or nitrogen oxides. Ozone, a colorless gas, is created when emissions of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds react.  
  • For unhealthy peak levels of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide , EPA is working with states and others on ways to determine where and how often unhealthy peaks occur. Both pollutants cause multiple adverse respiratory effects including increased asthma symptoms, and are associated with increased emergency department visits and hospital admissions for respiratory illness. Both pollutants cause environmental damage, and are byproducts of fossil fuel combustion.  
  • Airborne lead pollution, a nationwide health concern before EPA phased out lead in motor vehicle gasoline under Clean Air Act authority, now meets national air quality standards except in areas near certain large lead-emitting industrial facilities. Lead is associated with neurological effects in children, such as behavioral problems, learning deficits and lowered IQ, and high blood pressure and heart disease in adults.  
  • The entire nation meets the carbon monoxide air quality standards, largely because of emissions standards for new motor vehicles under the Clean Air Act.

In Brief: How EPA is working with states and tribes to limit common air pollutants

  • EPA's air research provides the critical science to develop and implement outdoor air regulations under the Clean Air Act and puts new tools and information in the hands of air quality managers and regulators to protect the air we breathe.  
  • To reflect new scientific studies, EPA revised the national air quality standards for fine particles (2006, 2012), ground-level ozone (2008, 2015), sulfur dioxide (2010), nitrogen dioxide (2010), and lead (2008). After the scientific review, EPA decided to retain the existing standards for carbon monoxide.  EPA strengthened the air quality standards for ground-level ozone in October 2015 based on extensive scientific evidence about ozone’s effects.

EPA has designated areas meeting and not meeting the air quality standards for the 2006 and 2012 PM standards and the 2008 ozone standard, and has completed an initial round of area designations for the 2010 sulfur dioxide standard. The agency also issues rules or guidance for state implementation of the various ambient air quality standards – for example, in March 2015, proposing requirements for implementation of current and future fine particle standards. EPA is working with states to improve data to support implementation of the 2010 sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide standards.

For areas not meeting the national air quality standards, states are required to adopt state implementation plan revisions containing measures needed to meet the standards as expeditiously as practicable and within time periods specified in the Clean Air Act (except that plans are not required for areas with “marginal” ozone levels).

  • EPA is helping states to meet standards for common pollutants by issuing federal emissions standards for new motor vehicles and non-road engines, national emissions standards for categories of new industrial equipment (e.g., power plants, industrial boilers, cement manufacturing, secondary lead smelting), and technical and policy guidance for state implementation plans. EPA and state rules already on the books are projected to help 99 percent of counties with monitors meet the revised fine particle standards by 2020. The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for new and existing power plants issued in December 2011 are achieving reductions in fine particles and sulfur dioxide as a byproduct of controls required to cut toxic emissions.  
  • Vehicles and their fuels continue to be an important contributor to air pollution. EPA in 2014 issued standards commonly known as Tier 3, which consider the vehicle and its fuel as an integrated system, setting new vehicle emissions standards and a new gasoline sulfur standard beginning in 2017. The vehicle emissions standards will reduce both tailpipe and evaporative emissions from passenger cars, light-duty trucks, medium-duty passenger vehicles, and some heavy-duty vehicles. The gasoline sulfur standard will enable more stringent vehicle emissions standards and will make emissions control systems more effective. These rules further cut the sulfur content of gasoline. Cleaner fuel makes possible the use of new vehicle emission control technologies and cuts harmful emissions in existing vehicles. The standards will reduce atmospheric levels of ozone, fine particles, nitrogen dioxide, and toxic pollution.

Learn more about common pollutants, health effects, standards and implementation:

  • fine particles
  • ground-level ozone
  • sulfur dioxide
  • nitrogen dioxide
  • carbon monoxide

Air Pollution Challenges: Climate Change

EPA determined in 2009 that emissions of carbon dioxide and other long-lived greenhouse gases that build up in the atmosphere endanger the health and welfare of current and future generations by causing climate change and ocean acidification. Long-lived greenhouse gases , which trap heat in the atmosphere, include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases. These gases are produced by a numerous and diverse human activities.

In May 2010, the National Research Council, the operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences, published an assessment which concluded that “climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for - and in many cases is already affecting - a broad range of human and natural systems.” 1 The NRC stated that this conclusion is based on findings that are consistent with several other major assessments of the state of scientific knowledge on climate change. 2

Climate change impacts on public health and welfare

The risks to public health and the environment from climate change are substantial and far-reaching. Scientists warn that carbon pollution and resulting climate change are expected to lead to more intense hurricanes and storms, heavier and more frequent flooding, increased drought, and more severe wildfires - events that can cause deaths, injuries, and billions of dollars of damage to property and the nation’s infrastructure.

Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas pollution leads to more frequent and intense heat waves that increase mortality, especially among the poor and elderly. 3 Other climate change public health concerns raised in the scientific literature include anticipated increases in ground-level ozone pollution 4 , the potential for enhanced spread of some waterborne and pest-related diseases 5 , and evidence for increased production or dispersion of airborne allergens. 6

Other effects of greenhouse gas pollution noted in the scientific literature include ocean acidification, sea level rise and increased storm surge, harm to agriculture and forests, species extinctions and ecosystem damage. 7 Climate change impacts in certain regions of the world (potentially leading, for example, to food scarcity, conflicts or mass migration) may exacerbate problems that raise humanitarian, trade and national security issues for the United States. 8

The U.S. government's May 2014 National Climate Assessment concluded that climate change impacts are already manifesting themselves and imposing losses and costs. 9 The report documents increases in extreme weather and climate events in recent decades, with resulting damage and disruption to human well-being, infrastructure, ecosystems, and agriculture, and projects continued increases in impacts across a wide range of communities, sectors, and ecosystems.

Those most vulnerable to climate related health effects - such as children, the elderly, the poor, and future generations - face disproportionate risks. 10 Recent studies also find that certain communities, including low-income communities and some communities of color (more specifically, populations defined jointly by ethnic/racial characteristics and geographic location), are disproportionately affected by certain climate-change-related impacts - including heat waves, degraded air quality, and extreme weather events - which are associated with increased deaths, illnesses, and economic challenges. Studies also find that climate change poses particular threats to the health, well-being, and ways of life of indigenous peoples in the U.S.

The National Research Council (NRC) and other scientific bodies have emphasized that it is important to take initial steps to reduce greenhouse gases without delay because, once emitted, greenhouse gases persist in the atmosphere for long time periods. As the NRC explained in a recent report, “The sooner that serious efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions proceed, the lower the risks posed by climate change, and the less pressure there will be to make larger, more rapid, and potentially more expensive reductions later.” 11

In brief: What EPA is doing about climate change

Under the Clean Air Act, EPA is taking initial common sense steps to limit greenhouse gas pollution from large sources:

EPA and the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration between 2010 and 2012 issued the first national greenhouse gas emission standards and fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks for model years 2012-2025, and for medium- and heavy-duty trucks for 2014-2018.  Proposed truck standards for 2018 and beyond were announced in June 2015.  EPA is also responsible for developing and implementing regulations to ensure that transportation fuel sold in the United States contains a minimum volume of renewable fuel. Learn more about clean vehicles

EPA and states in 2011 began requiring preconstruction permits that limit greenhouse gas emissions from large new stationary sources - such as power plants, refineries, cement plants, and steel mills - when they are built or undergo major modification. Learn more about GHG permitting

  • On August 3, 2015, President Obama and EPA announced the Clean Power Plan – a historic and important step in reducing carbon pollution from power plants that takes real action on climate change. Shaped by years of unprecedented outreach and public engagement, the final Clean Power Plan is fair, flexible and designed to strengthen the fast-growing trend toward cleaner and lower-polluting American energy. With strong but achievable standards for power plants, and customized goals for states to cut the carbon pollution that is driving climate change, the Clean Power Plan provides national consistency, accountability and a level playing field while reflecting each state’s energy mix. It also shows the world that the United States is committed to leading global efforts to address climate change. Learn more about the Clean Power Plan, the Carbon Pollution Standards, the Federal Plan, and model rule for states

The Clean Power Plan will reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants, the nation’s largest source, while maintaining energy reliability and affordability.  The Clean Air Act creates a partnership between EPA, states, tribes and U.S. territories – with EPA setting a goal, and states and tribes choosing how they will meet it.  This partnership is laid out in the Clean Power Plan.

Also on August 3, 2015, EPA issued final Carbon Pollution Standards for new, modified, and constructed power plants, and proposed a Federal Plan and model rules to assist states in implementing the Clean Power Plan.

On February 9, 2016, the Supreme Court stayed implementation of the Clean Power Plan pending judicial review. The Court’s decision was not on the merits of the rule. EPA firmly believes the Clean Power Plan will be upheld when the merits are considered because the rule rests on strong scientific and legal foundations.

On October 16, 2017, EPA  proposed to repeal the CPP and rescind the accompanying legal memorandum.

EPA is implementing its Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions released in March 2014. In January 2015 EPA announced a new goal to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 – 45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025, and a set of actions by EPA and other agencies to put the U.S. on a path to achieve this ambitious goal. In August 2015, EPA proposed new common-sense measures to cut methane emissions, reduce smog-forming air pollution and provide certainty for industry through proposed rules for the oil and gas industry . The agency also proposed to further reduce emissions of methane-rich gas from municipal solid waste landfills . In March 2016 EPA launched the National Gas STAR Methane Challenge Program under which oil and gas companies can make, track and showcase ambitious commitments to reduce methane emissions.

EPA in July 2015 finalized a rule to prohibit certain uses of hydrofluorocarbons -- a class of potent greenhouse gases used in air conditioning, refrigeration and other equipment -- in favor of safer alternatives. The U.S. also has proposed amendments to the Montreal Protocol to achieve reductions in HFCs internationally.

Learn more about climate science, control efforts, and adaptation on EPA’s climate change web site

Air Pollution Challenges: Toxic Pollutants

While overall emissions of air toxics have declined significantly since 1990, substantial quantities of toxic pollutants continue to be released into the air. Elevated risks can occur in urban areas, near industrial facilities, and in areas with high transportation emissions.

Numerous toxic pollutants from diverse sources

Hazardous air pollutants, also called air toxics, include 187 pollutants listed in the Clean Air Act. EPA can add pollutants that are known or suspected to cause cancer or other serious health effects, such as reproductive effects or birth defects, or to cause adverse environmental effects.

Examples of air toxics include benzene, which is found in gasoline; perchloroethylene, which is emitted from some dry cleaning facilities; and methylene chloride, which is used as a solvent and paint stripper by a number of industries. Other examples of air toxics include dioxin, asbestos, and metals such as cadmium, mercury, chromium, and lead compounds.

Most air toxics originate from manmade sources, including mobile sources such as motor vehicles, industrial facilities and small “area” sources. Numerous categories of stationary sources emit air toxics, including power plants, chemical manufacturing, aerospace manufacturing and steel mills. Some air toxics are released in large amounts from natural sources such as forest fires.

Health risks from air toxics

EPA’s most recent national assessment of inhalation risks from air toxics 12 estimated that the whole nation experiences lifetime cancer risks above ten in a million, and that almost 14 million people in more than 60 urban locations have lifetime cancer risks greater than 100 in a million. Since that 2005 assessment, EPA standards have required significant further reductions in toxic emissions.

Elevated risks are often found in the largest urban areas where there are multiple emission sources, communities near industrial facilities, and/or areas near large roadways or transportation facilities. Benzene and formaldehyde are two of the biggest cancer risk drivers, and acrolein tends to dominate non-cancer risks.

In brief: How EPA is working with states and communities to reduce toxic air pollution

EPA standards based on technology performance have been successful in achieving large reductions in national emissions of air toxics. As directed by Congress, EPA has completed emissions standards for all 174 major source categories, and 68 categories of small area sources representing 90 percent of emissions of 30 priority pollutants for urban areas. In addition, EPA has reduced the benzene content in gasoline, and has established stringent emission standards for on-road and nonroad diesel and gasoline engine emissions that significantly reduce emissions of mobile source air toxics. As required by the Act, EPA has completed residual risk assessments and technology reviews covering numerous regulated source categories to assess whether more protective air toxics standards are warranted. EPA has updated standards as appropriate. Additional residual risk assessments and technology reviews are currently underway.

EPA also encourages and supports area-wide air toxics strategies of state, tribal and local agencies through national, regional and community-based initiatives. Among these initiatives are the National Clean Diesel Campaign , which through partnerships and grants reduces diesel emissions for existing engines that EPA does not regulate; Clean School Bus USA , a national partnership to minimize pollution from school buses; the SmartWay Transport Partnership to promote efficient goods movement; wood smoke reduction initiatives; a collision repair campaign involving autobody shops; community-scale air toxics ambient monitoring grants ; and other programs including Community Action for a Renewed Environment (CARE). The CARE program helps communities develop broad-based local partnerships (that include business and local government) and conduct community-driven problem solving as they build capacity to understand and take effective actions on addressing environmental problems.

Learn more about air toxics, stationary sources of emissions, and control efforts Learn more about mobile source air toxics and control efforts

Air Pollution Challenges: Protecting the Stratospheric Ozone Layer

The  ozone (O 3 ) layer  in the stratosphere protects life on earth by filtering out harmful ultraviolet radiation (UV) from the sun. When chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other ozone-degrading chemicals  are emitted, they mix with the atmosphere and eventually rise to the stratosphere. There, the chlorine and the bromine they contain initiate chemical reactions that destroy ozone. This destruction has occurred at a more rapid rate than ozone can be created through natural processes, depleting the ozone layer.

The toll on public health and the environment

Higher levels of  ultraviolet radiation  reaching Earth's surface lead to health and environmental effects such as a greater incidence of skin cancer, cataracts, and impaired immune systems. Higher levels of ultraviolet radiation also reduce crop yields, diminish the productivity of the oceans, and possibly contribute to the decline of amphibious populations that is occurring around the world.

These Alluring Images Capture the Threats of Air Pollution Around the World

Researchers combined long-exposure photography with pollution sensor data to create representations of pollution in India, the United Kingdom and Ethiopia

Air Pollution Light Painting India

Olivia Ferrari

In November 2016 the “Great Smog of Delhi” engulfed India’s capital and marked the city’s worst air quality event in 17 years . Fine particulate matter air pollution, or tiny particles measuring less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter—30 times thinner than a human hair—reached levels over 16 times the safe limit. The particles are small enough to be breathed deeply into lungs but not exhaled, so they can instead deposit and accumulate inside the body. Heavy smog was visible throughout the city, and hospital admissions of people with respiratory diseases spiked. Schools were closed, traffic was restricted, and construction and agricultural burning were halted.

About a month later, a team of environmental scientists and an artist arrived in Delhi to collaborate on an air pollution monitoring project. At that time the city was still experiencing an extremely poor air quality event—experts said just walking around the city at that time was equivalent to smoking over two packs of cigarettes a day —yet the smog was no longer as visible. Although the city was still deep in an air quality event, it had disappeared from the news cycle, says artist Robin Price, who was in Delhi at the time.

The collaboration ​​ between Price and environmental scientist Francis Pope of the University of Birmingham in England aimed to make the invisible threat of air pollution visible. They used digital “light painting,” a photography technique that captures moving light sources as “brushstrokes,” to illustrate where air pollutants were most concentrated. The project focused on three places that face different air pollution challenges: India, Ethiopia and the United Kingdom. To create a light painting, Price set up a camera to capture a long-exposure photograph of an area, and then walked in front of the camera holding a low-cost air pollution sensor with LED lights. The sensor detected fine particulate matter air pollution, also known as PM2.5, and the LED lights flashed more where concentrations of PM2.5 were higher. The camera captured the light flashes as dots of light painting. The higher the PM2.5 concentration in an area, the more dots of light appear in the photograph. The project, called “ Air of the Anthropocene ,” has held photo exhibitions in Los Angeles; Belfast, Northern Ireland; and Birmingham, England, and has sparked global discussions about air pollution.

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Pope and Price chose the locations for the photographs to represent day-to-day life: in playgrounds, kitchens and city streets. Air quality tends to be measured on a broad regional level and based on monitors at tops of buildings, but data at the local and street level can be useful, too, says Patrick Kinney, an environmental health researcher at Boston University. Local data about where pollution is coming from can help people avoid exposure to it, or it can lead them to avoid being a source themselves, says Kinney. “Low-cost sensors, which have been a relatively recent technology that became available for air pollution use, have been particularly transformational,” says Pallavi Pant , head of global health at the nonprofit Health Effects Institute (HEI). Individuals can own these sensors, and so too can cities that can’t afford larger air pollution monitoring networks. The municipalities can use the data they gather to enact air pollution policies and monitor progress. And in regions where literacy might not be widespread, images like the photos from this project can convey air pollution data in a more accessible way, says Price.

Air Pollution Light Painting at Playground

“I can sit here and talk about numbers and data every day, I will lose people very quickly,” says Pant. “Something more interactive, more visual, but still bringing data and science at its core, is a very useful and interesting approach.”

The photos illustrate diverse air pollution issues among the three countries. In Wales, pollutant concentrations are high near the Port Talbot steelworks, which is the city’s main employer but also a major health hazard. Two playgrounds in India, one in urban Delhi and one in rural Palampur, show vastly different PM2.5 concentrations: The Delhi playground has about 12 times more PM2.5 pollution than the Palampur playground. Inside a kitchen with a wood stove in Ethiopia, PM2.5 concentrations are about 20 times greater than outside the home.

Air Pollution Light Painting Near Steelworks

Air pollution is one of the world’s leading threats to human health, with polluted air causing about seven million premature deaths worldwide every year. New research from the HEI finds air pollution-related health problems have become the second leading risk factor for death worldwide, ranking below high blood pressure but now ranking above tobacco and poor diet.

Children under five years old are especially vulnerable to developing asthma and lung diseases due to poor air quality, according to the new HEI report. In 2021, air pollution exposure was linked to over 700,000 deaths of children under 5, the second-biggest risk factor for death worldwide for this age group after malnutrition. An estimated 500,000 of these deaths were linked to indoor air pollution from cooking with polluting fuels.

PM2.5 is the air pollutant most responsible for health issues . The tiny particles come from natural and anthropogenic sources, but the primary source of harmful levels of PM2.5 pollution is burning fossil fuels and biomass: for transportation, industry and in homes.

Air Pollution Light Painting in Home

Over 90 percent of global air pollution deaths reported in the new HEI study are linked to PM2.5 air pollution. The particles are small enough to enter the lungs and bloodstream, increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

“[PM2.5] can be used as a very accurate predictor,” says Pant. “If you’re exposed to PM2.5, you’re going to experience health effects.”

Most countries focus on fighting air pollution by reducing emissions at the source, through vehicle or industrial regulation, for example, and through transitioning away from more polluting technologies. In India and Latin America, a major cause of PM2.5 pollution has been burning agricultural residue for cooking. So policy makers are focusing on creating alternatives: promoting agricultural waste recycling programs, for example, or promoting cooking with less polluting fuels.

Pant says we are seeing progress. Regions that face the highest levels of air pollution like Africa and Asia are now monitoring air quality more closely and implementing stricter air pollution policies. Since 2000, the air pollution-related death rate of children under 5 has dropped 53 percent, which the HEI report attributes mostly to improved access to clean fuel for cooking, improvements to health care and nutrition, and better awareness of the harmful effects of indoor air pollution.

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Pope and Price are now trying to design their air pollution light-painting technique to be even more accessible, making the process open source to share with citizen scientists around the world who can create air quality light paintings themselves. Pope and Price are also working on an augmented reality approach to light painting using a phone app.

“With the availability of local information and local data, there has been greater public conversation around air pollution,” says Pant.

Pant also says understanding local-level air pollution is a powerful tool to change people’s attitudes, and to “create the environment where air pollution action and mitigation efforts are demanded, and well-received when they are implemented.”

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Olivia Ferrari | READ MORE

Olivia Ferrari is a New York City based freelance journalist with a background in research and science communication. Olivia has lived and worked in the U.K., Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia. Her writing focuses on wildlife, environmental justice and social science.

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  • Published: 05 June 2024

Light painting photography makes particulate matter air pollution visible

  • Francis D. Pope   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-6583-8347 1   na1 ,
  • Robin Price 2   na1 ,
  • Katherine E. Woolley   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-3743-9925 3 ,
  • Carlo Luiu   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-1157-008X 1 ,
  • Mohammed S. Alam   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-5427-3122 4 ,
  • William R. Avis   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-7207-3992 5 ,
  • Suzanne E. Bartington   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-8179-7618 3 ,
  • Dawit Debebe 6 ,
  • Zerihun Getaneh 6 ,
  • Sheila M. Greenfield 3 ,
  • Rachel Howells 7 ,
  • Mukesh Khare   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-5848-2159 8 ,
  • Abel Weldetinsae   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-2946-6077 9 ,
  • Chloe Lawson 10 ,
  • Sumit K. Mishra 11 ,
  • Ben Neal   ORCID: orcid.org/0009-0009-8622-0832 10 ,
  • Karen Newman 10 ,
  • Ajit Singh   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-0986-2064 1 , 3 ,
  • Bikila Teklu Wodajo   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-8788-1685 6 ,
  • G. Neil Thomas   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-2777-1847 3 &
  • Faye Wilder 1  

Communications Earth & Environment volume  5 , Article number:  294 ( 2024 ) Cite this article

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The World Health Organization estimates that air pollution causes approximately seven million premature deaths worldwide each year. Solutions to air pollution are well known, yet this rarely equates to easily actionable. Here we demonstrate how art science collaboration can successfully highlight the issue of air pollution and create wider civic discourse around its amelioration. We document a light painting photographic technique that uses data from calibrated low-cost particulate matter sensors to measure and depict air pollution. We also use a postcard technique to grasp individuals’ sentiments regarding air pollution. The photographs from three countries, Ethiopia, India and United Kingdom, visually highlight the importance of location and occupation upon human exposure. The photographs are used as a proxy to communicate and create dialogues, spaces and places about air pollution. The sentiment analysis shows how this approach can foster awareness and create agency for stakeholders to take actions to tackle air pollution.

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Air pollution is one of the main threats to both environmental and human health, and is a leading cause of premature death globally 1 . Indeed, the World Health Organization estimates 99% of the global population breathe polluted air, causing ~7 million premature deaths worldwide each year 2 , 3 . The situation is particularly challenging in Asia, where air pollution remains a problem in countries like India and China, despite many air quality policies and actions 4 , 5 . Similarly, African countries have been experiencing exponential deterioration in air quality over the last five decades, with several cities presenting levels of pollution 5–10 times higher than World Health Organization recommendations 6 . Particulate matter (PM) is the air pollutant most responsible for human morbidity and mortality. It has multiple impacts upon physical health and is responsible for diseases including heart disease, stroke and cancers 7 . A growing body of literature highlights that PM not only affects physical, but also mental and cognitive health 8 , 9 . As a consequence of the increasing evidence of the harmful effects of air pollution even at relatively low concentrations, in 2021, the World Health Organization decided to revise its air quality guidelines and reduce its recommendations for PM 2.5 annual concentrations from 10 to 5 μg m-3 and PM 10 from 20 to 15 μg m-3 10 .

Knowledge, perceptions and attitudes towards air pollution are key factors for achieving air pollution exposure reductions through behavioral change 11 . Moreover, perceptions of environmental harms are key determinants to changes in behavior 12 . Previous work on air pollution has highlighted the need for raising awareness of both the problem of air pollution and potential solutions with which to achieve reductions, especially in low-income settings 13 , 14 .

From an epidemiological perspective, the serious impacts of poor air quality upon morbidity and mortality are well understood. However, this body of knowledge is rarely translated into individual perceptions of air quality. Multiple interacting processes can cause public indifference to the issues of air pollution. First, the ubiquity of air pollution can cause disempowerment and subsequent ambivalence to its presence. Secondly, in most situations, air pollution is invisible. Unlike some other environmental hazards, (e.g. flooding), air pollution is difficult for the public to observe and react to. The individual PM particles are too small to be seen by the naked eye. However, PM scatters and absorbs light, resulting in hazes and loss of visibility under sufficiently high concentrations 15 . When hazes appear, air pollution becomes the subject of media and public interest (see for example the London smogs of the 1950s and contemporary Asian smogs). But when the observable hazes diminish, so does the newsworthiness of air pollution, despite its still present threat. Thirdly, individual agency over air pollution exposure is limited. This limitation is especially true with respect to outdoor pollution, with multiple sources that an individual has no control over 16 . Indoor air pollution offers more agency to individuals who can choose how to generate heat and light within dwellings. However, this agency is often limited by economic and infrastructure constraints 17 and lack of access to alternatives. Finally, excluding the most susceptible, the wider day-to-day risks of air pollution are small for the overall population, resulting in a correspondingly low motivation for individual changes in behavior. Furthermore, other contemporary issues, like access to food, water and housing, are more immediate.

Collaboration between the arts and sciences can be a useful tool for both informal knowledge dissemination and fostering citizen engagement and/or activism 18 . Art experiences are aligned with the affective domain of learning 19 . Art provides engagement, and elicits emotions and changes in attitude, while science education emphasizes cognitive understanding through logic 20 , creating reciprocal pathways for public engagement 21 . By holistically drawing from both the affective and cognitive domains, such collaboration encourages a more intuitive understanding of subjects. In this sense, art-science collaboration can be particularly effective in the context of climate change and environmental issues 22 . Art science collaboration can provide innovative, challenging and provocative ways to engage communities and, despite not providing solutions, can help in stimulating individuals’ perceptions, behavioral changes and raising awareness of the climate crisis 23 , 24 , 25 , 26 . This project was devised to creatively represent air pollution in different contexts and, by doing so, to provide places and spaces for discourse. The project follows the concepts of eco-didacticism 21 , 22 , 27 , 28 and aims to make invisible air pollution visible. This approach will provide an easy-to-comprehend artistic engagement tool to compare air pollution in different contexts. The team required artists and scientists to produce output that was scientifically robust, but also visually arresting, which could be understood by those uneducated in scientific practices.

Light painting is a photographic technique using long exposure times. Its effect is that only objects that are very still or bright are recorded in the final image. The technique was pioneered by Étienne-Jules Marey and Georges Demeny in 1889 as part of a research program using photography as a scientific tool to investigate biological motion. It was used for similar purposes by the Gilbreths to scientifically record the movements of clerical and factory workers as part of their time and motion research studies before being taken up and popularized by photographic artists such as Vilho Setälä, Man Ray, Wynn Bullock and Gijon Mili. Digital light painting uses digitally controlled light sources to create and control the effect within the image 20 . It was developed by Steve Mann as a means of visualizing sensor data 29 , and further advanced in recent work of Timo Arnall in the visualization of Wi-Fi strength 30 .

We applied digital light painting to visualize air pollution. Low-cost air pollution sensors that have previously been shown to provide accurate measurements were used to measure PM mass concentrations 31 , 32 . The real time signal from the sensor was used to control a moving Light Emitting Diode (LED) array, which was programmed to rapidly flash as a function of PM concentration. A relevant location was then chosen in which a story about air pollution could be told. A long exposure photograph is taken with the artist moving the LED array in front of the camera within the chosen scene. The duration of an individual LED flash is sufficiently short so that the flash becomes a dot on the photograph. The artist is not observed in the photo because they are moving, whereas the light flashes from the LED array are seen because they are bright. The photographs represent the PM concentration by creating an equivalency between the measured PM particles and the number of light dots in the photographs. This creates in the camera a visualization of the pollution, thus creating an affective visual metaphor of the PM being put under a microscope and lit up. The strength of the metaphor is that it allows for pollution levels to be instantly visually understood. Furthermore, it allows for easy comparisons between different locations.

Once developed, the light painting technique was used to document the levels of air pollution in multiple and contrasting international contexts. Port Talbot in Wales was the initial focus of the project. The interest came from the tension between the economic benefits of the Port Talbot steelworks in the community, being the city’s largest employer, and the environmental consequences of having one of the largest steelworks in Europe and a major source of local pollution 33 . Figure  1 shows the light painting for Port Talbot. The scene shows the Prince Street air quality monitoring site situated in front of the steelworks. Port Talbot Steelworks is an integrated steelmaking plant, using imported iron ore and coal as the major inputs. The air quality monitoring and light painting were performed at 9 pm (dusk) on 27/07/2017 and measured PM 2.5 concentrations in the range of 30–40 μg m-3. The PM 2.5 hourly average value measured at the regulatory Automatic Urban and Rural Network monitoring site for the same time was 24 μg m-3. There were large variations within the same day with no clear diurnal cycle: the mean average for the day (±1σ) was 21.9 ± 13.0 μg m-3.

figure 1

Photo from the Prince Street air quality monitoring site with Tata Steelworks in the background - PM 2.5 30 − 40 μg m-3.

Figure  2 presents a diptych of two light paintings both taken in children’s playgrounds in India, but ~500 km distant from each other. The left-hand image is taken in Delhi, a megacity with an estimated population of 32 million in 2022, often observed to be one of the cities with the worst air quality globally 34 . The right-hand image was taken in Palampur, a hill station in the state of Himachal Pradesh which has some of the cleanest air in India. The images were taken within 5 days of each other. The Delhi air pollution was recorded in the range of 500–600 μg m-3, at least 40 times greater than the World Health Organization’s guideline values (15 μg m-3) for 24 h mean average 35 . The PM 2.5 values measured at the Palampur playground were in the range of 30–40 μg m-3, a factor of at least 12.5 times less than that measured in Delhi, highlighting how air pollution concentrations depend upon location, thereby setting up intra-country environmental inequalities.

figure 2

a Children’s playground in Palampur (CSIR-IHBT), India, measured PM 2.5 30–40 μg m-3. b Nursery playground in Delhi (IIT Delhi), India, measured PM 2.5 500–600 μg m-3.

Figure  3 presents a diptych from Ethiopia, this time exploring how air pollution can vary dramatically between indoor and outdoor locations. Ethiopia, and more generally East African countries, are undergoing rapid economic development, industrialization and socio-demographic transition, with associated increases in ambient air pollutant levels 36 . The two light paintings were taken in the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, in 2020 within days of each other. The left-hand image shows an image taken outdoors on the Airport Road, an area of the capital that is well developed, with high-quality surfaces both on the road and surrounding pavement. Measured PM 2.5 concentrations were in the range of 10–20 μg m-3, a relatively low range observed by many cities around the world. Data from the https://www.airnow.govair website measuring PM 2.5 in Addis Ababa indicates this value is not unusual for the season. The outdoor image is juxtaposed with the indoor image, taken of a kitchen using multiple large biomass stoves for food preparation for a canteen. Even with a large room volume and reasonable ventilation to the outside, the PM 2.5 concentrations measured in the room were in the range of 150–200 μg m-3, a factor of ~10–20 times greater than what was measured nearby outdoors. The diptych visually makes apparent the vast differences in exposure to PM, which is dependent on where you live, work, and how you travel between these locations.

figure 3

a Airport Road, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia - PM 2.5 10–20 μg m-3. b Indoor Biomass Burning Kitchen, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia—PM 2.5 150–200 μg m-3.

Figures  4 and 5 provide an example of how the light painting technique can be used as an engagement and advocacy tool for air quality data visualization and create spaces and places for discussion about air pollution. The light painting images from Addis Ababa, shown in Fig.  3 , were printed onto posters (Fig.  4 ) and postcards (Fig.  5 ), with supplementary information about the air pollution situation in Addis Ababa, both within indoor and ambient environments. They also provided simple messages on how to reduce personal air pollution contributions and exposure to provide the observers with potential agency. The posters were placed in areas around the Addis Ababa Institute of Technology to engage with the student body. After discussions with the students about the posters, a postcard technique for real-time data collection was used to grasp their thoughts on the air pollution situation in Addis Ababa. The team distributed five types of postcards depicting photos of both ambient and household air pollution situations and asked students about what they thought about air pollution, what actions could be taken to address air pollution, and who should address air pollution. The postcards returned a set of 63 responses comprising 143 statements that were analyzed using the behavioral change wheel technique 37 . This qualitative analysis provides insights into the ‘capability’, ‘opportunity, and ‘motivation’ of the students regarding air pollution. The thematic analysis of the statements collected reveals a good level of awareness among the students of both household and ambient air pollution: “Addis air quality is poor” (Postcard_C15), and its causes. Students highlighted the impacts on the environmental impacts and health effects of exposure to air pollution and the associated types of diseases, including respiratory diseases, cancer and eye issues. They also identified as main causes of ambient air pollution transport-related air pollution and waste burning. Transport-related air pollution was predominantly associated with motorized traffic congestion, poor maintenance and the performance of vehicles’ engines, and polluting second-hand imported vehicles: “The exhaust in cars, I feel sorry for people walking on the street who have to breathe in, and for children as well” (Postcard_C9). Students identified waste burning as a cause of air pollution both in terms of industrial waste disposal: “We have to decrease industrial waste” (Postcard_CW3), and household waste disposal, especially related to burning plastic: “I wish people could stop burning their trash and dispose of their waste properly” (Postcard_C8). They reported smoke from industrial factories and people smoking as contributors to ambient air pollution. Indoor air pollution was mainly associated with the burning of domestic fuels, particularly charcoal for indoor cooking: “It will be good if we use alternatives to charcoal indoors” (Postcard_A5).

figure 4

Posters with light paintings from Addis Ababa located at a bus stop outside the Addis Ababa Institute of Technology.

figure 5

a Depicts the level of air pollution on Airport Road, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, recording PM 2.5 levels of 10–20 μg m-3; b Depicts the level of air pollution of biomass burning in a commercial kitchen at the University of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, recording PM 2.5 levels of 150–200 μg m-3; c Depicts level of air pollution in an open area; d Depicts level of air pollution at a bus station in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; e Depicts level of air pollution during a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony; f Example of back of postcard with student’s statements.

In the context of advocating for change, students identified relevant stakeholders, suggesting they have the knowledge to engage with and bring about change, advocating for top-down measures to raise awareness to tackle air pollution: “The United Nations and other authorities should give awareness to people and make an effort to solve this global problem” (Postcard_A17); “The government should give awareness to the people about air pollution. Alternatives for charcoal should be used” (Postcard_A8). Similarly, they suggested the government intervention to tackle transport-related air pollution: “I wish the government of Ethiopia can reduce the toxic gas released by cars” (Postcard_C8); “The government should stop importing second-hand cars” (Postcard_CW1). Nonetheless, very few students identified mitigation mechanisms, suggesting a limited lack of knowledge of solutions. They focused particularly in addressing the need to plant more trees to tackle air pollution: “We should plant more plants in the cities to reduce air pollution” (Postcard_C5), but also to tackle deforestation for wood burning: “If we cut trees, we have to plant two-thirds of what we cut” (Postcard_A1). Moreover, they mentioned measures to reduce transport-related air pollution, especially in terms of incentivizing the use of more sustainable transport modes, including building more non-motorized transport infrastructure for walking and cycling, better car emissions regulation for imported cars, improvements in vehicles’ maintenance and fleet electrification: “Access to cheaper auto parts would decrease emissions, same with consistent electricity and CO 2 ” (Postcard_C16). Similarly, electrification and the incentivization for the use of more sustainable forms of power were suggested to reduce the use of charcoal for domestic use: “Promote and encourage people to use electricity for cooking” (Postcard_CW2).

Due to air pollution being ingrained in external factors (e.g., industry) and solutions requiring governmental influence, participants reported little individual opportunity to combat air pollution; nor were they able to express the physical or social opportunities they had to reduce pollution. Nonetheless, the students’ motivations and aspirations to reduce air pollution were high, although reported with broad comments: “I want to move around freely without getting polluted” (Postcard_A19); “We want to see a clean city, green and clean residential areas” (Postcard_A1). Overall, the postcards were a useful medium for initiating discussions around air pollution and indicated that there are still multiple barriers faced by individuals to improve air quality in Addis Ababa, despite their knowledge of the presence of air pollution and its impacts upon human and ecological health.

The Air of the Anthropocene project has experienced widespread recognition across multiple stakeholders, including publications in the New Scientist 38 , The Guardian 39 , Quest 40 , Source Magazine 41 , and gallery shows in Los Angeles, Belfast, and Birmingham. The project has also been utilized to raise air pollution awareness by UN International Organization for Migration (IOM), the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO) and UN-Habitat. For example, UN-Habitat commissioned four pollution light painting posters, see Fig.  6 for one of the commissioned light painting posters. The posters incorporated a light painting with accompanying text. The four light paintings all contained different messages that provided both information about air pollution and steps to reduce exposure to the air pollution. The use of the light painting provided the initial interest to create the place of discussion, where the additional messaging could be introduced. The four light paintings were displayed during the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) “Placemaking awareness raising event” (Kampala, Uganda 17th–19th January 2018).

figure 6

Example awareness raising light painting poster used for the UN Habitat—Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) “Kampala Placemaking Campaign”. The image was photographed and contextualized, then printed and displayed on site in Luwum Street, the location of the placemaking campaign.

The work of Ostrom on common pool resources highlights that environmental management is more likely to be successful when four conditions hold 16 , 42 : (1) the environmental problem is visible, (2) the cause and effect relationships are understood, (3) the problem is reversible, and (4) management of the environmental resource (the air in this case) results in clear benefits to key constituencies. The Air of the Anthropocene project aimed at making invisible air pollution visible and to provide an easy-to-comprehend artistic engagement tool to compare air pollution in different contexts. By doing so, it fulfils the first of Ostrom’s conditions by making something that was largely invisible visible. It allows for the causes and effects of air pollution to be more readily understood and helps to achieve the second condition. By providing a visual understanding of air pollution that is accessible to a wide array of stakeholders, who do not necessarily have a scientific background, the light painting approach can help to demonstrate that the third and fourth criteria can hold for air pollution.

Due to its photographic art science connotation, the Air of the Anthropocene differs from more recent air quality community engagement projects 43 , 44 , creating spaces and places for discussion about air pollution, and thereby raising awareness, in an innovative manner. The project uses art, in this case, photography, as a proxy to communicate and create dialogs about the issues associated with air pollution. The visual depiction of PM and the associated storytelling highlighting the causes, contexts, and levels of air pollution, can make the issues of air pollution more tangible and understandable by the community. The use of photography, thanks to the power of images, has also the function of evoking people’s emotions and stimulating reflections upon the contextual environmental conditions. Moreover, as Addis Ababa’s example shows, this approach can foster awareness, space and places for dialogs, agency and community action, allowing different stakeholders to share their perspectives, solutions and take actions to tackle air pollution.

Measuring and understanding the impacts of art science collaboration in the context of climate change and environmental-related projects is challenging, due to the intrinsic long-term time scale associated with behavioral change 22 . Nonetheless, the approach presented in this paper can enhance individual and communities experience, emotions and reflections upon the relationships between spaces and environmental issues. The paper highlights the need for a holistic approach to understanding perceptions of air pollution, efforts to monitor pollution, efforts to communicate findings and ultimately efforts to affect change through interventions. It demonstrated that artistic interventions in scientific practice can create informative discussions, activate public engagement, and can become part of the air quality management toolkit. To quote John Butler “Art changes people and people change the world”.

In the future, this collaboration between art and science strives to develop open-sourced techniques that will generate new tools to effectively engage and empower communities to measure air quality and create air pollution narratives. For example, expanding the digital representation technique beyond lens-based techniques into augmented reality camera use is a possible further air pollution visualization technique. The adoption of open-source methodologies and the creation of open-source documentation would also allow the impact of the project to be sustained beyond the timescale and budget constraints of the individual projects. The development of new devices and techniques for visualizing air pollution data through different artistic tools will enable interested members of the public to create their own artistic aesthetic representations of their environment. The showcasing of these images can become a powerful advocacy tool to promote collective action, motivating community members to get involved in activist work and instigating transformational change in their localities.

Light painting equipment

An Alphasense OPC-N2 optical particle counter was used to conduct the PM measurements 45 . It was polled at one-second intervals by a Raspberry Pi 0 W which translated that real-time signal data into instructions for a LED array driven at high frequency by an Arduino-compatible microcontroller. The sensor, microcontrollers and LEDs were all powered by a single USB mobile battery charger pack and designed to be worn on the artist’s wrist. The fading in and out of the LEDs was controlled by a handheld trigger button. The LED array comprised a long thin strip of LEDs attached by Velcro to an adapted retractable boom pole intended for film and TV work. The number display of the PM reading and working controls were initially handled by an e-ink display/button unit though this was later adapted for wireless display/control by Wi-Fi connected smartphone. The design was intended to be both accurate scientifically whilst highly portable for ease of travel.

Light painting methodology

A camera (Nikon D5200) and tripod would be set up at a relevant photo location decided in collaboration with environmental scientists or other relevant stakeholders. The purpose of a location was to help tell the story of the causes, effects, differences in and possible ameliorations of particulate air pollution. After framing up the image the artist would wait until light levels allowed for a long exposure photograph to be taken without oversaturation of the camera. This would either take place during a seven-minute period at dawn or dusk or in an appropriately street lit area at night. Setting the camera for exposure priority was first given to the length of exposure (10 s–30 s), then aperture was set to give appropriate depth of field with visual subjects wholly in focus then finally setting ISO as low as possible within this. Once the equipment was in place and ready a series of photographs would be taken with the artist slowly walking with the sensor and LED array in front of the camera, calling out to an assistant when to release the shutter. After shutter release, the artist would hand trigger a fade-in using the trigger button and count out loud the passing seconds to ensure a fade-out was triggered before the camera’s shutter closing. This process would be repeated until the artist was satisfied a suitably aesthetic photograph had been taken or the light had changed sufficiently to halt the process. During and after the photography a number of readings from the equipment were noted to give a range description of the PM at that brief point in time, along with the location functioned as the photograph’s title. Minimal post-processing in Lightroom was used to ensure balanced color and exposure. Any unwanted stray light traces from the LED present on the pi zero would be removed with the heal tool.

Postcard technique for real-time data collection and analysis

Sentiments regarding air pollution from students of the Addis Ababa Institute of Technology were captured using a postcard data collection approach 46 . Postcards were filled out in English or Aramaic. Students’ responses were extracted and translated from Aramaic to English. Deductive thematic analysis 47 was undertaken on these responses, using the COM-B behavior change wheel framework 37 to understand individuals’ ‘capability’, ‘opportunity’ and ‘motivation’ of being able to change their behavior to reduce air pollution. Data management and coding was undertaken in NVivo, with the responses being assigned initial codes, and then categorized into the final themes. A robustness check and discussion confirmed the interpretation.

Reporting summary

Further information on research design is available in the  Nature Portfolio Reporting Summary linked to this article.

Data availability

Data are provided in the format of photographs (see figures), as this project is an art science collaboration study. Given the contextual conditions related to the lighting required for the use of the light painting technique, data from this study are not reproducible.

Code availability

Code for the light painting photo technique is contained in an open GitHub repository at https://github.com/robin-price/pollution-painter .

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The work was funded by the following grants NERC (NE/T001968/1), EPSRC (EP/T030100/1), and the UK Department for International Development (DFID) via the East Africa Research Fund (EARF) grant ‘A Systems Approach to Air Pollution (ASAP) East Africa’.

Author information

These authors contributed equally: Francis D. Pope, Robin Price.

Authors and Affiliations

School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Science, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK

Francis D. Pope, Carlo Luiu, Ajit Singh & Faye Wilder

Vault Artist Studios, Belfast, UK

Robin Price

Institute of Applied Health Research, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK

Katherine E. Woolley, Suzanne E. Bartington, Sheila M. Greenfield, Ajit Singh & G. Neil Thomas

School of Biosciences, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK

Mohammed S. Alam

International Development Department, School of Government, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK

William R. Avis

School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Addis Ababa Institute of Technology, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Dawit Debebe, Zerihun Getaneh & Bikila Teklu Wodajo

National Union of Journalists (NUJ) Training Wales, Swansea, UK

Rachel Howells

Department of Civil Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, New Delhi, India

Mukesh Khare

Ethiopian Public Health Institute, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Abel Weldetinsae

Birmingham Open Media (BOM), Birmingham, UK

Chloe Lawson, Ben Neal & Karen Newman

CSIR-National Physical Laboratory, New Delhi, India

Sumit K. Mishra

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F.D.P. and R.P. conceived and design the experiment, performed the experiment, analyzed the data, contributed to materials and analysis tools, wrote the paper; K.E.W. and C.L. analyzed the data, contributed to materials and analysis tools and wrote the paper; M.S.A., W.R.A., S.E.B., D.D., Z.G., S.M.G., R.H., M.K., A.K., Ch.L., S.K.M., B.N., K.N., A.S., B.T.W., G.N.T., F.W. contributed to materials and analysis tools and reviewed and edited the paper.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Francis D. Pope .

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Ethics information

The study was reviewed and approved by the University of Birmingham Ethical Committee (ERN_17-0994B).

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Communications Earth and Environment thanks Paul R Brewer and Carmela Cucuzzella for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Primary Handling Editors: Carolina Ortiz Guerrero. A peer review file is available.

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Pope, F.D., Price, R., Woolley, K.E. et al. Light painting photography makes particulate matter air pollution visible. Commun Earth Environ 5 , 294 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43247-024-01409-4

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 Global project ‘paints’ evidence of air pollution in India

The air of the anthropocene project has been exhibited at gallery shows in los angeles, belfast, and birmingham.

Updated - June 08, 2024 08:20 pm IST

Published - June 06, 2024 03:00 am IST

Birds fly through a hazy sky in Bengaluru.

Birds fly through a hazy sky in Bengaluru. | Photo Credit: Bhagya Prakash/The Hindu, File photo

Researchers and artists joined forces for a so-called “painting with light” international project to make invisible air pollution in India visible, demonstrating the health risks posed to the population.

Combining digital light painting and low-cost air pollution sensors, the scientific team produced photographic evidence of pollution levels in cities across three countries – India, Ethiopia and the U.K. – to spark debate among local communities.

Their findings, published in ‘Nature Communications Earth & Environment’ on Wednesday, record how photographs taken as part of the ‘Air of the Anthropocene’ initiative stimulated discussion around the impact of air pollution.

The illustrations covered two children’s playgrounds in India, 500 km apart — one in urban Delhi, the other in rural Palampur — with PM2.5 values at the Palampur playground at least 12.5-times less than those measured in Delhi.

“Air pollution is the leading global environmental risk factor. By painting with light to create impactful images, we provide people with an easy-to-understand way of comparing air pollution in different contexts — making something that was largely invisible visible,” said Francis Pope, an environmental scientist from Birmingham University and co-creator of the project with artist Robin Price.

“Air of the Anthropocene creates spaces and places for discussion about air pollution, using art as a proxy to communicate and create dialogues about the issues associated with air pollution,” he said.

Air pollution also varied dramatically between locations in Ethiopia — a kitchen using biomass stoves for food preparation where PM2.5 concentrations in the room were up to 20-times greater than what was measured nearby outdoors.

In Wales, large variations in air pollution around the Tata Steel-owned Port Talbot steelworks showed air quality monitoring and light painting at dusk in summer measured higher PM2.5 concentrations than the hourly average value.

Particulate Matter, or PM, is the air pollutant most responsible for human morbidity and mortality. It has multiple impacts on physical health and is responsible for diseases, including heart disease, stroke, and cancers.

The “painting with light” team used low-cost air pollution sensors to measure PM mass concentrations. It took the sensors’ real-time signal to control a moving LED array programmed to flash more rapidly as PM concentration increased.

“By providing a visual understanding of air pollution that is accessible to people who don’t necessarily have a scientific background, the light painting approach can demonstrate that managing air pollution levels can have a significant impact on people’s day-to-day lives,” shared photographer Price.

A long exposure photograph is taken with the artist moving the LED array in front of the camera, the flash becoming a dot on the photograph.

The artist is not seen in the photo because they are moving, but light flashes from LEDs are seen because they are bright. The more light dots appear in the photographs, the higher the PM concentration.

Co-author Carlo Luiu, from the University of Birmingham, commented: “Thanks to the power of images, we can provoke people’s emotions – fostering awareness and prompting people to share their perspectives and take action to tackle air pollution.”

The Air of the Anthropocene project has been exhibited at gallery shows in Los Angeles, Belfast, and Birmingham.

The project has also been used to raise air pollution awareness by the UN International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the U.K.’s Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO) and UN-Habitat, which commissioned four pollution light paintings and texts to be displayed in Kampala, Uganda.

Air pollution is considered one of the main threats to both the environment and human health and a leading cause of death globally.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates 99% of the global population breathe polluted air, causing approximately 7 million premature deaths worldwide each year.

“The situation is particularly challenging in Asia, where air pollution remains a major problem in countries like India and China, despite several air quality policies and actions. African countries have experienced significant deterioration in air quality over the last five decades,” a University of Birmingham statement noted.

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