Air Pollution Effects and Governmental Policies


Environmental protection is of concern to many countries today. For a very long time, the issue of environmental protection has been of less concern, but nations have come to the realization that the environment is one of the main pillars of development. The impacts of environmental degradation are severely felt in the world today. One of the world’s worst air pollution tragedies is the 1984 Bhopal Gas Disaster in India.

This incidence of gas leakage exposed over 500, 000 people to methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas, which claimed the lives of 3787 people and left many other injured. Both developed and developing nations are suffering from the impacts of environmental pollution. It has led to the disastrous phenomenon of climate change, which has put the lives of both plants and animals at risk. The hazardous impacts of climate change have led various countries to invest their resources in trying to come up with strategies of curbing environmental degradation and embrace sustainable use of environmental resources. This research paper explores the understanding of air pollution, its causes, impacts, and what governments are doing to combat it.

Understanding Air Pollution

Air Pollution

According to Sokhi (2008), air pollution is the introduction of materials that are harmful to the environment. These contaminants could be in the form of liquid droplets, solids, or gases. When these contaminants get into the natural environment, they cause health effects to both plants and animals and destroy the built environment.

To humans, the effects get into the body through inhalation of the already contaminated air, which affects the vital body organs like the heart and lungs. When these vital organs are affected, then the normal body processes come to a halt or are severely affected. If not regulated, air pollution can cause serious poisoning to live organisms, including human beings. Some air pollutants such as sulfur gas are known to be very poisonous, and if it is inhaled in substantial amounts, can have devastating health effects. It can even cause death.

Main causes of air pollution

As Sokhi (2008) states, air pollution can result from either natural environmental processes or through anthropogenic activities. The natural causes of air pollution involve the emission of oxides like sulfur, nitrogen, carbon monoxide, ammonia, and particulates to the environment through volcanic eruptions. Watt (2009) argues that inasmuch as the natural environmental processes lead to air pollution, the magnitude of pollution is manageable since the environment has its own mechanisms of cleaning itself. This scholar points out that the main cause of air pollution is the human activities which are unregulated.

These human activities include emissions from power plants, manufacturing industries, waste incinerators, motor vehicles, marine vessels, aircraft, nuclear weapons, and other types of fuel – burning and heating devices. Another human activity that adversely leads to air pollution is agricultural practices and forest management. Uncontrolled agricultural activities may lead to the depletion of trees and forests, which acts as a carbon sink. When the carbon sink is eliminated, the poisonous carbon monoxide gas fills the atmosphere, thereby posing a health threat to both plants and animals.

The main air pollutants

The table below describes the six main air pollutants.

Pollutant Source Effects
Particulate matter

Nitrogen Oxide(No2)

Ozone (O3)

Carbon Monoxide (CO2)

Lead (pb)

Hydrocarbons (HC)

These particles may result from bushfires, burning of wood, industrial activities, cigarette smoke, and combustion in engines.

This pollutant manly comes from combustion processes and motor vehicles.

This pollutant is formed from a complex –chemical- oxides reaction on exposure of the nitrogen oxides to hydrocarbons.

This is released in gaseous form when engines burn fossil fuel.This gas is mainly the exhausts from Motor vehicle, burning of substances like as coal and oil, and emissions from industrial activities. The emission of carbon monoxide increases with the use of improperly tuned engines and incomplete burnt fuels.

This is a grayish metallic that is mainly results from combustion in the motor car engines that involve lead additives. It may also result from waste incineration use leaded paints.

These are chemical compounds of hydrogen and carbon atoms. They majorly result from combustion processes.

Sokhi (2008) says that the effects of particulate matter to the human body can either be long or short term depending on the extent of exposure. The short term effects may include skin irritation among other while Some of the long term effects include lung cancer, heart disease, asthma attacks and other related health problems.

When this gas reacts with oxygen in the atmosphere it causes acid rain which affects both plants and animals. The gas is linked with increased cases of respiratory infections.

Ozone is associated with asthma attacks, sore throats, difficulties in breathing and frequent coughs. The ozone also affects the growth of plants and crops.

When this gas is inhaled, it interferes with the intake of oxygen into the body tissues, a condition that is characterized by dizziness and tiredness and headache. Depending on the extent at which one is exposed to this gas, a range of effects may result including death of the victim.

Brimblecombe (2000) argues that high exposure to lead may result to kidney failure and other related complications. This metal also leads to retarded learning and development of nervous system in children.

Exposure to these chemical substances can lead to headaches, nausea and cancer. These compounds also cause damage to plants.

Impacts of Air Pollution

Effects of air pollution on human health

According to Watt (2009), the effects of air pollution varies depending on the cause. Air pollution has serious negative impacts on human health which can either be long or short-term depending on the extent of exposure. It is linked to the increased cases of respiratory diseases such as asthma, heart diseases, lung cancer and stroke. Sokhi (2008) says that the health effects caused by air pollution in most of the cases comprise of difficulties in breathing, wheezing, coughing, frequent headaches and worsening of any existing cardiac and respiratory conditions.

According to the research by Bytnerowicz, Arbaugh and Alonso (2003), most of the lung diseases, cancer cases, cardiovascular diseases, retarded learning and poor development of the nervous system in children emanate from incidences of air pollution. This scholar states that some of these health effects may be direct while others indirect. The indirect effects may result from global warming which is majorly caused by air pollution. Other minor effects of air pollution include irritation of the skin, tiredness and dizziness. These health effects if not addressed at early stages result to death.

Response to the impacts of exposure of carbon dioxide on human health.

According to Watt (2009), one of the major air pollutants is carbon monoxide. This pollutant has severe impacts to human health which can easily result to death if nothing is done about the situation of the exposed victim. In most cases this gas blocks the body tissues form getting oxygen, a gas that is crucial in all the body respiratory processes. When this happens, the respiratory processes come to a halt and the victim may go into a comma and can finally die.

To effectively respond to the impacts of exposure, there is a need to create awareness on to the public concerning the dangers of this pollutant, its sources and ways of reducing the emission. Koenig (2000) states that, the best way of addressing the impacts of carbon monoxide are by increasing carbon sink. This can be done by avoiding poor farming activities and encouraging planting of more trees.

The use of clean sources of energy such as wind, solar and hydro-power should be encouraged to reduce the use of fossil fuel which is the main source of carbon monoxide. Countries should also come up with ways of regulating the emission of this gas. If by chance one is affected by air pollution, medical help should be sought immediately and to avoid any serious and future impacts, the sources of the pollutant should be eliminated. The elimination of the source of the pollutant requires a collaborative approach from the community; otherwise the treatments for the health problems caused by this pollutant will be in vain.

Control measures that are being put in place by government/industry to reduce exposure

The impacts of air pollution are severe and the need to come up with measures of reducing emissions has brought many nations together. Various governments have teamed up to come up with measures of addressing this issue in to reduce the exposure. The World Health Organization (WHO) has held several ministerial conferences on environmental health to help prevent and reduce human health diseases that are related to air pollution.

One such conference was the one held in Parma, Italy the year 2010 where governments agreed to commit themselves to prevent human-health through improved indoor and outdoor air quality. According to Barker and Tingey (2002), governments are now working on ways of reducing emissions of the toxic gases which are the main air pollutants. One of the strategies is through the Kyoto protocol, and signing of agreements among various countries on reduction of emissions.

Another strategy that governments are employing to reduce air pollution is the introduction of taxes on carbon emissions. More taxes are levied on gasoline use to encourage companies and industries to find ways of conserving energy and reducing the amount of emissions. These taxes are not meant to punish them by increasing cost of operations, but to motivate them to consider using green energy.

The United Nations economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) has also been working tirelessly to prevent and reduce levels of air pollution in their regions. Other Governments have introduced ways like carbon trading and credit help reduce the amount of gases emitted into the atmosphere. There are levels of emission that have been set by the governments and various environmental agencies have come up with regulations that are aimed at ensuring that the set target levels have been attained. These measures have been taken positively by many countries especially the developed nations by both the small and large scale companies.


Barker, J., & Tingey, T. (2002). Air Pollution Effects on Biodiversity. Boston, MA: Springer US.

Brimblecombe, P. (2000). The effects of air pollution on the built environment. London, England: Imperial College Press.

Bytnerowicz, A., Arbaugh, M., & Alonso, R. (2003). Ozone air pollution in the Sierra Nevada: Distribution and effects on forests. London, England: Elsevier.

Koenig, J. Q. (2000). Health Effects of Ambient Air Pollution: How safe is the air we breathe. Boston, MA: Springer US.

Sokhi, R. (2008). World atlas of atmospheric pollution. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons Publishers.

Watt, J. (2009). The effects of air pollution on cultural heritage. New York, NY: Springer.