The Industrial Revolution profoundly changed the course of human history and had a wide range of effects on society, the environment, and people themselves. The equally significant byproduct of industrial progress, pollution, claims the lives of 9 million people annually. According to the WHO, only air pollution killed half a million people in India alone in 2007. Though air pollution has a wide range of negative effects, from climate change to unprecedented threats to health, this article will focus on the phenomenon of smog and its related effects on health and care.
What is smog?
The early 1900s saw the invention of the word “smog,” which is credited to H.A. Des Voeux. Smog is a type of air pollution that develops when several dangerous pollutants enter the atmosphere due to both natural and anthropogenic processes.
[Reference: Neilsen, Kate. “Project MUSE – Technology and the End of Smog in Fred M. White’s ‘the Four Days’ Night.’” Project MUSE – Technology and the End of Smog in Fred M. White’s “the Four Days’ Night,” 27 Oct. 2021, muse.jhu.edu/article/825666.]
Types of Smog
Sulfurous and photochemical smog are the two main varieties. Fossil fuels containing sulfur produce sulfurous smog, also known as “London smog,” which is characterized by an elevated level of sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere. Photochemical smog is caused by sunlight reacting with nitrogen oxide, which is emitted into the atmosphere from car exhaust and coal combustion, or with volatile organic compounds (VOC), which are found in gasoline, paints, and many cleaning solvents.
Known Causes of Smog
Urban centers thrive on energy consumption using gasoline, coal, and other fossil fuels, making smog one of the negative impacts of prowess in science and technology. Fuel is the bedrock that adds precursor atmospheric pollutants such as VOCs, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and gases into the air. Heavy traffic, high temperatures, and sunshine all contribute to smog.
According to research conducted at the National Academy of Sciences in the USA, air samples taken from New York City in 2018 contained roughly half as many volatile organic compounds that were equally important as those from vehicle exhaust and came from fragrant goods. Smog is significantly influenced by the topography of a city and its surroundings.
[Reference: “Technical Overview of Volatile Organic Compounds | US EPA.” US EPA, 18 Aug. 2014, www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/technical-overview-volatile-organic-compounds.]
|300 – 500||Hazardous: Everyone will experience serious health issues.|
|200 – 300||Very Unhealthy: The entire population is likely to be affected.|
|150 – 300||Unhealthy: Sensitive groups are adversely affected.|
|100 – 150||Unhealthy for Sensitive People: Normal people are not affected.|
|50 – 100||Moderate: The air quality is acceptable.|
|0 – 50||Good: The air quality is satisfactory.|
Because less air movement can intensify smog, open areas are likely to experience less smog.
Effects of Smog
When inhaled, smog is hazardous to human health, with the severity proportional to the amount inhaled, the type of pollutants present, and the victim’s unique health condition. Smog can even lead to death with staggering levels of decreased lung functioning, aggravation of respiratory and heart diseases, and irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat. In 1952, the famous Great Smog, equally important in London, became the cause of 4000 deaths from respiratory ailments. Children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable, as are those with pre-existing medical conditions. Studies have concluded that children born and raised in high-pollution areas are likely to have four times fewer functioning lungs in adulthood.
‘The Big Smoke Sets Up Shop’
The presence of smog, a noxious combination of pollutants predominantly found in fossil fuel-powered plants and vehicle emissions, wreaks havoc on various aspects of our lives. Its detrimental effects extend beyond the immediate respiratory concerns, permeating into areas such as skin health, public safety, oxygen transportation, vitamin D production, and even the challenges posed by the NCOVID-19 pandemic.
One of the lesser-known consequences of smog lies in its impact on skin health. The pollutants present in smog, including particulate matter, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and ozone, contribute to a range of skin-related issues such as atopic dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, and acne. These harmful substances, when in contact with the skin, can trigger or exacerbate these conditions, leading to discomfort and distress for individuals affected by them.
The dense haze created by smog poses a significant risk to public safety. In certain situations, authorities have recommended parents to keep their children home from school to prevent them from getting lost or disoriented in the blinding fog. Unfortunately, the chaotic environment caused by the reduced visibility has also resulted in a surge of criminal activities such as looting, break-ins, and purse snatching, as offenders easily vanish into the obscured surroundings. Disturbingly, the haze has the ability to permeate even enclosed structures, further compromising the safety and well-being of individuals.
According to studies, in 2010, additional medical costs of 3.7 billion pounds were attributable to poor air quality. Ground-level ozone, an associated product of smog, also affects the growth of plants, crops, and forests, especially the crops of wheat, soybeans, tomatoes, peanuts, and cotton, which are vulnerable to infection.
What to do?
To mitigate the effects of smog caused by the increasing use of fossil fuels in today’s society, it is crucial to focus on improving our lifestyle. Here are some recommendations to consider:
- Stay updated on the weather, particularly when you are traveling. Being aware of the current conditions can help you plan your day in a way that minimizes your exposure to smog.
- Opt for electric appliances instead of gas-powered equipment to promote clean air both at home and in the office. This small change can contribute to reducing air pollution and its associated health risks.
- Prioritize your fitness, but avoid exercising during midday in smoggy conditions. Instead, choose the morning or evening hours when pollution levels tend to be lower. This precaution helps minimize the inhalation of harmful pollutants while engaging in physical activity.
- If you have respiratory conditions, it is advisable to avoid traveling to congested areas prone to traffic jams. Carrying your inhaler or other necessary medication with you at all times is essential to managing any potential symptoms.
- Pay attention to the personal care products you use, as some contain chemicals classified as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Consider opting for natural or VOC-free alternatives when selecting deodorants, sunblock, and bug sprays to minimize the release of harmful pollutants into the atmosphere.
The flip side of industrial progress is its severe impact on the environment, causing misery and disease. Especially in our part of the world, we must adhere. The use of the products and appliances causes fewer emissions of elements that are responsible for smog or air pollution. By implementing these lifestyle changes, we can contribute to reducing smog levels and promoting cleaner air for the well-being of both ourselves and the environment.
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