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How Does Air Pollution Affect the Environment?

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Air pollution causes acid rain, reduces visibility, damages wildlife, contributes to eutrophication and depletes the ozone layer. In addition, air pollution leads to global warming resulting in global climate change.

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Acid Rain
The burning of fossil fuels releases oxides of nitrogen and sulfur into the environment. These oxides combine with water droplets in the atmosphere to form nitric and sulfuric acids, which fall back into the ground as acid rain. Acid rain damages the soil and plants and acidifies bodies of water, making them unsuitable for marine wildlife. It also speeds up the decay of buildings, statues and other historical landmarks.

Eutrophication
Eutrophication is a condition in a water body where large amounts of nutrients stimulate the growth of algae and other plant life. This dense growth of plants in water bodies kills fish, marine animals and affects the growth of other marine plants. Even though eutrophication is a natural process in the aging of lakes, air pollution from human activities tend to accelerate this process.

Depletion of Ozone Layer
Ozone gas, found in the Earth’s upper atmosphere, shields the Earth from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun. However, air pollution releases several ozone-depleting chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons, hydrofluorocarbons and halons which thins out the ozone layer. Thinning of the ozone layer increases exposure to UV rays, leading to increased cases of skin cancer, eye cataracts and impaired immune system.

Moreover, the depletion of ozone layer through pollution may lead to a reduction of agricultural yields, reduced survival rates of seedlings, increased plant susceptibility to diseases and harsh environmental conditions. In addition, exposure to UV rays has profound effects on sensitive crops, such as soybeans.

Effects on Wildlife
Toxic air pollutants, when deposited on soils and water bodies, negatively affect both aquatic and land wildlife. Toxins contribute to birth defects, reproductive failure and disease to animals. In addition, air pollution may lead to migration of wildlife from a given area hence creating an imbalance in the ecosystem.

Moreover, pollutants accumulate in sediments and may biomagnify in tissues of animals at the top of the food chain to concentrations higher than that in the water or air. Such accumulation of toxins has adverse health effects on both animals and human beings. Air pollution reduces sunlight penetration due to the formation of thick smog. Such thick smog limits plant growth and reproduction.

Global Climate Change
The Earth’s atmosphere contains a delicate balance of gases responsible for trapping heat energy hence maintenance of the Earth’s temperatures. However, due to industrial pollution, more greenhouse gases, such as methane and carbon dioxide, are released in high amounts. These gases trap more heat in the atmosphere, which leads to a steady global temperature rise. This results in adverse effects of climate change, such the rise of sea levels, changing weather patterns, extinction of biodiversity and catastrophic weather conditions.

Reduces Visibility
Haze occurs when sunlight encounters tiny particles in the air. These tiny particles are formed from pollutants directly emitted from power plants, manufacturing industries, automobiles and construction sites. Haze reduces the visibility of objects and can lead to motor vehicle accidents.

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