What You Need To Know About Air Pollution

Air pollution occurs when excessive amounts of substances are introduced into the Earth's atmosphere. Human activity and natural processes can both generate air pollution, although human activity is more prevalent and harmful to the atmosphere. Here are some facts and tips to reduce air pollution.


1. Carbon dioxide is the main pollutant that is warming Earth.

This greenhouse gas is considered a pollutant when associated with cars, planes, power plants, and other activities that involve the burning of fossil fuels like gasoline. In the past 150 years, human activities have pumped enough carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to raise its levels higher than they have been for hundreds of thousands of years.

2. Air pollution is becoming increasingly harmful to us.

As we continue to burn more fossil fuels, more and more people are being harmed in the process. According to the 2014 World Health Organization report, air pollution in 2012 caused the deaths of around 7 million people worldwide. Air pollution is a significant risk factor for many diseases and health conditions including respiratory infections, heart disease stroke and lung cancer. The health effects caused by air pollution may include difficulty in breathing, wheezing, coughing, asthma and worsening of existing respiratory and cardiac conditions.

AP Photo/Kyodo News

3. Household air is harmful too.

Poor indoor air quality (IAQ), can occur when a gas such as radon is exuded from the Earth in certain locations and trapped inside houses. Building materials are often causes of indoor air pollution, such as carpeting and plywood which emit formaldehyde gas. Lead paint can turn into dust and be inhaled. In addition, intentional air pollution can be introduced with the use of air fresheners, incense, and other scented items.

4. Air pollution is starting to affect art.

Great masterpieces from the likes of Michelangelo are not safe from the destruction of air pollution. In 2010, it was discovered that increased levels of carbon dioxide, dust, and humidity from visitors was dulling and discoloring the Sistine ceiling.

5. Unless nations act, air pollution deaths will double by 2050.

According to a 2015 study published by Nature, the annual death toll from outdoor air pollution could double to 6.6 million globally by 2050 without new antipollution measures. The deadliest outdoor pollution source—accounting for 31% of premature deaths in 2010—is residential energy use, such as furnaces.

Matthieu Paley/National Geographic

What You Can Do

In general, driving and flying less, and recycling reduces a person’s "carbon footprint," or the amount of carbon dioxide a person is responsible for putting into the atmosphere. Here are some more specific examples on you can limit your contribution to air pollution.


* Combine errands for fewer trips.

* Choose environmentally friendly household cleaners.

* Try not to spill gasoline when filling up your car, and carpool whenever possible. (Even better, bike!)

* Run dishwashers only when they are full.

* Seal off containers of household cleaners, workshop chemicals and solvents, and garden chemicals. This helps prevent volatile organic compounds from evaporating into the air.


Air pollution is a pretty grim topic. It may seem like you can't do a lot, but if everyone is conscious of their carbon dioxide output, it all adds up. Even a little bit of effort makes a difference in the long run.