Air Pollution: Causes and Effects of the Invisible Threat [Explained]

Every year, air pollution kills 7 million people and causes many more illnesses throughout the world compared to Covid-19, which killed more than 6 million people up until now. So, air pollution is a pandemic in slow motion, a plague on our health. And this pandemic affects nine out of ten people throughout the world as they breathe polluted or unhealthy air. According to research, air pollution can weaken our immune system and affect our mental health, performance and productivity, and even the stock market index. Air pollution also contributes to the biggest environmental risk of today, which is Climate Change. But what exactly is this air pollution? What factors contribute to the pollution? And what are the effects of this invisible threat? Let’s find it out.

Air Pollution: A pandemic in slow motion

What is Air Pollution?

Air pollution is the presence of pollutants or toxic chemicals in the atmosphere at a level that is harmful to the health of humans and other living organisms and the environment. Another way of looking at air pollution could be contamination of the indoor or outdoor air by any chemical, physical, or biological substance that alters the natural characteristics of the air. According to WHO data, nearly all of the world’s population (99 percent) breathes air that exceeds WHO guideline limits and includes high levels of pollutants. And the worst affected are low and middle-income countries.

Heavy Air pollution in Tehran
[1] Heavy Air pollution in Tehran

Air in large cities in poor and developing countries is usually more polluted than in developed countries. Namely, Karachi, New Delhi, Beijing, Dhaka, Lima, and Cairo are some of the world’s most polluted cities. However, air pollution is a concern in many wealthy countries as well, like Los Angeles, which has the nickname Smog City. Now let’s find out what causes this air pollution.

Causes of Air Pollution

The United States have the largest share of cumulative CO2 emissions since 1850
[2] The United States have the largest share of cumulative CO2 emissions since 1850

Air pollution may be caused by a wide range of activities and pollutants. Most of the time, it is caused by human activities such as mining, construction, transportation, industrial work, agriculture, casting, and so on. However, natural sources such as ash from volcanic eruptions or smoke from wildfires may also pollute the air, but they are infrequent and typically have a limited impact. In most cases, air pollutants cannot be seen or smelled. However, this does not indicate that they do not exist in high enough quantities to pose a health risk!

There are numerous types of air pollutants. Ammonia, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxides, methane, and chlorofluorocarbons are just a few gases that can pollute the air. It is also contaminated by organic and inorganic Particulate matter (PM) originating from volcanoes, dust storms, and forest and grassland fires.

Transportation and Industrial works are two of the main reasons for greenhouse emissions.
[3] Transportation and Industrial works are two of the main reasons for greenhouse emissions.

Furthermore, human activities, such as burning fossil fuels in automobiles, power plants, and various industrial processes, also generate significant air pollutants. Bacteria, viruses, animal fur, cat saliva, mites, cockroaches, pollen, and other biological molecules also lower the air quality. And long term exposure to this poor air quality affects the environment and all living beings in many ways. Now let’s look at the effects of this invisible silent killer.

Effects of Air Pollution

Air pollution has severe effects on human health. These effects can range from minor symptoms like coughing and respiratory tract irritation to acute problems like asthma and chronic lung disorders, depending on the amount and level of exposure and the kind of pollutant inhaled. These air pollution effects can be broken down into short-term and long-term effects.

Air pollution has severe effects on human health
[4] Air pollution has severe effects on human health

Illnesses such as pneumonia or bronchitis are examples of short-term effects. They also include irritation to the nose, throat, eyes, or skin. Air pollution can also cause headaches, dizziness, and vomiting. Long-term effects can continue for years or even a lifetime and may potentially result in death. Heart disease, lung cancer, and respiratory disorders such as emphysema are all long-term health effects of air pollution. Over time, it can also harm people’s nerves, brains, kidneys, liver, and other organs.

Some scientists believe that air pollution causes birth abnormalities too. According to the World Health Organization, air pollution kills over 7 million people prematurely every year. According to studies released in March 2019, the figure might even reach approximately 8.8 million. Strokes, heart disease, COPD, lung cancer, and lung infections are the leading causes of this death tally.

Effects of Air Pollution on Animals

Effects of Air Pollution on Animals
[5] Effects of Air Pollution on Animals

Like people, animals can suffer health consequences from air pollution. Air pollution has been linked to birth abnormalities, illnesses, and reduced reproductive rates in animals and plants too. Furthermore, by increasing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, it affects Climate Change, which is regarded as the greatest threat to humankind today.

People have been polluting the Earth like never before since the Industrial Revolution. Even the most remote corners of the world have been polluted at some point or another. Even though the government must take some action, individual habits can still have a significant impact locally, if not globally.

Check out our other articles to learn more about pollution, climate change, and other environmental aspects, and post your suggestions in the comments section as well.


Thumbnail Image: Photo by Elīna Arāja:
1: By Mehr News Agency, CC BY 4.0,
2: Tony Webster from San Francisco, California, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
3: Photo by Chris LeBoutillier
4: By Irfansevket2905 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
5: Image by Peggychoucair, Pixabay