The Effects of Air Pollution from Motor Vehicles

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What affect is all this traffic having on our atmosphere? More than you'd think. Image by bullofriverside

What affect is all this traffic having on our atmosphere? More than you’d think. Image by bullofriverside

Two major sources of air pollution are industry and motor vehicles. How do cars, trucks, and buses contribute to pollution?

Among the pollutants motor vehicles produce are various sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, unburned hydrocarbons, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and particulates.

These emissions damage human health, produce acid rain and lower-atmosphere ozone, and are responsible — at least in part — for global climate change and its influence upon the environment.

Air Pollution: Breathing Impaired

Motor-vehicle emissions are of special concern to those with impaired lung function, including asthmatics and COPD sufferers, plus those with heart disease. The ozone and nitrogen and sulfur oxides are of particular concern in this regard. However, it is not merely those with pre-existing pulmonary problems who are at risk. Automotive pollution also increases the likelihood a healthy person will develop serious diseases, including heart disease or lung cancer, later in life.

Acid Rain

Nitrogen and sulfur oxides, in the presence of water vapor found in the atmosphere, generate nitric and sulfuric acids. Rains containing traces of these acids damage buildings, statues, soil and plant life — notably trees due to their lifespan. It is not only trees and other plants that are of concern. The very soil itself is damaged through nutrient leaching, the loss of vital nutrients in the ground. Although it is a well-established fact that volcanoes contribute to acid rain, motor vehicles are a controllable source of such pollutants.

The National Acid Precipitation Assessment Program (NAPAP), initiated under President Jimmy Carter, is now near completion, MarineBio informs us, and there is not longer any doubt the damage caused to marine life by increasing ocean acidity is due to the combustion of fossil fuels, by both industry and motor vehicles.

Greenhouse Gases

So-called greenhouse gases — gases that absorb energy within the thermal infrared range — include not only chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), no longer generally associated with motor vehicles, but carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone. These gases absorb and prevent the escape of solar energy. The trapped solar energy, in turn, warms the earth – including its oceans. Rising marine temperatures contribute not only to the melting of polar ice, but also to the intensity of storms, leading to an increase in superstorms.

Photochemical Smog

The chemically simple pollutants released by motor vehicles into the atmosphere do not completely remain in that state of simplicity: They undergo chemical change. This a more significant problem in urban areas, such as Los Angeles, although winds and weather drive some of the smog into rural areas. Photochemical smog contains complex components such as alkyl nitrite, peroxyacetyl nitrate (PAN) and ammonium nitrate.

Motor Vehicle Pollution

Motor vehicles, powered by fossil fuels, produce chemical-laced fumes. The emissions are not only affecting our health, but our planet’s health; from our atmosphere to our oceans, and even our soil. Awareness of the chemicals emitting from our vehicles is the first step to reducing them.

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