environmental problems 4

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First part of Information is listed below and the rest are in images, along with the questions.

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Section 1 Introduction: Air Pollution

The air we breathe plays an important role in maintaining all life on Earth. For example, the atmosphere is a major part of the water cycle. It refills rivers and lakes with fresh water from precipitation. In addition, the atmosphere provides organisms with the gases needed for life. It contains oxygen needed for cellular respiration and carbon dioxide needed for photosynthesis. It also contains nitrogen needed for proteins and nucleic acids.

Earth’s atmosphere is vast. However, it has been seriously polluted. Air pollution consists of chemical substances and particles released into the atmosphere, mainly by human actions.

Outdoor Air Pollution

The major cause of outdoor air pollution is the burning of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are burned in power plants, factories, motor vehicles, and home heating systems. Ranching and using chemicals such as fertilizers also cause outdoor air pollution. Erosion of soil in farm fields, mining activities, and construction sites adds dust particles to the air as well. Some specific outdoor air pollutants are described in the table below.

Pollutants in outdoor air

Air Pollutant



Sulfur oxides

coal burning

acid rain

Nitrogen oxides

motor vehicle exhaust

acid rain

Carbon monoxide

motor vehicle exhaust


Carbon dioxide

all fossil fuel burning

global climate change

Particles (dust, smoke)

wood and coal burning

respiratory problems


coal burning

nerve poisoning


coal burning

respiratory problems

Ground-level ozone

motor vehicle exhaust

respiratory problems

Health Effects of Outdoor Air Pollution

Outdoor air pollution causes serious human health problems. For example, pollutants in the air are major contributors to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Air pollution may trigger asthma attacks and heart attacks in people with underlying health problems. In fact, more people die each year from air pollution than automobile accidents.

Acid Rain

Air pollution may also cause acid rain. This is rain that is more acidic (has a lower pH) than normal rain. Acids form in the atmosphere when nitrogen and sulfur oxides mix with water in air. Nitrogen and sulfur oxides come mainly from motor vehicle exhaust and coal burning.

If acid rain falls into lakes, it lowers the pH of the water and may kill aquatic organisms. If it falls on the ground, it may damage soil and soil organisms. If it falls on plants, it may make them sick or even kill them. Acid rain also damages stone buildings, bridges, and statues, like the one in the picture below.

This stone statue has been dissolved by acid rain.

Global Climate Change

Another major problem caused by air pollution is global climate change. Gases such as carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels increase the greenhouse effect and raise Earth’s temperature.

The greenhouse effect is a natural feature of Earth’s atmosphere. It occurs when certain gases in the atmosphere, including carbon dioxide, radiate the sun’s heat back down to Earth’s surface. The Greenhouse Effect chart below illustrates how this happens. Without greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the heat would escape into space. The natural greenhouse effect of Earth’s atmosphere keeps the planet’s temperature within a range that can support life.

The rise in greenhouse gases due to human actions is too much of a good thing. It increases the greenhouse effect and causes Earth’s average temperature to rise. Rising global temperatures, in turn, are melting polar ice caps and glaciers. The Arctic image below shows how much smaller the Arctic ice cap was in 2012 than it was in 1984. With more liquid water on Earth’s surface, sea levels are rising.

Earth’s atmosphere creates a natural greenhouse effect that moderates Earth’s atmosphere.