Did you know that an estimated 4.2 million deaths result from breathing polluted outdoor air worldwide every year? Air pollution has become a leading public health emergency worldwide, responsible for one in nine fatalities.
One strategy to deal with air pollution in industrial operations is to use filters – especially sintered air filters. These filters can remove particulates that can damage delicate industrial equipment.
What is air pollution? How is air pollution caused, and how does it pose a threat? Should I be worried about air pollution in my work environment? What are sintered filters, and how could they help deal with air pollution? If you are looking for answers to these questions, read on because this article is for you.
Some Quick Statistics
- In 2019, air pollution cost the global economy an estimated $8.1 trillion, almost double the US federal budget of $4.45 trillion in the same year.
- Over 90% of the world’s population lives in areas where air pollution levels exceed harmful thresholds.
- In 2020, 88 of the world’s 100 most polluted cities were in India and China.
- In 1952, the Great Smog in London killed an estimated 12,000 people within days.
What Is Air Pollution?
The air we breathe (healthy air) is comprised of oxygen (21%), nitrogen (78%), and a mix (1%) of carbon dioxide, hydrogen, methane, helium, and argon.
Air pollution occurs when fine particles, gases, finely dispersed liquid aerosols, and other substances are released at such high rates that the environment cannot absorb or dissipate them. These substances come from various sources, including fumes from cars, burning fossil fuels, dust storms, and industrial operations.
The online encyclopedia, Britannica.com says “These substances may reach concentrations in the air that cause undesirable health, economic, or aesthetic effects.”
Types of Air Pollutants
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identifies six types of air pollutants (material in the air that could negatively affect the ecosystem and humans):
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colourless and odourless gas that results from incomplete fuel combustion. It presents health risks and may exacerbate symptoms of other diseases. Common sources of carbon monoxide include industrial processes, automobile emissions, stoves, small engines, and fires.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, “Lead is a naturally occurring element found in small amounts in the earth’s crust.” The agency adds, “While it has some beneficial uses, it can be toxic to humans and animals, causing health effects.”
The particulates pollute the air in the form of dust or fumes. When they enter the bloodstream, they can cause several health issues, including seizures, learning disabilities, or death.
Common sources of lead include industrial activities, smelting, oil refining, and combustion of gasoline with lead-based additives.
Nitrogen oxides are a combination of gases composed of oxygen and nitrogen. This and nitric oxide are two of the most significant nitrogen oxides. Both are nonflammable and have a colourless to brown appearance at room temperature. They are a significant component of air pollution in urban areas.
According to the CDC, breathing high levels of nitrogen dioxides can cause inflammation of the airways, a flare-up of asthma, difficulty in breathing, excessive coughing, nausea, tiredness, and shortness of breath.
Common sources of nitrogen oxides include exhaust fumes from motor vehicles, industrial processes such as arc welding, electroplating, dynamite blasting, and the burning of coal, oil, or natural gas.
Ozone is a gas that consists of three oxygen atoms. Depending on where it is found, it can be good and bad for the environment.
The ozone layer also referred to as stratospheric ozone, functions as the earth’s “sunscreen” by protecting it from too much ultraviolet radiation from the sun.
However, ozone can also be created on the ground level through a chemical reaction of the sun’s rays, organic gases, and nitrogen dioxides. These gases may come from automobile emissions, power plants, and industrial parks. In this case, it’s referred to as ground-level ozone, which is a major pollutant in many urban areas.
Ozone can lead to a range of health problems and even fatalities. Children are particularly vulnerable to its harmful effects because their lungs are still developing. Also, children tend to play outside when the ozone levels are at their highest.
Ozone can give rise to inflammation and damage of the airways, a sore or scratchy throat, excessive coughing, and aggravate conditions such as asthma and lung diseases, including emphysema and bronchitis.
Sulfur dioxide is a colourless gaseous pollutant composed of oxygen and sulfur. It’s produced from burning fossil fuels that contain sulfur and from petrol-manufacturing and cement-manufacturing activities. It can travel long distances, causing air pollution over a vast area.
Sulfur dioxide can also contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone.
Sulfur dioxide has several harmful effects, including irritating the lining of the throat and nose and stimulating excessive coughing. It also causes tightness of the chest and narrowing of airways, which could be fatal since they reduce the air entering the lungs and, subsequently, the body.
Particulate Matter (PM)
Particulates are tiny fragments of liquid droplets and solid materials suspended in the air, which we suck in with every lungful of the air we take. While some of the particles may be large, dark, or colourful enough to be visible to the naked eye, the most damaging particles are often smaller than 10 microns.
For context, one grain of beach sand is around 90 microns, and one strand of human hair is around 50-70 microns.
These tiny particles, classified by the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) as measuring 2.5 microns in diameter or less, can cause many health problems. According to the UNEP, 90% of the world’s population lives in areas where the pollution levels of PM2.5 exceed the WHO recommended limits.
Effects of Air Pollution on Health
While air pollution is often higher near the pollution sources, everyone can still be exposed to its effects, no matter where they live. Beyond the minor annoyances like coughing, dry throat, and eye and skin irritations, air pollution can have devastating effects on our overall health.
Research has shown that short-term and long-term exposure to air pollution can be linked to adverse birth outcomes and premature mortality.
Air pollution is now one the greatest scourges of our era. It is directly linked to a whole host of health issues, including those that exacerbate respiratory illnesses such as asthma, emphysema, bronchitis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Urbanization is already a significant contributor to asthma. A 2014 study showed that outdoor air pollution aggravates pre-existing asthma and significantly contributes to new-onset asthma. Therefore, increased exposure to air pollution is an important risk factor for both pre-existing and new-onset cases of asthma.
Air Pollution in the Work Environment
Workplaces can also generate harmful pollutants from sources such as furniture, office activities, dust, and housekeeping activities such as the use of pesticides and cleaning agents. This is why organizations and building owners need to take the necessary steps to ensure good indoor air quality (IAQ).
Protecting Yourself from Air Pollution
Organizations such as the American Lung Association provide simple and practical tips to protect yourself and your family from air pollution:
- Monitor air pollution forecasts in your area.
- Avoid high-traffic areas if you can.
- Reduce energy consumption in your house where possible.
- Use hand-powered equipment, which may also be good for giving you some exercise.
- Do not burn wood, charcoal, trash, or other sources of particle pollution.
- Support organizations and initiatives involved in reducing pollution in your area.
- Walk, cycle, or carpool when you are travelling short distances.
- Use sintered filters when using machinery that may be affected by air pollution.
The Role of Sintered Filters
Sintered filters are a type of physical filtration equipment that can remove airborne pollutants so that they don’t harm downwind equipment in an industrial process. These filters are made through a process in which metal is powder-coated at high temperatures to create pockets that trap particles and pollutants from the air passing through.
Sintered filters are mostly custom-made to ensure they deliver the best results for specific situations. The global demand for sintered filters is growing due to their widespread use, custom nature, and overall effectiveness in various industries, including food and beverage processing, power generation, and petrochemical processing.
Reducing Air Pollution
Air pollution affects everyone. It is now apparent that combined efforts between the public, corporates and local authorities are required to help reduce air pollution. It’s a delicate topic because it has economic consequences. Therefore any strategies to reduce air pollution must balance environmental and economic interests.
But there are several ways of reducing air pollution. They include purchasing household plants, growing trees and plants around your yard, finding ways to move around that reduce pollution, switching to electronics with ENERGY Star ratings, and not burning trash, yard waste, or firewood.
In industrial processes, sintered filters effectively ensure that air pollutants don’t destroy industrial equipment, reducing the cost of maintenance and replacement.