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What Are the Causes of Industrial Air Pollution?

Xylene is a toxic chemical often found in industrial air pollution.
The burning of fossil fuels increases the ground-level amount of ozone-creating volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Smoke stacks release a large amount of VOCs and SO2.
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  • Written By: Elizabeth West
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 08 September 2014
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Industrial air pollution, caused by the release of particulates and chemicals during manufacturing, is a serious health problem in industrialized nations. Waste from mechanical and chemical industries is exhausted into the air, much the way a car puts out fumes from its tailpipe. These substances combine with ozone in the air to produce smog, which when inhaled causes breathing difficulties and can kill susceptible people. Air quality monitoring helps alert populations to air pollution levels that may be dangerous. Preventing it requires a combination of legal regulations and technology.

Chemicals that are common in industrial air pollution include volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as methane benzene, toluene, and xylene, from industrial processes and evaporation of fuel and chemicals. Sulfur dioxide (SO2) and carbon monoxide are produced by combustion of fuel matter, such as petroleum and coal. Various particulates can be expelled by volcanoes, forest fires, and other natural occurrences, but unfiltered air and smoke from fuel combustion and industrial activity accounts for about 10% of man-made particulate pollutants.

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All of these chemicals and particulates contribute to industrial air pollution. They combine with ozone in the air to form smog, which looks like a dirty brown fog and substantially lowers air quality. Cars emit a large proportion of pollutants but, with more regulatory controls and fuel-efficient models, this source has been reduced somewhat. Smoke stacks on power plants and industrial incinerators release a large amount of VOCs and SO2. Landfills generate methane, which is not toxic but is very flammable and can also displace oxygen in enclosed spaces, causing suffocation.

Ground-level ozone combined with pollutants reduces lung function and causes inflammation. Patients with asthma living in polluted areas report more frequent attacks and an increased need for medication and doctor visits than in areas with less smog. Health effects from industrial air pollution are more severe for people who have conditions such as asthma or cardiovascular issues. People most at risk include children, asthma sufferers, others with respiratory problems, and adults who engage in outdoor activities. Susceptible people should pay attention to air quality monitoring announcements and take appropriate precautions, such as staying indoors, wearing a mask, and keeping medications on hand in case they are needed.

In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) authors and enforces regulations concerning health and environmental concerns. Regulatory committees, such as the European Commission’s environmental body, oversee legislation adopted by member states to ensure pollution stays under control. Use of land planning strategies and reduction efforts, such as particulate collectors, VOC absorption systems, and exhaust recirculation, will help keep industrial air pollution from escaping and keep the air clean for everyone.

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