What Is Ambient Air?

CFC compounds, used in aerosol sprays prior to 1995, destroy the ozone layer.
Air pollution contributes to the depletion of the ozone layer.
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  • Written By: H. Schonthal
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 13 October 2014
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Ambient air is the outdoor air in which humans and other organisms live and breathe. Its content and quality are directly affected by the day-to-day activities of humans. In turn, ambient air quality has a direct effect on both public health and the welfare of the Earth's ecosystems.

Air normally has no color, odor, or taste. It is a mixture of gases, primarily nitrogen, at about 78%, and oxygen, at about 21%, with the remaining 1% composed of carbon dioxide, methane, hydrogen, argon, and helium. Human activities, such as manufacturing and the burning of fossil fuels, cause changes in the chemical composition of ambient air through the release of chemical and industrial pollutants into the atmosphere.

Air pollutants may include gases or particulate matter, which are small particles of dust, smoke, ash, pollen, or other substances. Many air pollutants have been found to be harmful to both the environment and human health. Pollutants known to have adverse health effects are called criteria pollutants. Criteria pollutants include ozone, lead, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter.

Certain populations are most likely to be adversely affected by criteria pollutants in ambient air. These include infants, children, the elderly, and people with cardiopulmonary conditions. In children, criteria pollutants have been shown to increase the risk of respiratory tract infections and worsen the severity of asthma attacks. In adults, exposure to particulate matter is associated with an increased risk of hospitalization and death due to cardiovascular disease.


In the environment, changes in ambient air contribute to the development of acid rain and the greenhouse effect, the trapping of solar radiation in the Earth's atmosphere due to the presence of carbon dioxide, methane, and other gases. Air pollution also contributes to depletion of the ozone layer, the region of the atmosphere that protects the Earth from harmful types of ultraviolet radiation.

To combat the detrimental effects of ambient air pollution, air quality standards have been established throughout the industrialized world. First enacted in the United States in 1970, the Clean Air Act required the Environmental Protection Agency to set National Ambient Air Quality Standards for criteria pollutants. These standards are designed to safeguard the public health, ensure the welfare of animals and crops, and protect the health of the Earth’s ecosystems.


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Post 3

Thank you for this article. I am going to be doing a unit on ambient air, gas, and pollution for my class next semester, and this really gave me a good jumping off point to start my research.

The only thing I would like to learn a little bit more about is how you can monitor the temperature of ambient air. I thought that it might be a fun experiment for the kids in my class to monitor the temperature with one of those ambient air temperature gauges, and see how it differs from other temperature gauges.

Could you give me a little information about how to do this?

Post 2

My daughter has severe allergies, so we're really familiar with the whole process of ambient air monitoring.

When she was younger, before we knew what was going on, my daughter used to always have a cold. It was one of those things were at first you think it's just a long-term virus or something, but after a year of her continually carrying tissues around and having chronic sinus infections, we finally found a doctor who told us that she was actually allergic to the air where we lived.

At the time we were living in a very urban area with a lot of pollution and very little monitoring. All the pollution was continually irritating her respiratory system, sending it into overdrive trying to clean itself.

Well, we actually ended up moving, and that, combined with medication, has really helped a lot. And the funny thing is, I actually feel a lot healthier too just living in a cleaner area. It's really amazing just how much dirty ambient air can affect us, and how easy it is to not notice!

Post 1

Excellent article. So many people just never think about how the ambient air effects them on a daily basis, but it really does have such a powerful influence on your life.

Although some news stations have started offering ambient air monitoring as part of their weather broadcasts, I think that most people still really don't understand why it's important.

Well, let me clear it up a little bit for you. Polluted air causes a whole host of diseases and conditions, from your basic cold and cough type of thing to asthma, lung cancer, and even cardiovascular disease.

This is because air (via breathing) is such an important part of how the body functions, and when you continually breathe in dirty air, it's just like putting dirty gas in your car's tank. Although it might keep running for a while, eventually you're going to see some damage.

Unfortunately, many people simply don't realize this until it's too late because we adjust to the different levels of pollution and don't even realize its there until something goes seriously wrong.

However, there are a lot of things you can do to prevent this. Keep up with the ambient air sampling on the weather channel (if you have it) and avoid heavy pollution days. Also, consider investing in an ambient air cleaner -- you'll notice a difference immediately, and you will just feel better.

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