Major pollutants
20
March
2007

Whenever there is a talk about the environmental issues caused by the use of fossil fuels, especially those used in the automobiles, a list of polluting agents who are playing the villainous roles are targeted. Most of these are the byproducts of the combustion of the fuels, while others are the chemicals used in the operation of the engines and batteries.

The pollutants created by the vehicle emission fall into two categories – solid pollutants and gaseous pollutants. Let us analyze each pollutant along with the hazards associated with it.

Carbon monoxide (CO) – A poisonous gas produced as a result of incomplete combustion of fossil fuels or any fuel containing hydrocarbons. Carbon monoxide when inhaled combines with the hemoglobin in the blood and forms a compound called carboxyhemoglobin. Carboxyhemoglobin affects the supply of oxygen from the blood to different body parts, causing severe coronary problems leading to death. Generally known as carbon monoxide poisoning, it is affecting largely those who have a history of respiratory problems.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) – Commonly known as green house gas (GHG), CO2 is the major contributing agent to global warming. As the reports show, the temperature of the earth has increased by 0.6 ± 0.2°C since the late 19th century. A great percentage of the emissions from the fossil fuels are carbon dioxide.

Nitrogen oxides (NO and NO2) – These powerful gases are produced when fuel is burned at a very high temperature. The hazards of these compounds in the air are many. Nitrogen oxides along with the air particles form a reddish suspension in the air. When the humidity is high, these gases combine with water particles and form acid rain. Acid rain is found to be one of the reasons for the tarnishing of archeological structures and buildings. When inhaled, these gases cause serious threats to the respiratory system.

Sulfur dioxide (SO2) – Sulfur is present in the raw form in the fossil fuels such as coal and petroleum. When these fuels are burnt, SO2¬ ¬ is formed. This gas dissolves in water easily and forms sulfuric acid, which in turn results in another form of acid rain. Due to the stringent measures adopted by the EPA in the use of such pollutants, the emission of SO2 has been reduced by more than a third in the past 30 years.

Lead – The main source of lead in the atmosphere is the automobiles. Though leaded gasoline is not used nowadays in most of the vehicles as a fuel, lead batteries still pause a threat to the environment. When inhaled, lead directly affects the brain, nerves, and kidneys and causes severe damage to the respiratory system. As a result of the drastic steps taken by the EPA, the amount of lead has been reduced considerably. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey reported that the levels of lead in the blood samples of people have been decreased by about 78%.

Yet, we have more miles to go, and the clock ticks remind us of the imminent disasters in terms of global warming and other hazards associated with that. New technology, such as the hybrid cars and the use of alternate fuels are talked about as the only solution to this situation.

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