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About Air Pollution
The gas sulphur dioxide (SO2) is commonly emitted from industrial ...


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About Air Pollution

Why Sulphur Dioxide?
The gas sulphur dioxide (SO2) is commonly emitted from industrial stacks during the burning of fossil fuels such as coal. This gas was identified by the Association as an indicator of atmospheric pollution. By monitoring the levels of SO2 at ground level, the behaviour of other gases can be estimated.

Pollution Dispersion
The emissions from industrial stacks become dispersed in the atmosphere. The extent of the dispersion is governed by the weather conditions including wind speed and atmospheric pressure. Gases tend to disperse better during the unstable conditions occurring during the summer months. During winter, the conditions become unfavourable for dispersion due largely to the presence of prolonged temperature inversions. A temperature inversion occurs when the air temperature rises with the increase in height above the ground. Air temperature normally decreases with height above the ground. A layer of warm air can then form a "lid" to the pollution accumulated below. This condition is often exacerbated by the topography such as in a valley.

Air Pollution
Air pollution is the introduction of chemicals, particulate matter, or biological materials that cause harm or discomfort to humans or other living organisms, or cause damage to the natural environment or built environment, into the atmosphere.

Major primary pollutants produced by human activity include:
- Sulphur oxides (SOX) especially sulphur dioxide, a chemical compound with the formula SO2. Sulphur dioxide is produced by volcanoes and in various industrial processes. Since coal and petroleum often contain sulphur compounds, their combustion generates SO2. Further oxidation of SO2, usually in the presence of a catalyst such as NO2, forms H2SO4, and thus acid rain; this is one of the causes for concern over the environmental impact of the use of these fuels as power sources.

- Nitrogen oxides (NOX), especially nitrogen dioxide, are emitted from high temperature combustion can be seen as the brown haze dome above or plume downwind of cities. Nitrogen dioxide is the chemical compound with the formula NO2. It is one of the several nitrogen oxides. This reddish-brown toxic gas has a characteristic sharp, biting odour. NO2 is one of the most prominent air pollutants.

- Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colourless, odourless, non-irritating but very poisonous gas. It is a product by incomplete combustion of fuel such as natural gas, coal or wood. Vehicular exhaust is a major source of carbon monoxide.

- Carbon dioxide (CO2) a colourless, odourless, non-toxic greenhouse gas associated with ocean acidification, emitted from sources such as combustion, cement production, and respiration.

- Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are an important outdoor air pollutant. In this field they are often divided into the separate categories of methane (CH4) and non-methane (NMVOCs). Methane is an extremely efficient greenhouse gas which contributes to enhance global warming. Other hydrocarbon VOCs are also significant greenhouse gases via their role in creating ozone and in prolonging the life of methane in the atmosphere, although the effect varies depending on local air quality. Within the NMVOCs, the aromatic compounds benzene, toluene and xylene are suspected carcinogens and may lead to leukaemia through prolonged exposure. 1,3-butadiene is another dangerous compound which is often associated with industrial uses.

- Particulates alternatively referred to as particulate matter (PM) or fine particles, are tiny particles of solid or liquid suspended in a gas. In contrast, aerosol refers to particles and the gas together. Sources of particulate matter can be manmade or natural. Some particulates occur naturally, originating from volcanoes, dust storms, forest and grassland fires, living vegetation, and sea spray. Human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels in vehicles, power plants and various industrial processes also generate significant amounts of aerosols. Averaged over the globe, anthropogenic aerosols—those made by human activities—currently account for about 10 percent of the total amount of aerosols in our atmosphere. Increased levels of fine particles in the air are linked to health hazards such as heart disease, altered lung function and lung cancer.

- Persistent free radicals connected to airborne fine particles could cause cardiopulmonary disease.

- Toxic metals, such as mercury, lead, cadmium and copper.

- Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) harmful to the ozone layer emitted from products currently banned from use.

- Ammonia (NH3) emitted from agricultural processes. Ammonia is a compound with the formula NH3. It is normally encountered as a gas with a characteristic pungent odour. Ammonia contributes significantly to the nutritional needs of terrestrial organisms by serving as a precursor to foodstuffs and fertilizers. Ammonia, either directly or indirectly, is also a building block for the synthesis of many pharmaceuticals. Although in wide use, ammonia is both caustic and hazardous.

- Odours such as from garbage, sewage, and industrial processes.

- Radioactive pollutants produced by nuclear explosions, war explosives, and natural processes such as the radioactive decay of radon.

Secondary pollutants include:
Particulate matter formed from gaseous primary pollutants and compounds in photochemical smog. Smog is a kind of air pollution; the word "smog" is a portmanteau of smoke and fog. Classic smog results from large amounts of coal burning in an area caused by a mixture of smoke and sulphur dioxide. Modern smog does not usually come from coal but from vehicular and industrial emissions that are acted on in the atmosphere by ultraviolet light from the sun to form secondary pollutants that also combine with the primary emissions to form photochemical smog.

Ground level ozone (O3) formed from NOX and VOCs. Ozone (O3) is a key constituent of the troposphere. It is also an important constituent of certain regions of the stratosphere commonly known as the Ozone layer. Photochemical and chemical reactions involving it drive many of the chemical processes that occur in the atmosphere by day and by night. At abnormally high concentrations brought about by human activities (largely the combustion of fossil fuel), it is a pollutant, and a constituent of smog.

Peroxyacetyl nitrate (PAN) - similarly formed from NOX and VOCs.

Minor air pollutants include:
A large number of minor hazardous air pollutants. Some of these are regulated in USA under the Clean Air Act, in Europe under the Air Framework Directive and in South Africa under the National Environmental Management Air Quality (NEMA) Act.

A variety of persistent organic pollutants, which can become attach to particulate matter.

Related Links about Air Pollution

South African Department of Environmental Affairs

South African Air Quality Information System

United States Environmental protection Agency (US-EPA)

United Nations

European Commission

World Health Organisation

World Bank

International Finance Corporation

Equator Principles

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For more information, contact :

The Richards Bay Clean Air Association:

Public Officer - Mrs Sandy Camminga
Tel: + 27 35 786 0076
Mobile: + 27 83 515 2384
Fax: + 27 35 907 5340

PO Box 10299