In recent years, the fight against air pollution has become global. Humanity, at least when we are speaking about developed countries, starts to realize finally that the Earth is our common home which can get not suitable for living in the near future. Atmospheric pollution takes place when substances harmful for living creatures diffuse throughout the surrounding air, and then this destructive activity has its toxic impact later since it causes global changes of climate of the Earth.
Processes of global warming, oxidation of world ocean, melting of the ice caps at the poles, thinning of the ozone layer, dense smog over metropolitan areas – these are only a part of the problems that have arisen as a result of air pollution. Generally speaking, air pollution is a penetration of physical, chemical and/or biological contents into air that are usually not common for air, or a change of natural concentration of these contents in the air.
The most important indicators of air pollution are carbon monoxide (CO), ozone (O3), sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2). With the increase in their permissible concentration in the air these gases affect both the environment and human well-being.
• Carbon monoxide (CO)
Any process during which the partial burning of carbon-containing substance happens is a possible source of producing of carbon monoxide.
Carbon monoxide occurs in the atmosphere as a byproduct of industrial plants; petroleum industry and chemical plants contribute to a large amount of carbon monoxide production. The main sources of carbon monoxide are the burning of fossil fuels and the exhaust gases of internal combustion engines. This gas is extremely toxic.
In a human body carbon monoxide is inhaled with air and comes to blood where it combines with hemoglobin to produce carboxyhemoglobin, which assumes the space in hemoglobin that normally carries oxygen, but carboxyhemoglobin is ineffective for delivering oxygen to bodily tissues. Thus it causes seizure, coma and fatality. The most significant damage is caused to central nervous system. Breathing a small concentration of carbon monoxide results in a feeling of heaviness, a feeling of squeezing in head, a heavy headache, severe pain in forehead and temples, dizziness, tremors, thirst, increased heart rate, nausea, vomiting, a rise in body temperature to 38-40C. Weakness in legs indicates influence of carbon monoxide on the spinal cord. High toxicity of carbon monoxide and its lack of colour, odour and taste make this gas extremely dangerous.
• Ozone (O3)
Actually ozone is present in a low concentration throughout the Earth's atmosphere. Ozone is an allotrope of oxygen and is vital for living creatures. Ozone gas forms the crucial ozone layer between about 10 km and 30 km above the Earth’s surface preventing damaging ultraviolet light from reaching the Earth's surface, to the benefit of both plants and animals. But in close proximity to a human being ozone is much less salutary.
Ozone is a substance of the highest, the first class of hazard since it is a very strong oxidizer, which is extremely toxic to humans, and is the third largest greenhouse gas originating in human activity of environmental pollution.
As a component of smog, ozone is not discharged to the atmosphere, and is formed by the action of daylight UV rays on ozone precursors. Ozone precursors are a group of pollutants, predominantly those emitted during the combustion of fossil fuels; these are nitrogen oxides, volatile hydrocarbons and some other compounds.
Ozone is harmful to living beings, its action slow but serious. Long-term exposure to air rich in ozone has been shown to increase risk of cardiovascular diseases, respiratory problems, developing atherosclerosis.
Exposure to high ozone concentration above the permissible limit values is linked to headache, mucosal irritation, coughing, dizziness, fatigue, weak cardiac activity. Breathing of ozone leads to emergence or exacerbation of respiratory diseases, populations at risk are children, the elderly, and asthmatics.
Ozone adversely affects not only human health, but it is also harmful for agriculture: tons of crop of rice, wheat, soybeans and corn are lost annually due to toxicity of this gas.
• Sulfur dioxide (SO2)
Sulfur dioxide is the most common air contaminant as many sorts of fuel contain sulfur. This gas has a general toxic effect and causes respiratory problems. Symptoms of poisoning are the following: a cough, rheum, hoarseness, strong sore throat and a peculiar taste in the mouth. Breathing of high concentration of sulfur dioxide results in difficulty swallowing, choking, speech disorder, nausea and vomiting, acute pulmonary edema may develop.
• Nitrogen dioxide (NO2)
Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is a reddish-brown gas that has a characteristic sharp, biting odor. The main sources of nitrogen dioxide are internal combustion engines burning fossil fuels. Often this brown gas is called “Megapolis gas”. Its presence in the atmosphere contributes to acid rains and reduces the ozone layer. Nitrogen dioxide is highly toxic, and it adversely affects the sense of smell. Thus, a 10-minute inhalation of nitrogen dioxide is enough for a person to stop feeling smell; dryness in the throat appears, mucous membranes become irritated. Even small concentrations of nitrogen dioxide irritate the respiratory tract, and high concentrations cause pulmonary edema. Along with influence on the respiratory tract and lungs, nitrogen causes changes in blood composition, in particular, it reduces hemoglobin concentration in blood. Cancer and cardiovascular diseases are the results of the harmful effects of nitrogen dioxide.
One of the challenges of global and local assessment of the environmental situation consists in the fact that the values of the basic indicators vary widely not only from region to region but also even within a few kilometers. It depends on many factors such as anthropogenic (the proximity of fuel combustion sources, of industrial plants, actively ongoing agriculture and street traffic) and weather factors (wind direction, humidity and sunlight). Geographical location of sources of pollution and objects under consideration is not less important. All this must be taken into account in making forecasts, in development of measures to fix critical situations and in creating long-term plans for environmental improvement.
One should understand that all these measures are unity of specific factors, which can be measured, calculated, forecast, and as a result, regulated. And modern technologies already allow doing that.
Not wanting to stay away from the solution of world problems, OWM company has released a new product called “Air quality data” based on the technology of Big Data Platform in April 2016. There is a package of APIs for data on the main indicators of air pollution, on the basis of which it is possible to adequately and accurately evaluate the environmental situation anywhere in the world and create forecasts for the adoption of preventive measures.
APIs for historical data (since November 2015) allow to create analytical services for the analysis of situation in the past, taking into account the impact of seasonal, weather and anthropogenic factors. It also helps making conclusions on necessary measures to improve the environmental situation across the countries and even continents.
However no matter how advanced technology is, people and their determination to take the necessary steps have always been and will be the crucial power in preventing a potential disaster.