• What Pollutants Are Measured in the Air? - Carbon Dioxide

Air Monitoring

What Pollutants Are Measured in the Air? - Carbon Dioxide

Jan 10 2022

Carbon dioxide one of the most common forms of air pollution and is so inextricably linked with the idea of climate change that it has become a byword for it. When power stations, manufacturing plants and other industrial facilities speak about their environmental performance, they often do so in terms of their “carbon footprint”, which is really shorthand for the entire range of pollutants they emit.

The reason for the conflation of the concepts is that carbon dioxide, or CO2, has the biggest impact upon global warming of any contaminant emitted through anthropogenic activities. But what are the primary sources of CO2 emissions? How does it impact the environment and the human body? And what is being done to address the issue?

Where does CO2 come from?

CO2 is a natural element that is essential to all life on planet Earth. Humans inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, while plants absorb CO2 and, through the process of photosynthesis, convert it into energy, with oxygen as a by-product. However, the Industrial Revolution and the 200+ years of heavy industry which followed it have seen CO2 levels in our atmosphere become imbalanced.

The biggest sources of CO2 production are the combustion of fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas. These are used to generate energy for lighting and heating our homes and businesses, as well as powering our vehicles. As such, CO2 is produced through a wide variety of industrial processes, including those in the fields of energy, transport, agriculture, refrigeration, fashion, manufacturing and many, many more.

What are the effects of CO2 emissions?

As one of the most prevalent and most potent greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide has a sizable effect on global warming. This is because it is capable of trapping heat in the Earth’s atmosphere and thus raising global temperatures, which can exacerbate climate change. Already noticeable effects of excessive CO2 levels include more frequent and more intense extreme weather events, while longer term outcomes include the melting of the polar icecaps, the rising of sea levels and hotter temperatures.

Besides those potentially catastrophic consequences on the environment, CO2 is also damaging to the human body in high concentrations. Of course, it’s a natural part of ecosystem and as such, is not normally dangerous in the levels found in our atmosphere. However, high levels of CO2 can cause respiratory problems, fatigue, increased heart rate and sweating. In extreme cases, it can lead to convulsions, comas and asphyxiation.

What is being done to address CO2 pollution?

The best way to tackle CO2 pollution is to transition away from fossil fuels to cleaner sources of energy generation. This means phasing out coal power plants and ceasing extraction operations on gas and oil fields, while promoting the use of renewable energy such as wind, wave and solar power. Electric vehicles (EVs) are also replacing internal combustion engines in a bid to bring down CO2 emissions.

Given that we have relied on fossil fuels for so long and much of our infrastructure depends so heavily on them, that transition is by no means an easy thing to achieve. As such, scientists have been working on ways to reduce carbon emissions from current sources of energy generation, with carbon capture and storage a promising avenue of investigation. While the technology is not yet widespread and relies on CO2 purity analysis to be viable, it has shown promise in the limited applications it has experienced to date.

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International Environmental Technology 32.3 - May/June 2022

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