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Blowin' in the Wind, Issue #071 Air Quality in the United States - Oct 1, 2009
September 30, 2009
The Air Quality in the United States
When we think of air pollution, most of us feel the air quality in the United States is okay and that the air we breathe is safe. After all, we don't see a gray haze lingering overhead or sooty particles raining on our cities. But air pollution, like a virus, cannot always be seen by the naked eye. The Air Quality Index (AQI), a measuring stick of sorts that is used by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has proved this fact.
There are different types of pollution that are sharing our airspace, thieves silently entering our bodies and causing disease over time, especially bronchitis, lung cancer and heart deterioration. In addition to human ailments, poor air quality in the United States also threatens our plants and trees, kill animals and takes over rivers where fish are contaminated.
Air polluting compoundsSulfur dioxide (SO2) is a chemical compound that is made by volcanoes, which we have very little control over, but is also created by different industrial processes, namely coal and petroleum. Nitrogen oxide (NO2) is formed when a mixture of air and fuel reaches high temperatures as is found in the internal combustion engines of our vehicles and industrial equipment. In very low doses, these two compounds have little effect but in cities with factories and many cars, the air quality in the United States becomes a problem and the results can be overwhelming to our atmosphere.
Examples of US air pollutionTwenty-eight eastern states have been found to contain high amounts of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides because of the industrial nature of this area. In 2005, the EPA declared a new rule, the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR), designed to reduce sulfur dioxide by 70% and nitrogen oxides by 60% by 2015. According to studies, this would reduce health costs by $2 billion and curb premature death.
Acid rain is an example of how we never see what lives in our atmosphere. Acid deposition, as it is also called, is caused when compounds of sulfur, nitrogen, and carbon mix with precipitation in the air and produce acids. This type of pollution is also measured regularly and the major cause is the power we use in our modern lives. Coal, natural gas and oil all play a heavy role in creating this impure air. One or all of these fossil fuels powers electricity. It would be impossible to live without this basic necessity today.
The importance of renewable fuels is starting to be realized but is it too late? The air quality in the United States has been taking a beating for a hundred years and the deteriorating health of millions of people is beginning to show. The EPA was formed in 1970 and today has 17,000 employees working hard to educate people, research, and study ways to lower the pollution and measuring acceptable levels to keep the public safe.
Now that we have the what, when, and why, we need to focus on what to do next. It is going to take a combined effort of the United States in order to undo what we have spent years abusing. Start with your own personal space and community and get involved. The more you learn, the more you will understand the importance of our air quality now and in the future.
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