The monument had stood in the Egyptian sands for over 35 centuries. “Cleopatra’s Needle” it was called, and it had thousands of beautiful carvings and drawings all upon it. Somehow the ancient monument had survived the raging desert sands and hot Egyptian sun for over three thousand years.
In 1880 the monument was transferred to downtown New York. A hundred years later, the monument had eroded away so that all the drawings upon it had completely disappeared. What the sandstorms of Egypt for 3500 years could not do had been accomplished by the polluted air of New York City. The ancient drawings had been eaten away by the sulfur oxides in the dirty city air.
The chemicals in the air today are equally destructive of human health and life, and with every breath you take, you are taking in chemical compounds that never even existed a few years ago.
Air pollution and the chemicals we are forced to breathe should be an area of great concern to the health seeker. Much more important than the food we eat is the air we breathe. After all, you only eat about three times a day. You breathe about fifteen times every minute. Clean, pure air is one of the primary requisites for superior health. This lesson discusses the chemicals that are now in our air supply, and what we can do about them.
1.1 The Sea of Air
A philosopher once said, “The fish shall be the last to discover water.” He meant that it is often hard to see clearly what is often taken for granted. Humans take the air they breathe for granted, and we always assume that each morning we can wake up and take a nice, deep breath of life-giving air. Some day that might not be the case.
Almost all life on earth is supported by a layer of air less than two miles thick. Without this protective layer of air, the earth would reach a daily high temperature of 230 degrees, and drop to an overnight low of 300 degrees below zero.
Right now, we have about six thousand billion tons of air on this planet. We won’t run out of air, but we may run out of breathable air in the near future. Almost all of our air is either nitrogen (78%) or oxygen (21%). A gas called argon makes up 95% of the remaining atmosphere, and carbon dioxide takes up another 3% of the remaining air. Less than two-hundreths of a percent of our atmosphere contains other gases, such as helium, neon, methane, ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and carbon monoxide.
Yet in that small percentage of other gases lies the pollution problem. Only a very small amount of dangerous gases and chemicals need to be present in the atmosphere to affect all of us greatly.
1.2 Nature’s Balance
Naturally occurring air is never completely clean. There has always been foreign matter in the atmosphere in the form of volcanic ash, pollen, spores, salt particles from the ocean, and even cosmic dust from the upper atmosphere. These particles actually serve a useful function in the play of nature by acting as a stimulus for rain and precipitation.
The foreign particles fall to earth with the rain and the air is cleaned. Meanwhile, plants are busy recycling carbon dioxide into oxygen, and the giant oceans are recirculating and cleaning the air all over the planet.
But then the balance was upset. With the coal-burning industries of the nineteenth century, abnormally large amounts of foreign particles and gases escaped into the air. The rain could no longer clear the air completely, and the oceans became polluted. The oxygen-producing forests and fields were leveled and made into concrete sites for buildings.
More garbage was being dumped into the air than nature could handle. Finally, the whole atmosphere all over the globe became contaminated, dirty, and unhealthy.
1.3 What Is Air Pollution?
Air pollution is defined as substances or radiations in the atmosphere which harm living organisms or their environment. Normally, as we have seen, the atmosphere is self-purifying. However, when a high concentration of unnatural wastes is discharged into the air, then the atmosphere becomes overburdened and polluted.
Eventually the pollutants in the air may be precipitated from the atmosphere when it rains. When this occurs, the pollution falls onto the land or water, and contaminates this part of our environment.
1.4 What Causes Air Pollution?
Air pollution is caused in one of three ways: surface friction, vaporization, and combustion.
Friction is a minor cause of air pollutants. Such things as sawing, drilling, and grinding various materials release airborne particles which may find their way into your lungs eventually. For most people, friction is not a major source of pollution unless they are workers in a mine, mill, or other industry that releases small particles into the air.
Vaporization occurs when a liquid becomes a gas. A good example is paint thinner. When the can is opened, certain fumes escape as vapor into the atmosphere. Gasoline also undergoes vaporization, as do paints, glues, and other chemical compounds. This is only a major source of pollution when a nearby industry is engaged in making these products, or is working with rubber or plastic which can also vaporize.
Combustion is the real villain as the cause of air pollutants. Combustion is simply the burning of a solid or liquid into a gas. For instance, your car works on combustion by turning gasoline into various hot gases.
When combustion occurs, heat and light are usually released. Unfortunately, other chemicals and gases are also released into the atmosphere. Some of these chemicals are harmful, and are the major factors in polluting our air.
In fact, a quick study of the air pollution problem is really just a description of these chemicals and how they get into our atmosphere.