Smog And Its Effects On Environmental Health

A young man in Beijing wears a mask to protect his respiratory tract from smog in one of the world's worst urban areas in terms of air quality.
A young man in Beijing wears a mask to protect his respiratory tract from smog in one of the world's worst urban areas in terms of air quality.

5. What Is Smog?

The term "smog" was coined in the early 20th Century by combining the words "smoke" and "fog". Smog is a form of air pollution which highly reduces visibility on land. Smog is primarily produced as a result of industry and automobile generated air pollution and is a common occurrence in many industrial and urban areas of the world today. Smog adversely affects life in these areas, creating visibility constraints, respiratory troubles and other ill effects on the health of people, plants and animals inhabiting the area.

4. Historical Role

The rapid pace of industrialization in various parts of the world in the early to mid-20th Century was accompanied by the then new and emerging major form of environmental pollution, the smog. Earliest forms of smog were detected in London, Los Angeles, and some other major cities of the world, which was followed by a rigorous investigation of the cause of this form of air pollution. There is some confusion regarding the coinage of the term smog. While most believe that Dr. Henry Antoine Des Voeux was the first person to coin the term smog which was then published in the London newspaper the Daily Graphic, others claim that the term was first mentioned in a 1893 article published in the Los Angeles Times.

3. Human And Wildlife Health Hazards

Smog is extremely detrimental to the health of all living organisms. In humans, the most severe effects of smog is experienced by the aged people, children and those who are already suffering from respiratory illnesses like asthma and bronchitis. Smog allows the toxic gases like carbon monoxide, ozone, and nitrogen dioxide to remain suspended close to the ground, leading to the inhalation of these gases by people. Particulate matter, such as in the form of carbon dust, is also inhaled by people from the air in addition to the toxic gases, which leads to their deposition in the lung cavity and respiratory tract, causing severe respiratory distress. Chronic respiratory diseases might develop as a result of inhalation of smog over long periods of time and lung cancer might also be one of the possibilities. Acute exposure to smog for short periods of time might cause eye and nose irritation, dizziness and breathing difficulties. Smog has also been related to birth defects in newborns and low birth weight. Plants and animals in the area affected by smog also suffer significant stress under such unhealthy conditions and wildlife affected by smog might also develop similar adverse health conditions similar to humans.

2. Major Sources and Areas Most Affected

Coal fires and automobile exhausts are the two major sources of particulate matter and toxic gases that give rise to smog. Coal is burnt for a variety of industrial power generation activities as well as for powering the household heat and electricity needs. Automobile exhausts also release large volumes of particulate matter and gases into the air as by-products of fuel burning. A special type of smog, known as photochemical smog which results in ground-level ozone formation is generated when sunlight reacts with suspended gases like nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds, to form ozone. Smog affects highly industrialized areas of the world, large metropolitan cities with high population density and large volumes of traffic as well as areas where pollution control measures are weakly implemented. Delhi in India is the world’s most polluted city where smog and other forms of pollution often reach alarming levels, severely impacting the health of its citizens. Beijing in China, several cities and industrial hubs of the United States, London in the United Kingdom, Mexico City in Mexico, and several Southeast Asian cities are among the most severely smog-affected areas of the world.

1. Mitigating Smog

Smog mitigation requires strong implementation of anti-pollution laws by the government as well as corrective measures adopted by the public living in the areas affected by smog. Alternative means of transport like bicycling can help reduce air pollution. Walking to work if the workplace is located nearby can improve both individual and environmental health. Carpools and public transport use might also reduce the burden of toxic fumes and particulate matter released into the air by the large number of private vehicles. Pollution check on cars must be regularly implemented to ensure that the vehicles do not release pollutants that is over the legal limit. Alternative sources of energy like solar power, and wind power might help to reduce the dependence on fossil fuel burning. The excessive use of substances that release volatile organic compounds, like home paints, must also be avoided as much as possible.


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