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Air pollution environmental problem

Air pollution - cause, consequences and solutions of the environmental problem

The air pollution is one of the largest Environmental problems of our time. Cars, agriculture, airplanes and especially industry pollute the air we breathe. There is no truly clean air anywhere. Even though air pollution is particularly high in large cities, this environmental problem knows no bounds. Wind and weather drive the pollutants into seemingly clean, rural regions. Air pollution has global consequences. That is why this environmental problem concerns us all.

In this article I would like to show you not only the definition but also statistics, causes, consequences and possible solutions in the fight against air pollution.

What is air pollution?

Air pollution environmental problem
How do you actually define the term air pollution?

By air pollution is meant, in general terms, the contamination of the air compared to its normal state. A really clean air is normally composed of 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, 0.9% argon, and 0.04% carbon dioxide. together. In this state, our ambient air would create ideal conditions for a healthy life.

The following pollutants are generally classified as air pollution:

  • Ozone (O3): The gas is produced in the air when exposed to high-energy radiation and electrical charges. It is a strong oxidizing agent that can have health consequences for humans, for example in the form of respiratory diseases.
  • Nitrogen oxides (NO + NO2): Nitrogen oxides (Nitric Oxide (NO) and Nitrogen dioxide (NO2)) are primarily involved in particulate matter pollution and summer ozone formation. They are increasingly produced in the course of agriculture. The gases can have a negative impact on biological processes not only in humans, but also in plants. In plants, for example, leaf growth is reduced, which in turn results in considerable crop losses.
  • Carbon monoxide (CO): The toxic gas carbon monoxide is produced when fuels containing carbon are burned. It is therefore produced particularly in road traffic as a result of vehicle exhaust emissions - and greatly increases the risk of respiratory diseases.
  • Sulfur dioxide (SO2): This toxic gas, which irritates the mucous membranes, is mainly formed when coal or heating oil is burned in industry, but also in households. The gas causes "acid rain", which can destroy entire ecosystems and pollute buildings.
  • Particulate Matter (PM): Solid and liquid dust particles that are released into the air by exhaust fumes, tire and brake wear in traffic and in industry, e.g. from power plants. PM 10 is fine dust with a maximum diameter of 10 µm. PM 2.5 to 2.5 µm and everything below 0.1 µm is referred to as ultra-fine dust particles. PM pollution is measured in µg/m³. (micrograms per cubic meter)

In the next paragraph, you will find out to what extent we humans blow these pollutants into the air.

Causes of air pollution

We know that we pollute the air we breathe with harmful substances. But to what extent are we doing this? In order to find out what we can do about the air pollution of our planet, we need to learn more about the causes of this environmental problem.

We contribute to air pollution by doing the following things:

  • Industry: Industry primarily emits sulphur dioxide, carbon dioxide and particulate matter. This occurs, for example, in mining, in the manufacture of consumer goods and in the pharmaceutical and fertilizer industries.
  • Traffic: Road traffic not only generates Microplasticsbut a significant proportion of climate-damaging greenhouse gases. Diesel cars emit particularly high levels of nitrogen dioxide - the majority of which is attributable to diesel cars and commercial vehicles.
  • Agriculture: In Germany, more than 50% of methane emissions and 95% of ammonia emissions were caused by agriculture in 2016. Livestock farming in particular contributes significantly to methane emissions in agriculture.
  • Households: The growing number of household appliances (televisions, laptops, smartphones, fridges) and single-person households in general (higher heating costs per m²) are increasingly polluting our air - both directly and indirectly. Of course, the increased number also plays a decisive role in the share of households in air pollution.
  • Natural causes: Natural events such as volcanic eruptions, forest fires or normal pollen counts can also contribute a small amount of air pollution. I don't want to forget that, even if the proportion is negligible.

While industry mainly uses sulphur oxides and CO2 blows into the environment, traffic is particularly responsible for the formation of nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide. Agriculture also plays a key role in the release of nitrogen oxides as well as ammonia and methane into the atmosphere.D

Statistics on air pollution

Air pollution environmental problem causes consequences solutions
Fine dust values in Germany (PM10) - development from 1990 to 2015 / Source: Federal Environment Agency

Basically, we can already say that we are on the right track in Germany - because we have been able to significantly reduce air pollution. However, this does not mean that we can rest on our laurels. Above all, it is important to work together with developing countries to combat air pollution. The following statistics provide a brief insight into the reasons for this:

  • 520.000 people died prematurely in 2014 as a result of air pollution. In Germany alone, the environmental problem cost 80,000 people many years of their lives.₁
  • The limit value for nitrogen dioxide pollution in German cities is 40 µg/m³. Nevertheless Munich (78 µg/m³) and Stuttgart (73 µg/m³) by far the most air-polluted cities in Germany in 2017.
  • In Onitsha (Nigeria), the prevailing 594 µg/m³ (PM) has by far the highest air pollution of any city in the world. In particular, cities from Nigeria, Pakistan, India, Saudi Arabia and China are among the top 20 most polluted cities.₂
  • In 2016, the causes of nitrogen oxide emissions in Germany were found to be 39,9% the trafficr, to 24.2% of the energy industry, to 10.6% the households, to 10.4% of agriculture, to 7.2% the manufacturing sector and to 7.1% industrial processes assigned.₃

There is a major global problem with air pollution. You can find out what consequences this has in the next paragraph.

Consequences of air pollution

How we deal with our air is of course not without consequences. Even though air pollution in Germany is generally on the decline, people and the environment in many developing countries suffer particularly from smog. The environmental problem, which is almost exclusively caused by us humans, ultimately harms our own health as well as our environment.

Consequences for our health

Air pollution environmental problem

Even if the air pollution is barely visible, the effects on our health must not be underestimated. Health should not be underestimated. The higher the exposure in your environment, the greater the risk of suffering from the following health complaints.

  • Respiratory diseases: Fine dust particles (0.1 to 2.5 μm, PM2.5) penetrate undamaged through the nose, throat and windpipe into the bronchial tubes. This can result in reduced lung function, an asthma attack and even bronchitis.
  • Cardiovascular disease: Ultrafine dust particles have a diameter of less than 100 nanometers and are therefore 1000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair.₄ They cannot be pre-filtered by the nose, throat and windpipe and therefore penetrate our bloodstream unharmed in the rain. The consequences can even include a heart attack.
  • Higher mortality: It has already been scientifically confirmed that one consequence of air pollution is a reduction in life expectancy.

These effects of polluted air provide good reasons to take action against air pollution and reduce our own emissions.

Consequences for the environment & climate

Unfortunately, air pollution has considerable negative consequences for our natural environment. For example, these contribute significantly to climate change and are the reason why we currently have to do everything in our power to Stop climate change.

These consequences for our environment are attributed to air pollution:

  • Agriculture: The emission of nitrogen oxides in particular can have a negative impact on the growth of plant leaves. In addition, soils are becoming increasingly infertile, which not only has serious consequences for all living organisms that depend on them, but also has a decisive, negative economic effect.
  • Ecosystems: Sulphur and nitrogen oxides pose a significant threat to our ecosystems. Air pollution threatens to over-acidify and over-fertilize sensitive habitats. Tree damage is also a frequent consequence for the environment.
  • Climate: Particulate matter and soot have a direct impact on the greenhouse effect and climate change. In addition, increasing acid rain is a threat to plant life CO2 binds.

Behind these consequences hangs a long rat's tail of further problems for humans, animals and nature.

Consequences for the economy & society

Anyone who now still gets the idea that air pollution is not a serious problem may have an economic interest in keeping the air clean.

These are the consequences of air pollution from an economic point of view:

  • Crop failures: As the growth of plants and the fertility of the soil are negatively affected by the polluted air, crop failures are a logical consequence.
  • Damage to buildings: As described, the combustion of coal and heating oil produces toxic sulphur dioxide. The resulting acid rain has an aggressive effect on buildings and therefore entails high follow-up costs.
  • Health care costs: This not only results in high costs for the state, but also for each and every one of us citizens. This is because respiratory and cardiovascular diseases are unfortunately a frequent consequence of air pollution. This also results in higher health costs.
  • Psychological changes: A study in Seoul₅ (South Korea) found that air pollution makes us more anxious, depressed, immoral and criminal. A survey also revealed that more than one in two Germans feel stressed by air pollution.₆

This overview should make it clear that air pollution is a problem for all people and all sectors. Whether private households or business groups. In the end, every living being on this planet suffers from this environmental problem.

What to do about air pollution?

Air pollution environmental problem

In order to do something about air pollution, it is fundamentally important to divide the environmental problem into geographical, substance-related and problem-related ones. This is because not every region has the same level of air pollution and the same pollutants are not emitted everywhere.

In the following, I would therefore like to create sensible solutions to the environmental problem of air pollution.

Solutions in the private household

Even if not all of us are farmers or work in industry, everyone can play their part in the fight against air pollution in their everyday lives. The following approaches are recommended for private households:

In principle, however, the Zero Waste Lifestyle and the minimalist lifestyle naturally plays a major role in the fight against air pollution. After all, the fewer products that have to be produced, the lower the pollutant emissions from industry.

Politics & economy against air pollution

Even though we can do a lot for clean air in our everyday lives, the greatest responsibility lies with politicians. The following measures and decisions can contribute to solving the environmental problem:

  • Stricter control of limit values
  • Subsidize renewable energies more heavily
  • Expansion of public transport in cities
  • Introduce driving bans & speed limits

Voluntary measures have never really brought about any change. Clear laws and bans as well as stricter controls and penalties are therefore needed above all to further stop air pollution.

Tip: At Minimize air pollution I have put together a detailed article with valuable tips on how to combat your personal contribution to the environmental problem of air pollution.

Together against air pollution

As you can see, air pollution is one of the biggest environmental problems of our time. But each and every one of us can do something about it, educate people and set a good example. Because as varied as the causes of particulate matter pollution and other types of air pollution may be, there are just as many solutions to the problem.

Do you have any questions or your own experiences with polluted air that you would like to share? Then please leave a comment below this article.

Stay healthy,

Christoph from CareElite - Plastic-free living

PS.: In the Environmental protection blog you can find more information about the environmental problems of our time. You may also be interested in avoiding plastic in everyday life - then I recommend the article on the plastic free lifestyle.


₂ World Health Organization, WHO.





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* Links with asterisks are so-called Affiliate linksIf you click on it and buy something, you automatically and actively support my work with, as I receive a small share of the proceeds - and of course nothing changes in the product price. Many thanks for your support and best regards, Christoph!

Christoph Schulz

Christoph Schulz

I'm Christoph, an environmental scientist and author - and here at CareElite I'm campaigning against plastic waste in the environment, climate change and all the other major environmental problems of our time. Together with other environmentally conscious bloggers, I want to give you tips & tricks for a naturally healthy, sustainable life as well as your personal development.

7 thoughts on “Luftverschmutzung – Ursache, Folgen und Lösungen des Umweltproblems”

  1. Really great research, helped me immensely for a school project!!!
    Thank you for the clear and informative site!

  2. Thank you for the enlightening video and the good article. I was able to learn a lot about air pollution. In another article I read that the air in cities with particulate filters is measured and now more stringent attention is paid to the fact that environmental badges are attached and how high the exhaust fumes of cars.

    1. Hi Mailin! Thanks for your feedback. It is even quite strict on the environmental badges - is yes a nice source of revenue for the city 😉
      Best regards

  3. This is exactly what I was looking for on the subject of fine dust filters. I will discuss it with my brother, who also knows a lot about this subject. Let's see if he can give me more tips!

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