Its Hard Not To Care When There Is So Much Smog In The Air

Living in New England, we have all encountered several blizzard warnings in which we are advised not to leave our homes. But can you imagine not being able to leave your home due poor air quality. For many of us this is unimaginable. How could the air quality within a whole country be so poor that one could not leave their home? For me, I actually lived through a smog epidemic during the summer of 2013 (Figure 1). This epidemic was so bad that the government made it illegal for individuals to leave their homes for about 3 days. Smog and excess air pollution is a chronic problem in Asian countries. This week I decided to dive in deeper and truly understand how smog build up occurs and why we see it so often in Asia.

Figure 1

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Smog by definition is the combination of smoke and fog. Smog is a black haze comprised of a mixture of pollutants (Figure 2). But how exactly is smog created? As previously mentioned, smog is essentially a combination of pollutants in the air. When these pollutants are burnt the fumes are then released into the air.  These fumes come directly from things such as heavy traffic, high temperatures, sunshine and calm winds.The smog we see today is called photochemical smog. Photochemical smog is when sunlight reacts with nitrogen oxides and at least one volatile organic compound (VOC) in the atmosphere. Examples of nitrogen oxides include car exhaust, coal power plants, and factory emissions. Examples of VOCs are include gasoline, paints, and many cleaning solvents. When the sunlight hits these particles it sparks the creation of fumes thus creating smog. Asian countries tend to have high populations thus resulting in an increase in the number of automobiles and heavy traffic. In addition, Asia being located near the equator makes for high temperatures and plenty of sunshine. These factors double the effects of smog and amplifies the effect. 

Figure 2


Smog can be extremely detrimental to ones health and in some cases it can be fatal. Smog gives off an immediate effect and theres no gradual build up. Smog can cause minor health issues such as a cold and pneumonia. Although this is the case, smog can also be responsible for major health issues such as lung cancer. Smog is most commonly known for causing irritation  in the eyes and increasing the difficulty to breathe (figure 3). Smog also deteriorates plant life. With several pollutants in the air, this makes it difficult for plant life to prosper and continue to grow. More often than not plant life can completely die as a result of smog. 


So what can you do to help? There several small actions one can do to reduce the amount of smog emitted in urban areas. First and for most, avoid driving if it is not necessarily. Try walking, carpooling, and or using bikes if everyone tries to do this smog emissions will slowly begin to decrease. In addition, fill your automobile with gasoline during the cooler hours of the day; this prevents gas fumes from heating up and producing ozone. Finally, if one cuts down on gas powered appliances and uses electrically powered appliances in stead this will also reduce the amount of smog.

The smog epidemic personally effected me and I am fearful that the problem will increase if we dont do anything about it. This problem can be reduced as long as we are aware and try and put forth our best effort to reduce the number of gas powered appliances we use!!! What will you do to reduce the effects of smog on our community?

Energy Production Gone Wrong… Surprised?

March 11, 2011, a major earthquake, followed by a 15-meter tsunami, destroyed the power supply and cooling of three Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power reactors, causing a nuclear catastrophe. The plants at Fukushima were Boiling Water Reactors (BWR, shown in Figure 1.). A BWR produces electricity by boiling water with nuclear fuel and uses the steam from the water to drive a turbine, which creates electricity. The steam then is cooled and condenses back into water until it is heated by nuclear fuel again. The nuclear fuel is uranium oxide, a radioactive mineral.

Figure 1: Model of a Boiling Water Reactor used at Fukushima.

Figure 1: Model of a Boiling Water Reactor used at Fukushima.

The devastation from Fukushima released unmanageable amounts of radiation, and about 80% of the radiation is still being released into the Pacific Ocean through ground water. Yet, why is this relevant to us? 300 tons of radioactive water from Fukushima enters the Pacific Ocean every day, and it has started to affect the United States. According to the Nuclear Emergency Tracking Center, radiation levels all over the U.S. are elevating, specifically the west coast. (Shown in Figure 2.). The total amount of radioactive material from Fukushima is increasing everyday in the U.S., and it is steadily building up in our food chain, which could cause radiation poisoning in innocent civilians all over America.

Figure 2.  Caution Symbols Key: Yellow/Green = Normal levels of Radiation Yellow/Black = Rising levels of Radiation Yellow/Red = Elevated levels of Radiation Black/Red = Concern/Watch levels of Radiation

Figure 2.
Caution Symbols Key:
Yellow/Green = Normal levels of Radiation
Yellow/Black = Rising levels of Radiation
Yellow/Red = Elevated levels of Radiation
Black/Red = Concern/Watch levels of Radiation

With an increase of radioactive material in our food chain, people will have a high risk of developing cancer or other health problems due to the high exposure of nuclear radiation. These possible risks are already being foreshadowed by the effects the nuclear radiation is having on the ecosystems along the west coast. On the Alaskan coastline, polar bears, seals, and walruses are beginning to suffer from alopecia (loss of fur) and skin lesions, and along the California coastline there has been a tragic amount of sea-lion deaths. For example, 45% of the pups born during the summer have died, when usually pup deaths are below 33%. Also, many types of fish are being affected by the radiation. Along the Canada and Alaska coastlines, the population of sockeye salmon is at a “historic low.” Along the west coast of Canada, fish are suddenly bleeding from their gills, bellies, and eyeballs, and the cause is predicted to be nuclear radiation. A test in California found that 15 out of 15 Bluefin tuna were contaminated with radiation from Fukushima and plankton found in the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and the West Coast had very high levels of cesium-137 (radioactive metal). With these cases of death, disease, and illness within the ecosystems of the west coast of North America, soon enough, nuclear radiation may begin to affect innocent people.

It is a terrifying thought how the production of energy can cause such devastation. In fact, it is ironic   how the nuclear plants, which hurt the environment, have been destroyed by the environment (natural disasters), and in result will affect us, the people whom are using the energy. Fukushima is an example of how energy production cannot only directly affect the environment, but also can directly affect the health of humans. How can we prevent this is the future? We can produce energy with safer and more renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind energy, a simple, yet expensive method. Although using more efficient energy sources can raise the bills, when it comes down to it, what is more important, health or money?

Disrupting the Carbon Cycle is not the only thing Deforestation is Responsible for…

Africa supports approximately 30% of the forests in the world, with a large amount of these forests located in Upper Guinea and Lower Guinea (Congo). Yet, these forests have been subject to an immense amount of deforestation. Although deforestation provides people with goods and resources, it is terrible for the balance of the Carbon Cycle and our atmospheric layers. Trees have large amounts of Carbon in their wood, and therefore when they are cut or burned, CO2 is released into the atmosphere. Unless there are enough trees planted or grown to recapture the lost carbon, the exchange between trees and the atmosphere of CO2 is put out of balance, which is a cause of global warming.

Although global warming is a very popular and conversational topic, there is one topic that is stealing everyone’s attention. You guessed it, Ebola. Ebola is one of the most dangerous viruses in the world today, causing many symptoms, one being internal bleeding, and is most likely by followed death. Now, you may be asking, “What does Ebola have to do with deforestation in Guinea?” Well, this latest Ebola epidemic is believed to have started in one of the small towns in Guinea, and has now spread all over West Africa (See Figure 1.).

Map of Africa depicting Ebola Cases

Figure 1: This map of Africa Depicts what areas Ebola cases have been confirmed or suspected. The highlighted areas in red show where confirmed and probable cases of Ebola have been found. The tan highlighted areas show where suspected cases of Ebola are. As shown in the map, a lot of these highlighted areas are in the Guinea region, where the Ebola epidemic is believed to have started.

People in West Africa commonly eat Fruit Bats in stew, yet bats are known to be carriers of the Ebola Virus. Due to deforestation, many animals’ habitats are being destroyed, including bats. With bat’s habitats destroyed and human’s have moved into prior forest areas, the interactions between bats and people in West Africa has increased greatly. This increased interaction between humans and bats has also greatly increased the chance that one of the fruit bats that are eaten contained the virus Ebola, and sadly this event did occur. Yet, it did not just effect a few people in Guinea, it has spread all over West Africa, taking thousands of people’s lives, and is now spreading into other continents, such as the United States. While the CDC and other organizations are attempting to contain and control this outbreak, it has not had much effect, and the virus continues to spread rapidly.

Ebola, according to the World Health Organization, has already claimed AT LEAST 4,493 lives, and the number is increasing. Yet, what played a major role in this epidemic? It was human’s impact on the environment. Deforestation has claimed not only a vast amount of the forest biomes in West Africa since 1955, it has also claimed thousands of people’s lives. (displayed in Figure 2.),

West Africa Deforestation from 1955 to 1988

Figure 2. Shows West Africa in 1955 in the top picture and West Africa in 1988 in the bottom picture. The green represents where “closed forest cover,” or full forest, is, the dark yellow represents ‘Fragmented forest,” and the light yellow represents where deforestation has taken place. These two photos show how drastic deforestation has struck West Africa and therefore gives you an idea of how many animal habitats were destroyed and taken over by humans. The full picture of Africa on the bottom right also shows this by using the red areas to depict where deforestation has taken place. This also refers back to Figure 1. and shows how greatly West Africa and specifically Guinea was affected by deforestation.

While global warming did become a large controversy, hopefully this deadly outbreak of the Ebola virus that has ignited immense fear and panic can express to the public what serious effects humans have on the environment, and how what we do to the environment, can strike back on us.