Yes, you read that right. Even in this tiny little town next to the mountains there is pollution. In fact, it's almost impossible to go anywhere that hasn't suffered from pollution; even Antarctica! Scientists have found pollutants trapped in the ice there because wind can blow pollution for thousands of miles. But we'll talk about that later. Right now think about this: how can an individual in Mancos improve air quality? Ponder the question for just a moment. Done yet? Okay, good! First of all, what are pollutants?
There are two main elements from the Periodic Table that make up our air. The fist is nitrogen (N) which makes up 78 percent and then there's oxygen (O) which makes up 21 percent. There's also Argon (Ar) but it makes up only 0.93 percent. The other 0.07 percnet includes neon gas (Ne), helium gas (He), hydrogen gas (H2), methane gas (CH4), carbon dioxide (CO2), and water vapor (H2O). But there's one more thing: pollutants. Pollutants include mercury (Hg), soot (Cx), carbon monoxide (CO), sulfur dioxide (SO2), ozone (O3), Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC's), nitrogen oxides (NO & NO2), and lead (Pb). Even though pollutants make up only a small portion of the composition of our air, they pack a huge punch to our respiratory system. Poor air quality can affect your health in numerous ways you may have never even imagined.
So where do all these pollutants come from? One of the first things that come to mind is cars and trucks. In Denver, vehicle exhaust makes up 22 percent of their pollution. Vehicle exhaust creates smog, which is created from photochemical reactions of oxygen, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, and UV rays. "This type of ozone can be found in the air you breathe ."
".and can do damage to your lungs and respiratory system. High levels of ground-level ozone can cause chest pain, coughing, sore throat, head congestion, and diseases of the lungs," according to the Project Based Inquiry Science: Air Quality book. Doesn't sound pretty does it? However, these symptoms and even death or damage to your lungs, can all be avoided. Public transportation such as a bus, reduces the amount of exhaust humans emit from vehicles. You can also walk or ride a bike which releases no pollutants into the air at all. Catalytic convertors change the pollutants in a chemical reaction (with a catalyst) in your car before they are released into the air. Unfortunately, they do not prevent all pollutants from escaping your car which is why I recommend an electric car. That, or find a car that has more m.p.g.; you'll be saving more money in your pocket and lung tissue. These suggestions will reduce the pollution that comes from the highway next to our town.
When thinking about sources of pollution, the next thing that pops into people's heads are power plants and factories. I know that burning coal is cheaper, and many regions depend on it, but I also know that it's a nonrenewable source of energy and eventually we'll run out of it. This makes it the perfect time to switch to renewable sources of energy. Sources include hydropower, solar power, wind energy, energy from ocean waves, and geothermal energy. If not these sources, we could switch to biofuels which include wood, grass, vegetable oil, and corn. But using biofuels would take up farmland which means less food for you and me! Similar to cars with their catalytic convertors, power plants have scrubbers that change pollutants into other substances. But like catalytic convertors, scrubbers do not prevent all pollutants from being released into the air like mercury. "Mercury can interfere with the normal functioning of the nervous system which controls movement and the body's responses to changes in the environment. It can also effect the processes through which the body digests foods and gets rid of wastes," according to the Project Based Inquiry Science: Air Quality book. Pollutants released also contribute to smog build-up. "Epidemiologic studies show that long term exposure causes premature aging of the lungs and decreases in lung capacity and function. Though children, the elderly and those with heart disease or respiratory problems like asthma and emphysema are at particular risk, about 20 percent of otherwise healthy adults are unusually sensitive to ozone's effects, experiencing symptoms like coughing, wheezing and pain when they breathe deeply in highly polluted areas," according to the article, Spring Clean Your Air by Joan Raymond.
Another contributor comes from indivual family choices. In Denver, wood burning is the highest polluter, making up 24 percent of their pollution. Pollutants released such as soot, get trapped in thermal inversions which is a huge problem for Denver in the winter time (they have little precipitation during that period). During thermal inversions, warm air sits on cold air and can't mix, which makes pollutants unable to be broken up or carried away. This is why insulating your home is a better idea than using a wood stove. "A cloud of smog covers the city. It blocks vision and causes eye irritation and lung distress. Thermal inversions in Los Angeles are serious health hazards, causing lung problems, asthma, and even death for people who are already ill," according to the Project Based Inquiry Science: Air Quality book. It's also a better idea to use Compound fluorescent light bulbs rather than conventional bulbs because they use only a fourth of the amount of energy that a conventional bulb uses. Speaking of saving energy, switching to more efficient products with better insulation is a great idea as well! Time to trade in that old fridge!
My last main source of pollution is the government. Yes, the government. Why? Because the House of Representatives proposed a plan to cut the EPA's (Environmental Protection Agency) budget by 29 percent which is equal to $3 billion! Why would they do this? The EPA helps protect us from harmful pollutants that take away an average of 500,000 American lives each year. All these deaths are linked to cardiopulmonary diseases. So what should we do? We need to protest against EPA cuts and talk to our state senators. "Americans shouldn't have to worry about the air they breathe; yet every year half a million of our fellow citizens die from cardiopulmonary diseases linked to fine-particle air pollution. And it doesn't just affect folks who live near coal plants; wind can carry soot hundreds of miles," according to Sierra's article, Deadly Nostalgia. However, the government is doing their best. Every five years since 1965, the amount of ozone has mostly gone down. In 1977 there were 120 "smog alert days" in L.A. while in 1999 there was less than 30. This is because of legislation. There are laws dictating the maximum amount of pollutants that can be released into our air. For example, if more than 0.135 g of carbon monoxide is released into the air by a power plant, that state has the right to sue that power plant company. We can all thank the Clean Air Act which has been revised over the years.
So if you want to minimize the amount of pollution that Mancos has, you can get an electric car, ride a bike, walk, insulate your home, use compound fluorescent light bulbs and more efficient appliances, encourage renewable sources of energy in our state and protest against EPA budget cuts. You know, that decision to use a rake rather than a leaf blower will benefit everyone around you even if it requires a little extra work. Walking rather than driving a car can contribute a huge factor in saving Mother Earth. Being "green" can minimize nitrogen oxides, ozone, soot, and VOC's released into the air. Your lungs will surely thank you!