Death of a Planet - Air Pollution

Air pollution is a very big problem in the United States. A large part of air pollution comes from cars. The Environmental Protection Agency says, "The most polluting activity an average person does everyday is drive their car"(1 factsheet OMS-5). Most people probably aren't aware that they are polluting the environment. Maybe if everyone knew how serious this pollution problem is, they would find ways to reduce the pollution.

Most pollution that is released by cars comes from the exhaust, mainly in the form of hydrocarbons(1 factsheet, OMS-5). Hydrocarbons are organic compounds ,a combination of two or more elements, that contain only carbon and hydrogen (2 factsheet, OMS-5). Hydrocarbons are released when fuel in the engine burns partially. When hydrocarbons come in contact with sunlight they form ground level ozone. Ground level ozone is a major ingredient in the formation of smog. Ground level ozone is responsible for irritating eyes, damaging lungs, and it complicating respiratory problems. Hydrocarbons aren't the only pollutants released through car exhaust.

Two more pollutants released through car exhaust are carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide. The first reduces the flow of oxygen to the bloodstream, and could harm people with heart disease. Nitrogen oxide is formed when a car engine gets hot. It contains chemicals that aid in the formation of ground level ozone as well as acid rain (2 factsheet, OMS-5). Acid rain destroys the outsides of buildings, statues, etc. Acid rain can also contaminate drinking water, damage vegetation, and destroy sea life. These two pollutants are two of the most dangerous pollutants released through car exhaust. If these two pollutants were cut down just a little bit our planet would be a safer place to live.

Carbon dioxide is another gas released through exhaust emissions. It isn't dangerous directly to humans, but it is considered to be a "green house gas." A "greenhouse gas" is a gas that is associated with global warming. Global warming is the gradual increase of temperature due to human activity. Certain gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane, and ozone allow radiation from the sun to break through the atmosphere and go to the earth's surface. Global warming affects all living things on the entire planet (4 factsheet OMS-5).

Another type of hydrocarbon pollutant occurs through fuel evaporation. These hydrocarbon pollutants are produced four different ways. The first way is called diurnal. This is when the venting of gasoline vapors occurs due to the temperature of the car's engine rising. The second way is running losses. This is the venting of gasoline when the car's engine is running. The third way is called hot soak. Hot soak occurs when gasoline evaporates after the car has been turned off. The fourth way additional hydrocarbons are released occurs when a person is refueling a car. This occurs when a person fills up their gas tank. While the tank is being filled gasoline vapors are forced out. One way to cut down on this type of pollution is to have the car tuned properly. The refueling problem can be reduced with the use of vapor recovery system. This system traps the vapor inside the tank. These systems are present at many gas stations in highly polluted areas (4 factsheet, OMS-5).

Some cities around the world are very dangerous to live in because of car pollution. One city is Athens, Greece. In Athens the number of deaths rises on days with greater air pollution. Just breathing the air in Bombay is the same as smoking half a pack of cigarettes a day (97Brown). Over 150 million people in the United States live in areas where the Environmental Protection Agency considers the air to be unhealthy. The American Lung Association says, "The unhealthy air leads to 120, 000 deaths every year" (97 Brown). The citizens of earth are killing themselves. They are killing themselves for convenience. Even though the actions taken by the government and car manufacturers have reduced car emissions a lot since 1970, The number of miles an average person travels in a day has doubled (4 factsheet OMS-4). The average person must find a way to reduce the number of miles he or she drives. One way to do this is to carpool. If a large number of people started to car pool, pollution produced by cars would be reduced. This would reduce the amount of smog in urban areas, making these polluted areas a better place to live.

There are many other alternatives to reduce car emissions besides carpooling. One possible solution is to use fuels cleaner than gasoline. There are many types of alternative fuels that could be used, and the number of fuels increases as technology becomes more advanced. One type of alternative fuel is alcohol. One type of alcohol is methanol. Methanol is made from natural gas and coal. Another type of alcohol is ethanol. Ethanol is produced from grains or sugar. Cars fueled by alcohol could produce as much as 80 to 90 percent less emissions than cars fueled with gasoline. Both methanol and ethanol are high octane liquid fuels. The reason why these two fuels are possible alternatives is because they are efficient and made from natural ingredients, and they pollute less (4 factsheet, OMS-4).

Another alternative fuel is electricity. This isn't a very efficient fuel right now, because the technology is limited. Recent advances in the production of electric cars could make this a reality in the future. It is possible for cars powered with electricity to release little or no emissions. If this alternative fuel becomes a reality and is used in most cars, it will knock a big chunk out of the pollution problem all around the world (5 factsheet, OMS-5).

Another alternative fuel is natural gas. Natural gas is only good for cars where driving long distances isn't important. It is possible for natural gas to produce 85 percent to 95 percent less emissions than gasoline fueled cars (5 factsheet, OMS-5). With this alternative fuel car emissions could be reduced a great deal to benefit the entire world.

Another way to reduce pollution released by gasoline powered cars is to test them for dangerous amounts of pollutants regularly. Emissions testing programs are already in effect in California, Arizona, and Colorado. Texas will have an emissions testing program soon. The test is very simple. A car is tested for hydrocarbons and other ground level ozone forming chemicals that are released through car exhaust. If the level of pollutants is high, the car fails the test. Then the car must be taken to a mechanic, so the engine can be tuned to release fewer chemicals into the air. After the car is taken to a mechanic and repaired, the car is tested again. This test does cost the car owner money, but it's a small price to pay for the reduction of pollutants released by cars (105 Brown).

Researchers are working on a machine that can test cars for hydrocarbon pollution while the car is on the road. This system is called the remote sensing device. The device is placed on the side of the road. As a car drives by it measures the level of hydrocarbon emissions released by the car. The system can't measure nitrogen oxide emissions yet, but researchers are working on another system to go along with this device. If the car is releasing a high level of hydrocarbon emissions a video camera takes a picture of the car's license plate, and sends the license plate number and the emissions data to a computer (1 factsheet, OMS-15). Then the owner of the car is notified about the polluting car, and they are required to have the problem fixed (2 factsheet,OMS-15). If remote sensing devices are used to detect hydrocarbon emissions, polluting cars can be recognized sooner than regular testing, done year by year. If the remote sensing devices are used people don't have to worry about their car being tested. They just have to get their car repaired when the device says it's polluting the environment.

Air pollution caused by cars is a serious problem that can be reduced by average everyday people. If the citizens of earth don't act fast, and reduce the amount of pollution caused worldwide, earth will be a horrible place to live. If something isn't done soon there might not be a place to live at all.

Works Cited

Brown, Lester R. The World Watch Reader: On Environmental Issues. NewYurk:Norton, 1991.


The Environmental Protection Agency. Automobiles and Ozone: Factsheet OMS-4. WWW/04-ozone.htm. 1993. 4.

The Environmental Protection Agency. Automobile Emission: An overiew: Factsheet OMS-5. www/05-autos.htm. 1994. 1-5.

The Environmental Protection Agency. Remote Sensing: A Supplemental Tool for Vehicle

Emission Control: Factsheet OMS-15. www/ 15-remot.htm.

1993. 1-2.

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