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Flashcards in Geography - Environment and Wellbeing Deck (22)
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What do we mean by air quality?

Synonymous with air pollution

“Air pollution is defined as a mixture of gases and particles that have been emitted into the atmosphere by man-made processes”

Short-term and long-term effects on health, and to the natural environment

“The air quality in Scotland is generally better now than it has been at any time since before the Industrial Revolution.”


How can we compare air quality with water quality: physical, chemical and biological aspects of water?

Physical – temperature, suspended solids, radioactivity, conductivity, turbidity, colour/taste/odour

Chemical – solute load: water a universal solvent

Biological – living organisms supported in/by water


What incident regarding smog had London seen in the 1950s?

Smog – a mix of smoke and fog

Atmospheric conditions prevent the dispersion of pollution

One of the worst cases known was the Great Smog of December 1952 in London:

In some areas, people could not see their feet!
4000 deaths

Coal-burning fires

Clean Air Acts 1956 and 1968

Emissions of black smoke banned
Introduced requirement for use of smokeless fuels


What evidence has been shown regarding air quality problems?

300-year old burial ground discovered
20 000 skeletons from over 170 yrs

Analysis of human bones reveals evidence of epidemic of childhood deaths

Shift from wood-burning to coal coincident with childhood mortality


What is the structure of the earth's atmosphere?

50% of atmospheric mass is in lowest 5-6 km above surface

Total mass of atmosphere: 5.1x1018 kg
Total mass of hydrosphere: 1.4x1021 kg


What is the atmosphere made of?

Nitrogen N2 78.08
Oxygen O2 20.94
Argon Ar 0.93
Carbon dioxide CO2 0.03 (variable)
Neon Ne 0.0018
Helium He 0.0005
Ozone O3 0.00006
Hydrogen H 0.00005
Water vapour H2O variable: ppm to %


What is the difference between primary and secondary pollutants?

Primary: directly emitted into the air e.g. particulates, SO2, CO, NOx, various hydrocarbons (HC)

Secondary: produced through reactions between primary pollutants and normal atmospheric compounds
e.g. ozone forms over urban areas as a result of chemical reactions involving primary pollutants, sunlight and naturally-occurring gases


State naturally occurring pollutants.

Release of sulphur dioxide (SO2) from volcanic eruptions – volcanic smog (“vog”)

Hydrogen sulphide (H2S) emissions from geysers, hot springs, bogs & marshes

Ozone (O3) formation in lower atmosphere caused by thunderstorms/lightning

Products of windstorms and wildfires

Natural hydrocarbon (HC) seeps

Natural emissions may exceed human emissions, but not in urban areas


What is sulphur dioxide? (SO2)

Naturally occurring gas

Released in burning fossil fuels – esp. coal in power stations

Complex oxidation reactions can cause conversion into particulate form – then removed by wet or dry deposition

Death and injury to plants and animals, inc. to the lungs

Contributes to acid rain formation


What is nitrogen oxide? (NOx)

Principally nitric oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2)

Both contribute to smog

NO2 contributes to acid rain

May be converted by complex reactions into NO32- ion within water droplets

Nearly all NO2 is anthropogenic – principally from vehicle and fossil fuel power stations

Human effects – irritation of eyes, nose, throat, lungs; increased susceptibility to viral infections.

May suppress plant growth, but fertilise soil in nitrite form.


What is carbon monoxide? (CO)

Toxic to animals (inc. humans) at ‘low concentrations’

Toxicity arises from natural attraction between CO and haemoglobin in blood (250x greater attraction than to O2)

High risk of asphyxia when incomplete combustion occurs CO monitors (CO: “silent killer”)

In UK each year, 50 people die and 4000 hospitalised due to CO poisoning

1 in 10 thought to have suffered CO poisoning

Global emissions principally through vehicle tailpipes

Reducing owing to cleaner-burning engines, despite growth in vehicle numbers


Name characteristics of the ozone (O3) and other photochemical oxidants.

Originates with burning fossil fuels (inc vehicles exhausts), creating NO2

Formed by effects of sunlight on NO2

Ozone is unstable, so available to support burning/oxidation not allowed by O2

Because of its chemical activity, O3 very harmful to living things, but in the stratosphere, it helps protect Earth from solar UV rays

Causes damage to animals, plants, rubber, paint, textiles…


What are volatile organic compounds?

Organic compounds used as solvents in industrial processes, e.g. dry cleaning, de-greasing

Hydrocarbons include one group of VOCs

Thousands of HC compounds exist – inc. natural gas (methane – CH4), butane (C4H10) and propane (C3H8)

Some VOCs found in urban air cause photochemical smog

Many are directly toxic to plants and animals – or may form other harmful compounds through chemical reactions in the atmosphere


What is particulate matter?

Sources include:
Bare soils
Volcanic eruptions
Heavy metals (As, Cu, Pb, Zn…)

Some particulates are invisible to the eye – below ~ 7 µm (human hair is 60-150 µm in diameter)

Easily inhaled into lungs – embedded into lungs, arteries or carried in blood

Particulate air pollution estimated to cause 60 000 premature deaths annually in USA


What is lead?

Formerly used as additive to petrol

Still used in batteries

Widely spread with vehicle exhausts into soils take-up by plants  terrestrial food chains

Transport in waters to the rivers and oceans  aquatic food chains

Found in Greenland ice cores, i.e. worldwide distribution
Use in petrol discontinued in UK in 1999

Industrial emissions remain

Impact on brain function


What have insights from medical science shown us about air quality?

Laboratory studies:

Volunteer cyclists exposed to ambient traffic pollution for 1 hour: significant impact on relaxation of arteries after exercise

Mice exposed to Western diet for 8 weeks and ambient pollution levels for 4 weeks – evidence of PM damage to lining of arteries


What is meant by "The Global Commons"?

“The ‘Global Commons’ refers to resource domains or areas that lie outside of the political reach of any one nation State” – United Nations Environment Programme

Origin of term ‘commons’

International law identifies four global commons:
High seas
Outer space

Open access to all without legal restriction. Threats to sustainability? What are the threats to each of these commons?


What is the 1995 Environment Act?

Required the Secretary of State for Environment to prepare a national air quality strategy

Provided for the establishment of Air Quality Management Areas

Strategy developed by devolved administrations and Defra

Latest version of joint strategy issued 2007

Superseded in Scotland by ‘Clean Air for Scotland’ (2015)


What is covered in Section 83(1) of the 1995 Environment Act?

Local Authorities have a duty to designate any relevant areas where the air quality objectives are not (or are unlikely to be) being met as Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs)

Following the declaration of an AQMA, the local authority is required to develop and implement a plan (Air Quality Action Plan) to improve air quality in that area.


Where are the 6 Air Quality Management Areas in Edinburgh?

Glasgow Road
St John’s Road
Great Junction Street
Inverleith Road
Salamander Street


What are air quality objectives?

Annual average <40 µg/m3
No more than 18 exceedances of 200 µg/m3

Annual average <18 µg/m3
No more than 7 exceedances per year of 50 µg/m3


Give an example of an air quality action plan.

Levels of NO2 and PM10 found to be breaching threshold levels (2007, 2008, 2010)