Once the initial white smoke comes out of a car exhaust and dissipates, harmful chemicals remain in the air but appear invisible to the human eye. That is why you can smell exhaust fumes from cars passing by but the air in front of you is seemingly clear. But what if we could see exhaust emissions? Would we become more climate conscious or would we just ignore it as we do now?
Recently researchers have been wondering how differently we would feel if these chemicals emitted from car exhausts were visible in the air around us. They decided to study the air in cities around the world. By using an infra-red camera they were able to visualize the harmful particles such as nitrogen oxides swirling around cyclists and ballooning up into shoppers faces as they went about their day in the city.
They decided to present this realization in the form of photographs which reveal how some of the world’s most polluted cities would look if all pollution was visible. To do so they took data collected by the Air Quality Index from 2018 and created photos that show what it would look like if humans could see hazardous chemicals produced by vehicle exhausts once the initial plume of smoke has disappeared.
What is the Air Quality Index? (AQI)
The Air Quality Index is used by government agencies to gauge how polluted their cities are by assessing amounts of different air particles to determine the level. It’s currently the best indicator of the effects of vehicle emissions in our cities.
The AQI uses five criteria to gauge this – meaning it measures the following 5 air particle types:
- Particulate Matter (PM10 & PM2.5)
- Sulfur Dioxide (S02)
- Carbon Minoxide (CO)
- Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2)
- Ozone (OZ)
The AQI rates the air quality with 6 different levels, each possessing their own grade of health implications. These Air Quality Rating (AQR) levels are as follows:
The shocking images made by Select Car Leasing show how cities with a lower AQR would have less dense visible emissions, but cities with higher, more dangerous emission levels would have more dense levels of smog in the atmosphere which makes it difficult to see beyond even just very short distances ahead.
Select Car Leasing listed the following chemicals as harmful to humans and why:
This substance is produced from exhausts of vehicles as unburnt fuel during the combustion process. It occurs naturally in small amounts of diesel and petrol. Benzene is highly toxic and long-term exposure has been linked to leukemia.
Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
Reducing the amount of CO2 in our environment is one of the main goals for governments around the world. The reason is that, although, the substance is non-toxic, it is a dangerous greenhouse gas and contributes to acidification of the oceans.
Carbon Monoxide (CO)
Carbon Monoxide is odourless and colourless and is caused by an incomplete combustion process. However, it can be extremely harmful. It has been known to cause irritations such as headaches and respiratory problems.
Emitted as unburnt fuel, hydrocarbons also evaporate from the vehicles fuel tank. In sunlight, hydrocarbons react with NOx to create photochemical oxidants which can cause breathing issues and make symptoms, such as asthma worse.
Nitrogen Oxide (NOx)
Produced in any kind of combustion produce, NOx is oxidised in the atmosphere and is one of the major contributing factors to acid rain. It has been known to cause lung irritation and reduce the immune system when fighting respiratory infections. Tie in something about how this has resulted in the decline on diesels?
Particulate Matter (PM)
Soot is often a byproduct of using a motor vehicle powered by fossil fuels. Tiny particles, smaller than one-tenth the diameter of a human hair, can seriously impact the health of a human being as they penetrate deep into the lungs. Diesel is one of the major causes of PM pollution.
Sulphur Dioxide (SO2)
By burning fuel that contains sulphur, especially the likes of diesel and coal, combustion engines cause contamination when the sulphur reacts in the atmosphere to form fine particles and other pollutants. This can cause a major health risk, particularly to children.
So How Bad Is It Really?
London’s level of pollution stood at the AQI rating of only 25, but the Invisible toxins kill up to 9,000 people a year, according to the Guardian. So imagine how bad Delhi is then with almost ten times the pollution level of London. Their AQI rating is 223. The air pollution in India is so serious that toxic air killed 1.24 million people in 2017, according to a study published in Lancet Planetary Health.
According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, car exhaust fumes are responsible for more deaths than traffic accidents in the UK and US. Out of the top 10 most iconic cities in the world, only 3 of them are considered safe according to the AQI. Research by the University of Chicago found that air pollution can reduce life expectancy by almost two years.
Istanbul’s air quality is so unhealthy during busy periods throughout the day that it is affecting the hearts and respiratory systems of even healthy individuals. Bnei Brak in Israel has the lowest air quality on Earth. According to Air Matters, the air pollution there is considered a hazard to ones health – meaning that healthy individuals will experience reduced endurance and will show strong symptoms of illness; and senior citizens and anyone carrying an illness is advised to stay indoors.
An Interactive Approach To Awareness
Soon people will be able to check the AQI of anywhere in London on the Breathe London website. In collaboration with the Environmental Defense Fund Europe and Google Earth Outreach, air quality information will be collected and published on an online map. Google is doing this by fixing mobile sensors to two of its Street View cars. The map will present Londoners the condition of the air they are breathing in each place as well as provide pollution forecasts for the coming hours and days.
The Fight Against Rising Emissions
Not everyone is completely ignoring this problem. There are several cities beginning to put an effort into improving the quality of their citizens air. These are the major ways in which they are doing that:
- Restoration of Green Areas
- Supporting Smarter Public Transport
- Promoting Green Initiatives
- Embracing Renewable Energy Sources
Rising awareness will only escalate efforts so spread the knowledge!
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