How Air Pollution affects Animals

How do our cars affect animals? Do our industries have an impact on wildlife? Well, as it turns out, they do and the effects are quite severe.

Emissions from automobiles and industries accumulate in the atmosphere. This, unfortunately, gets into animals’ bodies through inhalation of gases and particulate matter, ingestion of contaminated food and water and in the case of certain amphibians, through skin absorption.

This is particularly harmful for 3 reasons:

Respiratory issues

Gaseous pollutants from automobile exhausts – such as Nitrous Oxide (NO2) from diesel combustion engines and Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) from incomplete combustion – form Ozone (O3) under the action of sunlight. When inhaled, ozone is known to cause respiratory diseases.

The problem may be particularly more pronounced in birds because of the distances they travel and their higher respiratory rates.

Mercury and Flouride poisoning

Particulate matter such as mercury, fluoride, powdered ash, dioxins and furans etc. are emitted by large industrial complexes and thermal power plants. These again enter the animals’ respiratory systems and cause particulate buildup in their lungs, eventually choking them to death. Additionally, mercury is known to be a potent poisoning agent.

Flourides, which are also emitted in gaseous forms, get absorbed by plants, and in turn get transferred into herbivores and soil dwelling invertebrates. Several herbivores are known to show signs of fluoride poisoning (in the form of malformed teeth and bones).

Acid Rain

Acid rain caused by dioxides in the air not just increase acidity and kill vegetation, but also deplete fish and amphibian populations by acidifying freshwater and the oceans. This has a knock-on effect on animals that subsist on their populations, which further intensifies the impact on the entire food chain.

Considering how many species are now endangered, the ill-effects of air pollution are therefore not restricted to urban areas alone.

The Solar Lining for air pollution

However, solar energy can be used to counteract air pollution. From small rooftop systems to utility scale solar power plants, solar PV systems can significantly curtail emissions.

For example, replacing thermal and gas fired power stations with solar PV power facilities offsets several million tons of CO2 emissions annually, in addition to offsetting emissions of particulate matter, sulphur dioxides and nitrous oxides.

Solar makes even more sense when used in automotive applications. In particular, the recent advent of affordable diesel powered vehicles in India and Europe has worsened air quality in these regions by several factors. New Delhi is now regarded as THE most polluted city in the world, leaving behind even regularly smog hit Shanghai (China).

Switching to electric vehicles would automatically offset millions of tons of gaseous and particulate matter each year. Fervent research by companies such as Tesla (with its gigafactory concept) and Apple (with iCar concept) is certainly driving the sector forward.

Therefore, there is a silver, or rather, a solar lining to the problem. As solar becomes more affordable, we will hopefully see more electric vehicles, greener industries and healthier ecosystems.

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