What is Air Pollution?

Yuck! You are with your family in the car, stuck in traffic and the car in front of you is blasting out a smelly, black cloud of smoke. Air pollution is caused anytime we burn something, especially fossil fuels like coal, natural gas and oil.

What Causes Air Pollution?

  • Chemicals from factories
  • Gases from power plants
  • Vehicles, including cars, boats, planes and trains
  • Forest fires
  • Open burning
  • Gas stations

How Do We Measure Air Pollution?

  • Scientists use special equipment to test the air for pollution.
  • They use machines to capture different gases and then they measure the gases to see how much of it is in the air.
  • Other machines are used to catch tiny solid particles in the air called particulates. These particulates can be dirt, smoke or even pollen from plants.
  • These tiny flecks of dirt are so small that scientists need to use a strong microscope if they want to figure out what the different pieces are.
  • You can catch your own particulate pollution with the help of an adult, by doing "Catch the Pollution."

Do You Produce Air Pollution?

  • Everyone produces air pollution; some people produce more than other.
  • Think about everything that you have done today from the time you woke up:
    • Did an electric alarm clock ring?
    • Did you take a shower?
    • Did you use a blow dryer?
    • Did you use the microwave to make breakfast?
    • Did you charge your cellphone or tablet?

Every time you use something that requires electricity to operate, you produce a little bit of air pollution because a power plant had to burn a fossil fuel to make that electricity.

  • How did you get to school?
    • Did you take a bus? If so, you were reducing air pollution by taking one vehicle to school with your friends and neighbors instead of many.
    • Did your parent drive you to school? This produced the most air pollution because one vehicle made the trip just for you.
    • If you carpooled, and picked up friends to drive to school with you, you helped reduce air pollution.
    • If you walked or rode a bike or skateboard, you did a great job and produced no air pollution.

How else did you create pollution? Try to keep a logbook for a day to see how many times you produced air pollution, which will include any time that you used electricity or gas. Also count how many times you managed to find a different way that cut down on air pollution. Give yourself one point every time you do something to cut down on air pollution. Take one point away every time you did not manage to find an alternative.

My Logbook 

Electric alarm clock    -1 
Cereal instead of toast    +1
Walked    +1
Traveled with 2 more friends to practice    +1
Total (-1+3=2)    2

Why Should You Care About Air Pollution?

  • Air pollution harms the environment, you, your family, your friends and even your pets!
  • Pollution can make it difficult for us to breathe, make our eyes itchy, our throats sore and give us a headache.
  • People with a breathing problem called asthma must be extra careful as polluted air can cause a dangerous asthma attack.
  • Air pollution also hurts wildlife, from animals to insects, and even plants.
  • Air pollution can mix with water molecules in the clouds to form acid rain. Over time, acid rain can negatively change wildlife habitat, especially those animals that live in water.

How Can You Help?

There are many small things that you can do to reduce air pollution. If we all start by making a few changes to the way we go about our lives, our air and actually the entire environment may be a cleaner place to live! Here are 50 ways to clean the air—can you think of any more?