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KEY POINTS

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  • Reducing-type air pollution, characterized by SO2 and smoke, is capable of producing deleterious human health effects.

  • Photochemical air pollution arises from a series of complex reactions in the troposphere close to the earth’s surface and comprises a mixture of ozone, nitric oxides, aldehydes, peroxyacetyl nitrates, and myriad reactive hydrocarbon radicals.

  • Indoor air can be even more complex than outdoor air, and outdoor air can permeate the indoor environment in spite of the reduced air exchange in buildings.

  • Sick-building syndrome may occur in new, poorly ventilated, or recently refurbished office buildings due to the outgasing of combustion products, volatile chemicals, biological materials and vapors, and emissions from furnishings.

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AIR POLLUTION IN PERSPECTIVE

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The second half of the twentieth century was marked by remarkable changes in how the public viewed its relationship to the environment. From expansive urban factories with smokestacks belching opaque dark clouds of industrial effluent into a neutral blue sky, regulation and cost-efficient innovations by the private sector have reduced emissions. Decades to come will see change in our energy portfolio that is driven by cost and access, environmental impacts including climate change, and technological innovation. Nevertheless, so long as organically derived fuel is combusted to derive energy, its potential for impact on air quality and on public health and the environment will remain. As the developing world grows industrially, air pollution now is intercontinental with transport through the atmosphere via pathways close to the earth’s surface as well as upper atmosphere. Air pollution now extends even into remote and wilderness areas, and significant damage to flora and crops can also occur.

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Other issues facing many parts of the developing world tie closely to domestic culture and economy, as well as to the level of technological sophistication. Prime among these problems is exposure to carbon and soot from combustion of biomass in cooking and heating in domestic stoves. Approximately three billion people worldwide use biomass for home cooking in households with little ventilation. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates two million deaths per year as a result of these exposures, especially women who are exposed day in and day out over many years, often with their infant children by their sides. Understanding the intersection of technological as well as socioeconomic and political challenges will be at the core of any resolution to these issues.

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A Brief History of Air Pollution and Its Regulation

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For most of history, air pollution has been a problem of microenvironments and domestic congestion. The smoky fires of early cave and hut dwellers choked the air inside their homes, and even when the emissions were vented outdoors, they simply combined with those of the neighbors to settle around the village on damp cold nights. With urbanization and a concomitant decrease in forest wood as a source of fuel to heat and cook, the need for energy led to ...

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