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Carbon Monoxide, Air Pollution and Your Health

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a gas that has no odor or taste or even color. It is completely invisible to our senses. However, it has a dramatic effect on our health and the environment.

CO affects the public health of our world and its citizens. It is quite deadly to humans and animals. Carbon monoxide is typically present in the earth's atmosphere at very low levels. These low levels do not affect human metabolism. 

CO reduces the ability of the circulatory system to transport oxygen in mammals. Symptoms include headaches, fatigue, and nausea. It can lead to death and persons who are asleep or intoxicated are at an increased risk. CO is considered a primary pollutant because it is emitted directly into the air. CO can affect you when you are inside or outside.

Keep safe with a carbon monoxide detector


The problem is that human activity is increasing CO in the atmosphere at alarming rates. While carbon monoxide does not lead to global warming it does participate in detrimental smog.  Data being collected by NASA satellites shows an increase in smog and concentrated air pollution in urban areas. 

How is CO pollution harming our planet and its inhabitants, and what can we do to clean up the environment from excess CO? Keep reading.

The Terra Satellite is a combined effort between the USA, Canada and Japan to research pollution in the environment. Photo: https://earth.esa.int/web/eoportal/satellite-missions/t/terra

The Terra Satellite is a combined effort between the USA, Canada and Japan to research pollution in the environment. Photo: https://earth.esa.int/web/eoportal/satellite-missions/t/terra

How We Measure Carbon in the Atmosphere

For the past nineteen years, we have been measuring atmospheric carbon via the Terra satellite. Terra has been orbiting the earth taking measurements including gases and chemical levels in the troposphere such as aerosols, CO and methane. 

Satellites can measure worldwide pollution allowing scientists to make intricate comparisons. Scientists are observing how these pollutants move in the earth's lower atmosphere. In particular, how might pollution from one city affect another city miles away? 

Terra was launched in 1999 and has been orbiting earth since then collecting data. These measurements are helping us to understand the human impact of climate change. This data will help us to make better decisions regarding emissions of carbon and help mitigate damages from forest fires and floods.

One of the primary pollutants being measured is carbon monoxide (CO). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that CO is  produced from methane and non-methane hydrocarbon oxidation such as the burning of fossil fuels in the forms of gasoline, propane, wood, and heating oil. In addition, farmers produce CO when burning fields to clear the land for planting. 

Smog - You can see the visible difference in this picture taken ten days apart. By Tomskyhaha - Wikimedia

Smog - You can see the visible difference in this picture taken ten days apart. By Tomskyhaha - Wikimedia

What Causes Excess Carbon Monoxide in the Atmosphere?

Carbon monoxide is a by-product in manufacturing and industry. Whenever we burn materials (combustion) we get CO. Things such as manufacturing metals, producing electricity, mining for metal ore and coal, extracting oil and gas from the earth or oceans, the making of construction materials such as plaster and concrete are some things we don’t consider as often.

Common things that release carbon monoxide into the air during combustion are gasoline and diesel engines, propane appliances,

CO also occurs naturally in the form of forest fires and volcanic eruptions. Even lightning releases CO !

The CO lasts anywhere from two weeks to several months in the atmosphere. Large urban areas typically have 10 ppm (parts per million), about 100 times higher than in Earth's atmosphere overall. 

What Can Humans Do To Lower The Level of Carbon Monoxide? 

Baby steps are important when looking at solving the climate change crisis. The problem is large, international, and requires fast solutions. However, each person on the planet can make a positive difference. 

Renewable Energy

When we consider renewable energy we often think of solar and wind being a positive source of clean energy because it reduces our dependence on fossil fuels. 

Electricity is often manufactured by dirty fossil fuels such as coal. Worldwide coal still is used to produce forty-one percent of the electricity needed. Every person that switches to renewable energy makes an impact.

Start small with a solar energy kit

You may have been on the fence about renewable energy or concerned that it would meet all your power needs. Many cities have embraced the grid-tied model and are making solar energy affordable and easy to access.

Grid-tied electricity connects homes to the conventional electric grid while utilizing solar power to reduce electric consumption. In some cases, consumers may be able to sell back excess power that their solar system creates, to the electric company. 

Plant More Trees

We all know that trees take in carbon and exhale oxygen which helps to clean the surrounding air. 

News from the summer of 2019 has centered on fires. Specifically forest fires. Arizona, California and even the Amazon jungle were burning at horrific rates. As they burn they release carbon monoxide into the atmosphere.

The National Geographic Institute reports that there have been 72,843 fires this year in Brazil. “When those trees are cut or burned, they not only release the carbon they were storing but a tool to absorb carbon emissions disappears.”

Planting trees could not be easier, even if you have no yard. Groups like the National Arbor Day Foundation (NDAF) give low-cost trees to many groups for planting in their communities so people can experience nature and clean the air. 

Eat For Climate Change

Your diet has a lot to say about how you live. Diet and climate go hand in hand. 

There are changes you can make to your diet to lower your carbon footprint and be more sustainable. The biggest change you can make towards lowering your carbon “diet” footprint is to learn where your food comes from. Better yet grow your own! Read our organic gardening blog to learn more.

Automobile emissions account for most of the human-produced CO pollution. How does that affect our food? Your food travels an average of 1500 miles for each meal you eat. The truck that carried your food burned a lot of gasoline. It also means your food is not very fresh.

You can lower the amount of CO in the atmosphere simply by sourcing local foods. If you are in the Ohio River Valley check out CORV.

Many restaurants will proudly tell you when they purchase food from a local farm.

Farmers’ markets in many areas are very large and you can find a variety of sustainably grown vegetables, fruits, meats, and even flowers for the table. 

Make Your Commute More Climate Friendly

Now that we know that automobiles are one of the biggest polluters in our cities producing copious amounts of smog we can do something about how we travel. Public transportation is still very common in urban areas. The American Public Transportation Association (APTA), states that public transportation saves about 1.4 billion gallons of gasoline annually in the USA. 

However, if public transportation in your city isn't up to par, there are other options. For example, you can ride a bike. Riding a bike rewards you in two ways. The first way is that you lower your carbon footprint. The second way is that you get a great workout. 

If neither of those is feasible, then consider purchasing an electric or hybrid car. The energy efficiency of some models is triple that of a standard automobile. More urban areas are creating places to plug in your electric car so you have a full charge when you want to get back home. 

Conclusion

CO pollution is harming our planet and its inhabitants because of human practices. Our dependency on fossil fuels that we use for transportation, making electricity and agricultural production is increasing the harmful levels of CO in our atmosphere. 

We can reduce these levels by adjusting our behaviors. When we use alternative energy to power our home or ride a bike to work we lower our carbon footprint and help the environment. 

Ame Vanorio has 25+ years of experience living off-grid and as an organic farmer. She is the director of Fox Run Environmental Education Center and a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. She teaches classes locally and online about organic gardening, green building, living off-grid and wildlife conservation. In addition, she is a freelance writer and writes for several gardening, tiny house and pet websites. She lives a sustainable life on  her Kentucky farm with a myriad of domestic and wild animals. 

Gemplers


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