Welcome to part three of our series on guiding you through Environmental Indicators relevant to a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology (find Part One of our Series here: Climate Change indicators and Part Two here: impact on human health).

Emissions with direct effect on human and planet health can be released in the atmosphere via acid deposition (Nitrogen Oxides), combustion of fuels containing sulfur (Sulfur Oxides), or release of coarse particles into the air (PM10). All three indicators have an impact locally (on human health) and regionally (resulting in modification of the environment). We know too well the impacts of bad air quality on human health, and these indicators are therefore critical in our measurement of solutions on air pollution.

Let’s take a closer look:

Nitrogen Oxides (NOx)

NOX are a group of highly reactive gases produced by various natural and anthropogenic (human-caused) sources. They strongly affect the air quality in our immediate surroundings, leading to the formation of ground-level ozone and fine particulate matter (resulting in POP – see Part 2 here), and contributing to acid rain or deposition, ozone depletion, and eutrophication of soil and water (for more on eutrophication of oceans, read our Part 2 here).

We know that the subsequent impacts of acid deposition and eutrophication onour soil and water can be significant, having adverse effects on aquatic ecosystems in rivers and lakes, damage to forests, crops and other vegetation. Furthermore, by contributing to the formation of atmospheric aerosols and particulate matter, NOx emissions can lead to the formation of nitrous oxide (N2O), a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming and affects human respiratory systems. When the environment is affected by NOx, it results in Summer smog, Winter smog, and Acidification in the environment impacted by its release.

Sulphur dioxide (SO2)

Sulphur dioxide (SO2) is a colourless gas with a pungent odour, released into the atmosphere from both natural sources, such as volcanic eruptions, and anthropogenic (human-caused) sources emitted by the combustion of fuels containing sulphur. 

Sulphur dioxide is a pollutant that contributes to acid deposition, which, in turn, can lead to potential changes in soil and water quality (eutrophication due to excessive nutrient input, as discussed above). Its effects can be counterbalanced by implementing flue gas desulfurization systems in power plants, and regulations on emissions from transportation sources. Winter smog and acidification are among the results of its presence in our atmosphere.

Particulates (PM10)

Dust from roads, farms, dry riverbeds, construction sites, and mines are types of PM10: particulate matter with a diameter of 10 micrometres or less. These are coarse (bigger) particles, which can irritate your eyes, nose, and throat. While fine (smaller) particles (PM2.5) are more dangerous and penetrate into the deep parts of your lungs — or even into your blood, it is important to measure the level of PM10 into the surrounding air.

Scientists have defined that a level of PM10 below 12 μg/m3 is considered healthy with little to no risk from exposure. If the level goes to or above 35 μg/m3 during a 24-hour period, the air becomes unhealthy, causing a risk exposure for people with existing breathing issues such as asthma or lung diseases.

With deposits accumulating onto surfaces, including vegetation, soil, and water bodies, PM10 also impacts soil erosion, water quality, aquatic life cycles, and can carry contaminants into ecosystems. It can lead to winter smog.

Learn more

Get in touch with us at info@waterrevolutionfoundation.org to find out more about the scientific methodology used within our programmes and how you can get involved. Stay tuned to hear about the remaining indicators!