The Dynamics of Vehicular Emission and Air Pollution

Vehicular emission is the release of harmful material into the environment by motor vehicles. These materials, known as pollutants, have adverse effects on the ecosystem and thereby on human health.

The majority of today’s vehicles run on gasoline or other fossil fuels. The primary source of vehicular pollution occurs through the process of burning gas to power cars and trucks, which releases a variety of emissions into the atmosphere. Secondary pollution is a result of chemical reactions between pollutants after they are released into the air.

Harmful pollutants are released into the air during the process of manufacturing, refueling, and from the emissions associated with procedures such as oil refining and its distribution.

Emissions from private cars are generally low compared to the smokestack image many people associate with air pollution. But in most of the cities across the world, personal automobiles are the single most significant pollution source as the emissions from millions of vehicles on the road accumulate. Driving one’s car is probably a typical citizen’s most polluting daily activity.

What are the major vehicular pollutants?

The major vehicular pollutants that have an adverse effect on Human Health and life are:

  1. Carbon Monoxide:  
    • It is an odourless, colourless and, is highly toxic to living beings as it blocks the supply of oxygen to the organs and tissues.
    • It binds to haemoglobin to form carboxyhemoglobin, and when its concentration reaches about 3-4%, the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood reduces.
    • This deficiency leads to headaches, weak eyesight, nervousness, and cardiovascular disorders.
  2. Carbon Dioxide:
    • Exposure to carbon dioxide can cause suffocation by the displacement of air
    • Incapacitation and unconsciousness
    • Vertigo headache and double vision
    • Seizures
  3. Hydrocarbons:
    • Are composed of hydrogen and carbon and are formed by incomplete combustion of fuel used in automobiles.
    • These are carcinogenic, that is, they cause cancers
    • They harm plants causing ageing, breakdown of tissues and shedding of leaves, flowers, and twigs.
  4. Oxides of Nitrogen:
    • In an automobile engine, when fossil fuel combusts at high temperatures, dinitrogen and dioxygen combine to yield significant quantities of nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide.
    • The irritant red haze (photochemical smog) in the traffic and congested places is due to high levels of ozone and nitrogen oxides.
    • The majority concentration of nitrogen dioxide damages the leave of plants and retards the rate of photosynthesis.
    • Also, it’s a lung irritant that can lead to acute respiratory infection in children.
  5. Oxides of sulphur:
    • Oxides of sulphur are produced when burning sulphur-containing fuel, especially diesel.
    • The pollutant sulphur dioxide is a gas that is poisonous to both animals and plants.
    • Its low concentration causes respiratory diseases, for example, asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema in human beings.
    • Sulphur dioxide irritates the eyes, resulting in tears and redness.
  6. Particulate matter:
    • These are the mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air. Some particles are visible with our naked eye, and some are so small that they can be detected using an electron microscope.
    • Pollutant particle size is linked directly to the potential for causing health issues. Smaller particles that are less than 10 micrometers in diameter pose the most significant challenge because they can enter the lungs and get into the bloodstream.
    • Exposure to such particles can affect both the lungs and heart
    • It can aggravate asthma, increase respiratory symptoms, such as coughing and irritation of the airways, or cause difficulty in breathing.

Curbing vehicular pollution:

Vehicular emissions contribute to air quality problems and can be minimized by adopting better pollution control technologies on cars and trucks, thereby reducing the emissions, burning less fuel, switching to cleaner fuels, and reducing the number of vehicle miles travelled. Some of the actionable pointers are:

  1. Civic education: Carrying out public awareness by government departments and non-governmental organizations can play a significant role in sensitising society to the realities of pollution. This can be undertaken by community organizers or by having it taught in schools as part of the curriculum. A sense of responsibility should be developed in everyone so that there is a desire and willingness to do what is right.
  2. Burning less fuel: It is essential to make cars and trucks more efficient by burning less fuel and putting that efficiency to work in improving the fuel economy. The U.S. federal government has set fuel-economy standards for all passenger vehicles. These standards have remained mostly constant over the past decade. Thus, on average, the U.S. passenger-vehicle fleet travels less distance on a gallon of gas than what it did earlier. This has led to an increase in gas emissions from vehicles that trap heat, resulting in the formation of smog. This toxic emission is also an outcome of the actual production and transportation of gasoline to the fuel station. Hybrid-electric cars with advanced technology that use both a combustion engine and an electric motor along with a battery can cut fuel use even further.
  3. Zero-Emission Vehicles: Improving pollution-control technology and burning less fuel continues to be vital. As more cars and trucks are made and sold, the total annual mileage increases, particularly in rapidly growing urban areas. Now we are to move away from burning fuel and use Hydrogen fuel-cell and electric automobiles that depend on electrochemical processes instead, to produce the needed energy to power vehicles.

    Fuel-cell automobiles run on electricity that is an outcome from the reaction of hydrogen and oxygen with the only by-product being water,  thereby classified as zero-emission transport, which emits no exhaust fumes. An on-board battery stores energy in electric vehicles. These are static sources of energy and are easier to control. They can further be converted to use other renewable energy sources like wind and solar power getting us as close as we can get to ‘true’ zero-emission vehicles.

Way Forward:

The worldwide vehicle population is increasing, and environmental pollution due to vehicle emission are becoming more and more dangerous. The annual growth rate of vehicle population globally has increased form the 1980’s, and now the number of vehicles in developing countries has grown to nearly 30% of the world total, and this will reach 1.1 billion in 2020. Vehicle population in urban settings is much larger than those in rural areas, and as a result, vehicle pollution is a more serious problem in an urban environment.

Thus vehicle transport is one of the leading causes of air pollution the world over. It begins with individual responsibility in having a cleaner planet. When we change our mindsets and become more proactive, a lot of good things can be achieved. In the same manner, vehicle pollution can also be reduced and managed.

An efficient and cheap public transport system in cities, such as Metro rail, buses, taxis, waterways (if possible) go a long way in discouraging individuals from using their vehicles and thereby reduce pollution, through vehicular emissions to a very great extent.



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