Harmful Toxins In The Air

Project and Seminar Material for Science Laboratory Technology (SLT)

Harmful Toxins In The Air


Some toxins are useful but many are toxic and their harm to the environment and our health far outweighs their benefit to society. We need to manage the risks better by only using chemicals, which are safe. Chemicals enter air as emissions and water as effluent.

Industrial and motor vehicle emissions of nitrogen and sulphur oxides cause acid rain, which poisons fish and other aquatic organisms in rivers and lakes and affects the ability of soil to support plants. Carbon dioxide causes the greenhouse effect and climate change.

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) cause the destruction of ozone in the stratosphere and create the possibility of serious environmental damage from ultraviolet radiation.

Chemical fertilizers and nutrients run-off from farms and gardens cause the build up of toxic algae in rivers, making them uninhabitable to aquatic organisms and unpleasant for humans.

This seminar paper revealed the harmful toxins in the air. Discussed are the harmful toxins; its impacts, sources and mitigation measures.

Chapter One


Every day we are bombarded with pollution and harmful toxins, many of which did not exist 50 to 100 years ago. There are 400 chemical pollutants that we come in contact with that were not even invented when our grandparents were alive. One of the most effectve ways at dealing with these toxins is with plenty of antioxidant rich foods and daily Infrared Sauna sweating.

The following are just a few examles of the toxins that are floating around our air and that can enter through our skin or lungs on a daily basis. It becomes easy to understand why we need a bit more help these days surviving in this world of ever increasing pollutants.

Indoor Air Pollution

Indoor air pollution can affect you at home, work, or even places you visit. It is a common source of respiratory diseases, including asthma, allergies, and lung cancer. It can be worse in winter, when windows are shut tight and less fresh air can circulate.

Cigarette Smoke

One of the most common and toxic indoor air pollutants is cigarette smoke. Experts believe more than 87% of lung cancers are caused by cigarette smoke.
Smoking, or even inhaling secondhand smoke, increases your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Tobacco smoke is a mixture of more than 4,700 compounds. Smoke from the smoldering end of a cigarette contains more cancer-causing chemicals than the smoke exhaled by a factory smoke stack.

Woodstoves Campfires & Gas Ranges

Woodstoves that are not properly maintained and vented can give off gases, including carbon monoxide, nitrogen, particulates, and hydrocarbons. Children in homes heated with woodstoves are at increased risk for respiratory problems. Gas ranges, particularly when they are not well-vented or when they are used as a source of heat, may produce nitrogen dioxide, which can cause respiratory problems.

Building Materials

Exposure to building materials, products used for home improvement, and textiles can cause health problems. For example, particleboard, insulation, carpet adhesives, and other household products emit formaldehyde, which can cause nausea, respiratory problems, dry or inflamed skin, and eye irritation. Newly built homes and the confined spaces of mobile homes can be a particular problem.

Sick Building Syndrome & Building Related Asthma

Experts coined the term “sick building syndrome” to describe acute symptoms that occur only during time spent in a particular building that can’t be explained by any specific illness or cause. Symptoms include headache, dry cough, dry or itchy skin, dizziness, nausea, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, sensitivity to odors, and irritation of the eyes, nose, or throat. Typically the symptoms improve after you leave the building.

Poor ventilation that restricts fresh air flow inside can be a cause of sick building syndrome. Carpet, adhesives, upholstery, manufactured wood, copy machines, pesticides, and cleaning fluids can give off volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including formaldehyde. High concentrations of VOCs can cause cancer. Unvented gas and kerosene space heaters, woodstoves, fireplaces, and gas stoves can produce carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide.

Outdoor sources of chemicals can also cause sick building syndrome. Pollutants from cars and trucks and exhaust from plumbing vents and building machinery can enter a building through vents.

Bacteria, Molds, Viruses, & Other Biological Contaminants Bacteria, molds, and viruses can breed in stagnant water that accumulates in humidifiers, drain pans, and ducts, or where water collects on carpet, ceiling tiles, and insulation. Humidifier fever is an illness caused by toxins from microorganisms that grow in large heating and cooling systems in buildings, but they can also be found in home systems and humidifiers. Legionella pneumophila is an indoor bacterium that can cause Legionnaires’ disease.

Pet dander, pollen, dust mites, molds, and rat and mouse urine are allergens that can cause asthma, allergic rhinitis, and other lung problems. Symptoms of illness caused by biological contaminants include sneezing, watery eyes, shortness of breath, lethargy, dizziness, and digestive problems.

Household Products

Many of the products you use to clean your home or use for hobbies and home improvement projects contain potentially hazardous chemicals. Some can be toxic and in sufficient doses can cause eye and respiratory problems, headaches, dizziness, visual problems, and memory impairment. One of the most important ways you can protect yourself is by following the instructions on the label. When using cleaning or other products, make sure to open windows or use an exhaust fan to provide good ventilation. Never mix household chemicals, such as chlorine and ammonia. Some mixtures can create toxic fumes that can be fatal.

Be especially careful with products containing methylene chloride, including paint strippers, adhesive removers, and aerosol spray paints. If you use products that contain this chemical, make sure to have adequate ventilation or use them outdoors, if possible.
Avoid exposure to benzene, which can cause cancer. Benzene is found in tobacco smoke, stored fuels and paint supplies, and vehicle exhaust inside garages.


Radon is a colorless, odorless radioactive gas that can enter your home through cracks in concrete walls and floors and through floor drains. The most common source of radon is uranium that normally exists in the soil or rock on which homes are built. Problems arise when concentrations of radon build up in a home or building. Both old or new homes can have problems with radon even if they don’t have a basement.
Exposure to radon gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer. (Tobacco smoke is the leading cause.) The risk of radon-associated lung cancer is 12 times higher for smokers than nonsmokers.

Outdoor Air Pollution

Polluted air comes from many sources. There are the usual suspects: factories, cars, buses, trucks, and power plants. But there are sources you may not think of, such as dry cleaners, wildfires, and dust. Dirty air is a threat to your health, and it also damages crops, trees, water, and animals.

There Are Six Major Components Of Air Pollution:


Ozone is a gas that exists at ground level as well as miles above the earth. It’s made by a chemical reaction between nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the presence of heat and sunlight. “Good” ozone occurs naturally about 10 to 30 miles above the earth’s surface.

There, in the stratosphere, it forms a protective layer from the sun’s harmful rays. At ground level, “bad” ozone (smog) exists. Exhaust from vehicles, industrial emissions, gasoline vapors, and chemical solvents are major sources of nitrogen oxides and VOCs. Add sunlight and hot weather to the mix, and harmful concentrations of ozone may develop. Because of the heat factor, ground-level ozone is a summertime air pollutant that can be dangerous, especially for people with respiratory illnesses. Problems include:

  • Irritation of the lungs that causes inflammation much like a sunburn.
  • Coughing, wheezing, pain when taking a deep breath, and breathing problems while exercising.
  • Permanent lung damage from repeated exposure.
  • Aggravated asthma, increased susceptibility to pneumonia and bronchitis, and reduced lung capacity.

Particulates include dust, dirt, soot, smoke, and liquid droplets found in the air. They come from many sources, such as vehicles, factories, construction sites, unpaved roads, and wood burning. Other particulates are formed when gases from burning fuels react with water vapor and sunlight. This can result from the combustion of fuels in motor vehicles and from industrial and power plants. Particulates in the air you breathe can cause:

  • Aggravated asthma.
  • Coughing and difficult or painful breathing.
  • Chronic bronchitis.
  • Decreased lung function.
  • Eye, nose, and throat irritation.
Carbon Monoxide

In cities with lots of traffic, most of the carbon monoxide released into the air comes from vehicle exhaust. It also comes from manufacturing processes, wood burning, and forest fires; indoor sources include cigarettes and space heaters. Carbon monoxide reduces the body’s ability to deliver oxygen to tissues and organs, such as the heart and brain. It is especially dangerous for people who have heart problems. Carbon monoxide can be fatal to those exposed to extremely high levels. People with carbon monoxide poisoning may develop:

  1. Headaches, irritability, or loss of consciousness.
  2. Difficulty working, learning, or performing complex tasks.
  3. Aggravation of heart problems, such as angina, heart failure, and coronary artery disease
Nitrogen Dioxide

When mixed with other particles in the air, nitrogen dioxide can often be seen as a reddish brown layer over many urban areas. Sources are fuels burned by vehicles, electric utilities, and industrial plants. Nitrogen dioxide is one of the nitrogen oxides, a group of highly reactive gases that contain various amounts of nitrogen and oxygen. Nitrogen oxides cause several problems, including:

  1. Respiratory problems associated with ground-level ozone.
  2. Acid rain, which is created when nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide react with other substances in the air and form acids. The acids then fall to earth as rain, snow, dry particles, or fog.
  3. Toxic chemicals. Nitrogen oxides mix with common organic chemicals and even ozone to create toxic chemicals that can cause biological mutations.
  4. Visibility impairment. Nitrogen dioxide and nitrate particles block light transmission and reduce visibility in urban areas.
Sulfur Dioxide

These gases are formed when fuels containing sulfur are burned. Examples are coal and oil burning, the process of extracting gasoline from oil, or when metals are extracted from ore. More than 13 million tons of sulfur dioxide per year is emitted into the air by electric utilities, especially those that burn coal. Other sources are industries that create products from metallic ore, coal, and crude oil or those that burn coal or oil, such as petroleum refineries or metal processing facilities. Sulfur dioxide causes:

  1. Health problems for people with asthma and heart conditions.
  2. Acid rain.
  3. Damage to forests and crops.
  4. Damage to fish in streams and lakes.

Leaded gasoline used to be the main source of lead in the air, but because leaded fuels have been phased out, the main sources of lead emissions are metals processing facilities, especially lead smelters. Lead may cause serious health problems, including:

  1. Damage to kidneys, liver, brain, nerves, and other organs. Lead may also cause osteoporosis and reproductive problems. Excessive exposure can cause seizures, mental retardation, behavioral disorders, memory problems, and mood changes. Low levels of lead cause brain and nerve damage in young children and fetuses, which can lead to learning problems and low IQ.
  2. High blood pressure and increases in heart disease.
  3. Anemia.

Exposure to pesticides may come from residual agricultural pesticides in foods or from household or workplace products used to control rodents, insects, and termites, and from disinfectants and fungicides. The most likely ways you are exposed are small quantities of pesticides in the foods you eat, and by direct contact with surfaces (such as plants, soils, or structures) where pesticides have been used.

If not used properly, both workplace and household pesticides can be dangerous. Exposure to high levels of some pesticides can cause headaches, dizziness, muscle twitching, nausea, weakness, and tingling sensations. Some experts believe that some pesticides may cause cancer or damage to the liver and central nervous system. Pesticide exposure during pregnancy has been associated with miscarriage, fetal death, and early childhood cancers such as acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Indoor use of pesticides increases children’s risk of brain tumors, ALL, and birth defects. Children can be poisoned by stored pesticides, so these should always be kept out of reach. For agricultural workers, exposure to pesticides has been associated with an increased risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Chapter Three

Conclusion And Recommendation

3.1 Conclusion

Potentially dangerous chemicals such as these are being introduced into the environment all the time. As in the case of PCBs their effect on living things may not be known until many years after their release. Hundreds of thousands of different chemicals are marketed worldwide. Of these 5000 are produced in quantities over 10 tonnes a year and 1500 are produced in quantities over 1000 tonnes year.

We do not have enough information about the environmental effects of these industrial chemicals and their effects on humans. The balance between human activity and ecological sustainability is wrong.

3.2 Recommendations

Harmful toxins in the air pose a big risk to Man and his environment. To mitigate the impacts,the below suggestions should be implemented.

  1. Use biodegradable products. Make your own cleaning agent using safe materials. Dispose of chemical waste carefully. Do not put them down the sink. Be wise with home maintenance and in the garden. Do not burn plastics.
  2. Avoid all organic chemicals that have “chloro” as part of their names including wood preservatives, herbicides and insecticides. Avoid chlorine bleach (sodium hypochlorite) and products containing it. Use oxygen bleach instead. Use unbleached paper products.Avoid “Permethrin” flea sprays for pets. Avoid products made of or packaged in polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Avoid cling flim plastic wraps unless they are clearly identified as non-chlorinated plastic.
  3. To minimise your risk of dioxins accumulating in your body avoid all full-fat dairy products and fatty meats such as beef or pork. Wash all fruits and vegetables to remove chlorophenol pesticide residue. Avoid grapes and raisins unless they are clearly labelled as organically grown. Avoid soaps, toothpaste and deodorants containing “triclosan,” a chlorophenol.
  4. We can reduce the dioxins if we stop producing PVCs and other chlorinated chemicals. If your local government sends its waste to an incinerator, request that they stop burning plastics and introduce a comprehensive recycling service. Write to companies and ask them to use safe substitutes to chlorinated plastics. Ask your supermarket to sell Totally Chlorine Free (TCF) products. Join or form a local environmental group campaigning against hazardous chemicals.
  5. People who work with cadmium should take care not to inhale cadmium-containing dust and should avoid carrying it home from work on their clothes, skin or hair. Eat from a wide range of foods to prevent the risk of ingesting toxic levels of cadmium.

Harmful Toxins In The Air

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