What you need to know about smog

Smog is a serious problem that poses risk to human health and the environment. It also causes property damage. Urban populace continuously deals with it day by day. Learn about its facts and how to minimize the effects of smog.


Smog is a term coined from the words smoke and fog. It was first used by Dr. Henry Antoine de Voeux in his paper, Fog and Smoke. He said,

“…it required no science to see that there was something produced in great cities which was not found in the country and that was smoky fog, or what was known as ‘smog’.” (1905, Wikipedia)

Smog is a mixture of air pollutants. It occurs when there’s a photochemical interaction between light and hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides in the air. Most often, this interaction is caused by vehicular emissions and post-industrial gas.

Sometimes, smog is referred to as a haze in the ambiance or an assimilation of gases. It’s more visible and a prevalent issue in urban centers where there are more cars and industries than in the countrysides. The most apparent evidence of cities stifled by smog is the colored and soot-covered windows, walls, drapes and curtains, and other open surfaces.

The tallest towers of Shanghai, China, rise above the haze. Shanghai’s smog is a mixture of pollution from coal, the primary source of energy for most homes and businesses in the region, as well as emissions from vehicles.
(Photo credit: National Geographic)

Types of smog

The earth’s atmosphere naturally consists of 78.08 percent nitrogen, 20.95 percent gas, 0.93 percent argon, 0.03 percent element pollutant, and 0-4 percent irrigate suspension. There are also small amounts of more or less twoscore trace gases such as ozone, helium, hydrogen, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and neon in the atmosphere. The existence of minimal amounts of these trace gases is relatively harmless. Until the balance is tipped and its accumulation rises beyond tolerable levels. That makes the air we breath toxic!

Generally, there are two types of smog that are classified as the main air pollutants.

Industrial smog is typified by vast achromatic smokestacks emanating from chimneys of factories. Its primary pollutant is sulfur dioxide, a compound that causes acid rain.

Photochemical smog primarily comes from the combustion process of moving vehicles. A constant use of fossil fuels for heating, industry, and transport also produces photochemical smog. Slashing and burning of trees and agricultural organic wastes likewise cause enormous emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides.

When these direct pollutants interact with sunlight, they create various dangerous chemicals, peroxyacetyl nitrates (PAN) and tropospheric or ground-level ozone. These are notoriously known as auxiliary pollutants.

Effects of smog


The unabated accumulation of smog in the air has increasingly become alarming. Significantly because of its hazardous chemical content.

Smog compromises human health by considerably weakening our respiratory and immune system. Its effects may differ, though, according to varied factors like age, state of health, the extent of exposure, and dosage.  Its typical symptoms involve

  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Headaches
  • Tiredness
  • Irritation
  • Nausea
  • Hoarse throat
  • Temporary irritation in the nose and eyes
  • Chest constrictions

These effects, however, are only short-term. Once exposure to smog stops, the symptoms also stop.

It’s the long-term impact of air pollutants that are likely to put human health at high risk. And these are ofttimes the gravest. The most serious effects of smog are associated with the respiratory system. Its components have been proven to cause damages to the mucociliary system. Besides, smog causes or aggravates

  • Asthma
  • Emphysema
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Other respiratory conditions

It also causes eye irritation and weakens the body’s defense system against colds and lung infection.

People who are more prone to acquire smog-related ailments are the aged, children, and expectant women. Toddlers and young children are vulnerable to air pollution because their lungs are not yet fully developed. Since they breathe more air per unit of body weight than adults, children are prone to the greater risk of getting sick and acquiring long-term damage to their lungs. Besides, they ofttimes breathe through their mouths. Smog directly enters their lungs because their mouth, unlike the nose, has no natural filtering system that reduces the number of hazardous chemicals.

Other vulnerable individuals include those with heart and lung conditions, those with allergies, smokers, and even adults who are active outdoors. Smog particularly reduces the lung’s working capacity of the asthmatics and those suffering from chronic ailments. Some studies even revealed that such air pollution is associated with birth defects among newborns and low birth weight.

These ailments are rather common in urban centers, where post-industrial emissions from automobiles and factories are extensive.

Smog does not only affect humans. The ozone in smog stunts plant growth. It also causes stress and extensive damage to crops and forests. Wildlife is also at risk of developing adverse health conditions similar to what humans are prone to.

Call to action: ways to help reduce air pollution

Urbanization is beside the question. But the irony of this is that along with economic progress comes also deterioration in the quality of life. However, all is not lost yet. You and I can actually help reduce air pollution. Check out how you can contribute to the solution.  Next page.

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