Ohio is a state located in the midwestern region of the United States, being home to over 11.7 million inhabitants, making it the seventh most populous state in the country. It is bordered by other states such as Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky and Indiana, and is historically referred to as the ‘Buckeye State’, due to the prevalence of buckeye trees found growing throughout Ohio.
It has a long and prevalent history of being an influential state with a strong industrial presence, and this continues until today, although its economy has taken a shift more towards certain sectors such as information technology and the service industry. Although of note is that the state still has a large amount of manufacturing and automobile production occurring, with these sectors being among the most salient throughout the United States. With its extremely large and dense population, coupled with the high amount of industry taking place, Ohio is subject to air pollution issues, that it sees reflected in the PM2.5 readings recorded across its various cities.
PM2.5 refers to particulate matter that is 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter, on occasion going down to sizes as small as 0.001 microns or beyond. This incredibly small size, and coupled with the various harmful materials that it can be comprised of, come together to form a pollutant that is extremely harmful to human health when respired. Due to this, it is used as a major component in the calculation of the overall air quality index, or AQI, along with several other pollutants that will be discussed in short.
Looking at some of its more polluted cities to give an example of its air quality issues, there was one city that came in with a ‘moderate’ rating of pollution over the course of 2020, a rating that requires a PM2.5 reading of anywhere between 12.1 to 35.4 μg/m³ to be classified as such, and nine that came in with a 'good' pollution rating (10 to 12 μg/m³ required). Cleveland, a major city within Ohio, came in with a PM2.5 reading of 12.4 μg/m³ as its yearly average, indicating a level of pollutive issues. This reading of 12.4 μg/m³, besides placing it in the moderate ratings bracket of air pollution, also placed it in 1st place out of all cities ranked in Ohio in 2020.
Another city, Seville, came in at 2nd place in Ohio with its reading of 11.2 μg/m³, as well as 2085th place out of all cities ranked worldwide. As mentioned before, this is a relatively high reading for a city in America, indicating that the state could do much to improve its quality of air. Despite this, it is also important to note that while Ohio had many cities with poorer air quality, there were also a number of cities that had much more respectable readings of PM2.5, with ones such as Painesville and Medina coming in with readings of 6.6 μg/m³ and 6.4 μg/m³ respectively over 2020, indicating a much cleaner quality of air. If all cities were to be able to emulate such readings across the state, Ohio would improve its overall air quality standings considerably.
Some of the main causes of air pollution in Ohio would stem from several different main sources, all of which come together to form the compounded levels of air pollution that are on record. One of the most prevalent causes of air pollution would be from vehicles, with countless numbers of cars, motorbikes and other smaller personal vehicles on the road at any given time.
With millions of people living in the state, there would be widescale commutes between the different cities, in particular people commuting into the more major economic or financial cities. These daily mass movements of people via vehicles would give out huge amounts of exhaust fumes, which contains many different chemical compounds and hazardous fine particulate matter.
In industrial terms, there are the heavy duty vehicles that can add to this problem. With large amounts of manufacturing, particularly of industrial items and other products, there comes the need to transport it, both locally and internationally. This would see prevalent use of these heavier vehicles such as lorries and trucks, which often run on diesel fuel and can give out far more pollution than a singular vehicle of a smaller size. As well as this, tons of microscopic rubber particles are released into the air and onto the ground from the wearing down of tires from excessive vehicle use.
Other pertinent pollution sources include ones such as occasional forest fires, which can cause massive clouds of smoke and haze to drift across to various cities, often being able to move hundreds of miles from their original source depending on the wind, causing PM2.5 spikes in cities many miles away. Other sources of smoke and haze would be emissions from power plants, factories, and other similar industrial areas. With a sizeable population there comes a huge demand for electricity, particularly during the winter months when the air temperature drops considerably, causing power stations to burn through large amounts of coal and natural gas to provide this extra energy, for the heating of both homes and businesses.
Construction sites, road repairs, dust storms and the extraction of raw materials from the earth can also release large amounts of dangerous fine particulate matter into the air (PM2.5 and PM10), with any activity that causes disruption to large portions of earth or soil also having the ability to cause the mass release of particulate matter into the air, the respiration of which can have many far reaching health issues.
With PM2.5 readings going as high as 49.7 μg/m³ in certain months, and with many consistent readings of 15 μg/m³ and above, there would be many possible health problems associated with breathing polluted air in Ohio. Of note is that it is possible to have adverse effects occur when breathing any level of pollution, particularly when it exceeds the World Health Organizations (WHO's) target goal of 10 μg/m³ or less. The higher the pollution count is, coupled with other factors such as length of exposure and individual disposition towards certain chemicals, the health risks can increase in severity accordingly.
Some health issues would include ones such as dry coughs, chest pains and infection, as well as irritation to the mucous membranes, with the eyes, ears, mouth and nose all being affected. As well as this, the skin is also susceptible to irritation or rash outbreaks, with conditions such as atopic dermatitis, eczema and even skin cancer being possible, depending on the pollutants involved. Carcinogenic materials can cause heightened risks of lung cancer when inhaled, as well as fine particulate matter and other irritating chemicals causing scarring and rapid aging to the lung tissue, along with inflammation of the respiratory tract.
When lung tissue is damaged, it can cause a reduction in full lung function, reducing the quality of an individual’s life as well as making them more susceptible to further respiratory conditions down the line. These conditions include ones such as pneumonia, bronchitis, emphysema and aggravated forms of asthma.
Going off the previously mentioned causes of pollution present in Ohio, there are a number of pollutants subsequently related to these processes, typically being combustion sources, with fires, vehicle engines and factory or power plant boilers all releasing these chemical compounds. Some prevalent ones that see their release from vehicles include nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and sulfur dioxide (SO2), with nitrogen dioxide being the most prominent in its emission for car engines, often being found in high quantities over areas that see large amounts of traffic.
There is such a strong correlation between the two, that oftentimes, large amounts of nitrogen dioxide in the air will be indicative of high volumes of traffic on the ground below, and vice versa. Other pollutants released from both cars and factories include black carbon, and volatile organic compounds (VOC's). Both of these see their release from the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels (as well as organic matter), and as such would be found in large amounts near both busy roads and industrial zones, with some VOC's even being released from household items such as varnishes, adhesives and paint.
Black carbon is the main component of soot, and has potent carcinogenic properties, able to raise instances of cancer in areas where it is found in large concentrations, alongside other dangerous particulate matter such as finely ground silica (often released from construction or repair sites). Some examples of VOC's include benzene, toluene, xylene, methylene chloride and formaldehyde.
These are all particularly dangerous, not only due to their effect on human health, but also due to their ability to remain in a gaseous state during the colder period of time, with their volatile nature helping them to stay in gaseous form. Other prominent pollutants include methane (CH4), carbon monoxide (CO) and ozone (O3).
Whilst all measures of the population are not immune to the damaging effects of air pollution, there are groups of people that are even more vulnerable to the various pollutants and air contaminants, often due to reasons pertaining to their age, physical background and general health. These groups include people such as young children, the elderly, pregnant mothers, as well as those who are sick or have preexisting health problems, or compromised immune systems. These groups would need to take extra care when periods of high pollution are in effect, with preventative measures such as the wearing of fine particle filtering masks and avoiding outdoor exercises or activity all being viable ways of cutting down on the damaging effects of pollution.