Kansas is a state located in the central region of the U.S.A, being bordered by other states such as Missouri, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Colorado. The state gained its name from the Kansas river, and has a prominent presence in the agricultural sector, producing very high yields of food products such as corn, wheat and soybeans. With close to 90 percent of its land being dedicated to agriculture, much of its employment as well as exports are centered around this field, as well as having a large amount of production in the petroleum and natural gas industry.
Other industries worth noting are centered around the manufacturing of aircrafts, food items, industrial parts and machinery, chemicals, and clothing. The reason these are pertinent to mention are due to the fact that they can have many detrimental effects on the quality of the air in Kansas, with the numerous industries all putting out various forms of pollution, as well as the means of transportation for both import and export contributing to decreased air quality levels.
To use some cities as examples, Kansas City came in with a PM2.5 reading of 10.8 μg/m³ over the course of 2020, as its yearly average. This reading placed it within the 'good' ratings bracket, Which requires a PM2.5 reading of anywhere between 10 to 12 μg/m³ to be classified as such. This shows that Kansas City has a somewhat decent level of air quality, coming in at 2207th place out of all cities ranked worldwide, as well as in 2nd place out of all cities ranked in Kansas state. Other prominent cities include ones such as the capital, Topeka, as well as the largest city in the state, Wichita. Both of these came in with PM2.5 readings of 9.3 μg/m³ and 7.4 μg/m³ respectively, placing them within the World Health Organizations (WHO's) target goal of 10 μg/m³ or less for the most optimal quality of air.
Whilst two out of the three aforementioned cities fell within the WHO's target bracket for the best quality of air, they all had had several months of their year come in with significantly higher readings, some of which would present health hazards for those who are exposed to excessive levels of pollution, particularly for certain vulnerable demographics of the population.
With its sizeable population of over 2.9 million inhabitants, Kansas would have many different polluting sources, the main ones of which will be discussed in short. In closing, whilst the state managed to keep seven out of its nine registered cities within the WHO's target bracket, there is much that it could do to improve the quality of its air, aiding in the safety of its citizens who are subject to this pollutive exposure.
Some of the main causes of air pollution in Kansas would typically focus around the various combustion sources taking place across its many cities. These include ones such as vehicle engines and the subsequent fumes and emissions that they release, as well as factories, power plants and other similar industrial areas. These often run on natural gas, coal and even diesel for their heavy machinery, with natural gas and pulverized coal being some of the most prominent sources of energy in all of the aforementioned industrial sites. With a large population, there comes a growing demand for electricity across homes and businesses, and as such the amount of resources combusted also increases, putting out greater amounts of smoke, haze and damaging fine particulate matter.
Vehicles are one of the most constant and insidious sources of pollution, both in Kansas and other states throughout America. Vehicle ownership is something that is only on the rise across the world, and smaller personal vehicles such as cars and motorbikes can put out large amounts of chemical compounds into the air, along with the various PM2.5 or PM10 materials. To compound this issue further, with the huge amount of exportation taking place due to Kansas producing large amounts of exportable goods, there would subsequently be the need for many heavy duty vehicles, with ones such as trucks and lorries seeing widescale use across the roads.
Many of these run on diesel fuels, and can put out far larger amounts of pollution than a smaller vehicle running on a cleaner or more sustainable fuel source would. Furthermore, the excessive use of tires can lead to thousands of tons of microscopic rubber particles being deposited into both the air and soil, which can have disastrous consequences on human health as well as wildlife, vegetation and various ecosystems. Many other damaging chemicals are released or created from these actions, some of which will be mentioned in following.
A few more noteworthy causes of pollution are natural fires, as well as firewood or charcoal being burnt in people’s homes or property, sometimes more prevalent in rural areas. All of these can throw out vast amounts of harmful pollutants and chemicals, the health effects of which will also be discussed. Construction sites, demolition areas and road repairs can also put out their own forms of dangerous particulate matter, especially when poorly maintained.
Some health risks associated with breathing certain pollutants in Kansas would be largely related to a number of respiratory conditions. To name a few of the more surface level ones, instances of dry coughs, chest pain and infections would go up, but can cease if exposure to pollution is halted. Other more serious health problems would be ones such as increased rates of cancer, particularly affecting the lungs due to the constant inhalation of carcinogenic materials.
Due to the extremely small size of these tiny particles (with PM2.5 referring to particulate matter that is 2.5 micrometers in diameter, going down to sizes as small as 0.001 microns across), they can penetrate deep into the lung tissue, causing not only damage to the lungs themselves leading to reduced lung function, irritation and inflammation, but also crossing over into the bloodstream via the alveoli or tiny air sacs present in the lungs. One in the blood stream, this particulate matter can wreak havoc on the body, causing damage to the blood vessels, as well as travelling to the liver and kidneys and causing problems to arise within these organ systems.
Cases of ischemic heart disease can also arise, along with other cardiac conditions such as heart attacks and arrythmias, as well as pulmonary issues related to aforementioned scarring or damage to the lung tissue also presenting themselves. These include conditions such as pneumonia, bronchitis, emphysema and aggravated forms of asthma, all of which fall under the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), an umbrella term that refers to a number of ailments that caused reduced lung function and restriction of airways that worsens over time, hence the chronic or progressive nature of the disease.
Much of the pollution arises from combustion sites across Kansas, with all of the previously mentioned sources typically having a combustion unit producing the air contaminants, which include vehicle engines, factory or power plant boilers, and even innocuous ones such as wood burning devices or stoves found at certain homes. These would give rise to pollutants such as black carbon (the main component of soot, as well as a potent carcinogen and climate changing material) and volatile organic compounds (VOC's), which include chemicals such as benzene, xylene, formaldehyde, ethylene glycol and toluene.
Other pollutants would be ones such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, typically found in crude oil, tar and coal. They have been found to be highly carcinogenic, mutagenic and even teratogenic (possible cause of birth defects), and as such are of great danger to human health. Other dangerous chemicals include ones such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and sulfur dioxide (SO2), both of which are released in high quantities from car exhaust fumes as well as factories, although nitrogen dioxide predominantly takes the top spot as worst offender from vehicle fumes. Both can cause irritation to the lining of the respiratory tract, as well as add to instances of acid rain (with the sulfur in SO2 playing a large part in this).
Ozone (O3) is a very prominent pollutant that is of concern across the United States. Whilst it is a vital part of the upper atmosphere, when it is on the ground level it can be an extremely dangerous pollutant, with large accumulations of it typically being referred to as smog. It is formed when the various oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and other gases or pollutants are exposed to enough solar radiation from sunlight. From here ozone is formed, making it one of the top pollutants of concern in America and also a major component in the calculation of the over AQI, or air quality index. Other components that go into making up this calculation include PM2.5, PM10 and NO2.
Whilst all people that make up the population of Kansas are in no ways immune to the highly damaging effects of air pollution, there are certain groups that are even more at risk, usually due to a number of reasons concerning physical health and background, as well as age and other immune system related issues. These groups include ones such as young children, the elderly, those who smoke or have preexisting heart or lung conditions, as well as those with hypersensitivity towards chemicals or compromised immune systems.
Pregnant mothers are particularly at risk due to the highly damaging effect that pollution can have on the health of an unborn child, with risks such as miscarriage, children being born with a low birth weight or prematurely, along with physical or mental defects all being possible. This is why the reduction of air pollution is such an important task for all states and countries to tackle to ensure the health of future generations.