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Counting Air Particulate Matter

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Author: Jarred, Grade 7

Abstract

The purpose of my project was to find out whether a rural area or an urban area produces more particulate air pollution. The project also tried to identify which type of habitat within these areas (forest, field, and road) produced more particulate air pollution. To determine this I put microscope slides that were coated with a thin layer of Vaseline out in each of these areas and habitats for 24-hour periods. The particulate matter that settled on the slides stuck to the Vaseline and I was able to count the number of particles under a dissecting microscope.

The data show that the rural areas sampled received the most particulate air pollution when compared to the urban sites. This was true for all the habitats combined for the rural and urban area and also for each of the habitat types. The data also show that in the rural areas, the forest received the most particulate matter, the field the second most amount, and the road the least. The data for the urban habitats were different. As expected, the road site received the most particulate matter, but the forest received the second highest amount, and the field the least. The urban road habitat received the most particulate matter because of the automobile and truck traffic. But the reason the urban sites in general received the least amount of particulate matter is because most of the pollution produced by automotive vehicles are chemical pollutants and not large enough to be collected or counted with a dissecting microscope. The reason the rural habitats had such a high level of particulate matter is because at the times the samples were run, the corn and soybean harvest was in progress. There is considerable dust, dirt, and plant particle debris that are blown into the air by the combines in the harvest process.

Problem

Is There More Air Particulate Matter in an Urban or Rural Area?

I chose the problem "Is there more Air Particulate Matter in an Urban or Rural Area" because I was interested in finding out whether air pollution is different in an urban and rural area. Also, I wanted to find out whether there is a difference in particulate air pollution depending, on the type of community or habitat. I also want to find out if the amount of particulate air pollution in an area is constant over time, or are there other factors that affect it, like weather or human activity.

Air pollution is known to be a health hazard. I was interested in doing an experiment to find out some of the patterns of air pollution.

  • Is there a difference between air pollution in urban areas as compared to more rural areas?
  • In a setting (urban versus rural), is there a difference in air pollution within different communities?
  • Is the quantity of air pollution the same over time or does it vary with temperature, wind, or human activity?

I used a measure of particulate air pollution to answer some of these questions.

Background Information

Pollutants are any materials, such as gas, particles, or chemicals that are released into the environment. The class of pollutants that are released into the atmosphere is known as air pollutants and is called air pollution. Air pollution can be in gaseous or particulate forms. Major sources of air pollutants are from the burning of fuels and wastes, factory emissions, automobile exhaust, and cigarette smoke. There are natural sources of air pollution as well. For example, the dust and salt blown from the ocean or the "haze" produced by plants in our large forests are natural forms of air pollution.

The chief forms of chemical pollutants in air pollution are carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), volatile-organic compounds (VOC), nitrogen oxide (NOX), and sulfur oxide (SOX). These chemicals can mix together to form other chemical compounds that are also pollutants. These pollutants can have major effects on humans. Such as, a headache, itchy-red eyes, dizziness, tiredness, trouble breathing, colds, the flu, lung problems, even an increased death rate.

Another form of air pollution comes from particulate matter. It is called Particulate Air Pollution. This type of air pollution refers to microscopic, air-born particles, that are suspended in the atmosphere. Particulate matter is 10 microns or less in size. This is the same as one half of the width of an average human hair. Most sources of particulate air pollution come from organic sources. But most organic materials are not harmful. Some of the sources of particulate pollution in the atmosphere are from tobacco smoke, wood smoke, burning of coal, logging, earth moving (construction, road building), and diesel-burning vehicles. Even lawn mowers produce small particles when grass and leaves are chopped up and blown out from the mower. Particulate Air Pollution is a human health hazard because it can travel into your lungs and cause a variety of respiratory problems. Children and senior citizens are affected the most. Particulate matter can be cause an increase in emergency room visits, hospitalization, days off of school and work, heart and lung problems, and an increase death rate.

In addition to human health problems, both chemical and particulate air pollution are prime factors involved with the warming of the earth by the greenhouse effect and the depletion of the earth’s protective ozone layer. There are ways we can tell how bad the air pollution is around us.

The way we do this is with the "Air Quality Index"

http://www.lungusa.org/air/air_index.html

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