The first thing we should acknowledge when talking about smog is that it sounds like the antagonistic villain in an upcoming Marvel movie. The word originates from the unpleasant arrangement of “smoke” and “fog”, another illustration for our future antihero.

In a sense, the above statement is accurate as it seems; accordingly, the more we disregard the potentially harmful effects of smog, the more threatening it becomes. The danger stems from the oxidation reactions between nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), two key ingredients that ultimately produce the unwanted recipe for ground level ozone (the equivalent of smog) in the presence of intense solar radiation. As VOCs are produced by the burning or partial burning of fuels, vehicles have been thought to emit the most significant quantity in gaseous form, allowing the compounds to transform rapidly in the atmosphere. This characteristic has encouraged scientists to gather data on air pollution in various cities through outdoor air measurements, focusing greatly on near-road regions.

the more we disregard the potentially harmful effects of smog, the more threatening it becomes

Although data has shown that car engines release a fair share of VOCs (along with other pollutants such as carbon monoxide and fine particulate matter), a surprising result has been publicized; back in 2010, a NOAA air-sampling effort in Los Angeles, California revealed that a noteworthy emission of VOCs was coming from a source other than car engines. Overlooked in the past, it is now evident that volatile chemical products (VCPs) contribute critically to total VOC emissions within industrial cities. These chemicals can be found in everyday household commodities such as nail varnish, cleaning agents and perfumes. Many of these products are coated with an artificial outer layer containing organic compounds that eventually evaporate, diffuse through the air and drift outdoors- they are intended to vaporize.

Smog. Source: pexels

The growing effects of these vexatious VCPs has only recently come to light, as worldwide efforts to control vehicle VOC emissions through the development of catalytic converters have been effective, stressing the hazardous growth of VCP emissions. Scientists have calculated that VCP levels may even be one to two magnitudes higher than vehicle exhaust levels, which seems to comply with the achievement in monitoring anthropogenic VOC emissions.

In fact, VCPs make up half of the total VOC emissions in the United States and in Europe, and although the data is slightly varied, scientists conclude that atmospheric VCP levels remain comparable due to the fact that both continents have highly industrialized cities, and that VOCs produced as a byproduct of VCP emissions are present in ambient and indoor air on the two continents; therefore, it is reasonable to assume that with current emission rates and a growing global population, the quantity of atmospheric VCPs will increase and thus must be monitored vigilantly.This is largely because the combination of ground level ozone (formed through the oxidation of VCPs), particle and gas pollution has proven to cause long term harm to organisms, classifying exposure to air pollution as the fifth most prominent global health risk.

These chemicals can be found in everyday household commodities such as nail varnish, cleaning agents and perfumes

Inflaming human respiratory membranes in the lung, causing throat irritations and possibly pneumonia are only a few of the potential damages of smog- people with asthma are particularly vulnerable to these side effects. With the overwhelming amount of data that proves the significance of VCP emissions contributing to air pollution and health damage, it is only righteous of us to be aware of the personal impact we are forcing on ourselves and on our planet, and to try lessen this influence. After all, it is the perceptive protagonists who triumph in Marvel movies, is it not?

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