• Question: Are there any chemicals in the air? If there is will it effect us and my mum says that because of all the chemicals in the air it will let the world come to an end, is she right?

    Asked by bubblez13 to Amy, Drew, Julia, Kimberley, Sara on 23 Jun 2011.
    • Photo: Drew Rae

      Drew Rae answered on 20 Jun 2011:

      Hi bubblez. All molecules are chemicals. Oxygen is a chemical, nitrogen is a chemical, carbon-dioxide is a chemical. Lots of chemicals are things we need to live. Some chemicals can be bad for us in different ways. Carbon-dioxide is necessary for life, but if there is too much of it the planet starts heating up because of the green-house effect. Oxygen is important for us to breath, but if there was too much of it things would catch fire easily and rust quicker.

      There are very strict rules about what chemicals factories can release, and how much. There are special devices used by the government to measure these. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t pollution – the air isn’t perfectly clean – but it does mean that there aren’t secret dangerous chemicals to worry about.

    • Photo: Julia Griffen

      Julia Griffen answered on 20 Jun 2011:

      Hey Bubblez,
      Well the air is made up chemicals technically… Air contains oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, argon… all which are harmless. Air also contains many harmful things that aren;t very nice in high concentrations. However there isn’t alot of them in the air so it’s ok. These harmful things are carbon monoxide (you may have heard horror stories of people dying due to faulty household heating boilers). but this is in very low con in the air, and usually forms carbon dioxide quite quickly. Air also contains nitrous oxides (NOx)… which again are produced from burning things esp from the exhaust fumes from cars. These NOx react with water and produce acid rain which damages buildings and plants.

      What your mum could also mean… is carbon dioxide which is present in air which plants use to produce energy but is also produced from burnging things and come from car exhausts… Now levels of carbon dioxide have been linked by scientists to climate change and global warming… which basically means Carbon dioxide from cars (and many other things e.g factories home heating etc) has been linked to the globe warming up, which will cause the ice in the north and south pole to melt. this melted ice will cause the level of the sea to rise, which will flood any low lying land! including the UK. Other things that could happen are extreme weather conditions and changes to these conditions affect the food that we grow and the animals that we keep!

      Sounds like a horror story… however the air is not toxic… save energy and dont waste things to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide you produce and use! Hoep that helps… Long answer sorry.. 🙂

    • Photo: Amy MacQueen

      Amy MacQueen answered on 20 Jun 2011:

      The other guys answered this really comprehensively! Air is made up of chemicals – but don’t stop breathing it because its just the right composition for you! No doubt a lot of the stuff that is floating around in air will affect us…as well as chemicals from engines and exhausts there are also larger things like pollen, dust and dead skin cells which can aggravate asthma, hayfever and other allergies. So whats in the air affects us in lots of ways – sometimes positively …like when nice perfume is sprayed close to us and sometimes negatively if we have a gas leak in our house.

      Air quality in some cities can be bad and this pollution and smog in hot still weather can affect people’s breathing – not nice! But don’t worry about it – as Drew said there are a lot of controls on what people should be releasing into the atmosphere.


    • Photo: Sara Imari Walker

      Sara Imari Walker answered on 23 Jun 2011:

      Hi Bubblez!! There is a lot of negativity associated with the word “chemical”. But, I think Drew has made a great point. Everything in our world is chemistry!! Chemistry is so pervasive in our lives that 2011 is actually the International Year of Chemistry (check it out: http://www.chemistry2011.org/). So not only is the air made of chemicals, but your food is, water is, and even you are! There are of course bad chemicals just as there are good chemicals. And this is where most people start to associate the word chemical with just the bad ones =(

      So as the others said, the air is made of chemicals. I agree with Julia, I think the one your mum is concerned with is probably CO2, which is the major global warming gas everyone is concerned with these days. CO2 is produced naturally by a lot of processes including by photosynthesis in plants. Normally Earth can balance out the CO2 production and regulate a constant temperature. But we have recently come along in the last 100 years and started dumping tons of CO2 in the atmosphere as a byproduct of our technology (particularly our factories and our cars). The Earth is not accustomed to handling these levels, so it is getting thrown off balance leading to a rise in global temperature. There are also a whole host of other chemicals output by our factories. These are very bad, but tend to stay more localized (notice cities have more air pollution than the countryside) so people do not view them as so much of a threat. That is not to say they are not. These are very bad for the environment!!

      There is hope though, we can be stewards of a healthy environment by being mindful of these issues and reducing our energy usage and waste production. The future is literally in our hands!! We can do it!!