Invisible but indispensable – 2

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Visible flames ... invisible toxins

Visible flames … invisible toxins


Although a fish is completely comfortable in the water that surrounds it, it would soon kick the bucket when this water would be poisoned. The same things will happen to a human who would keep on living  his or her daily life in a sea of toxic gases. Unfortunately, this mixture is completely invisible, so we tend to think of it as irrelevant. “We do not see it, so nothing wrong .” Nothing is further from the truth. As a well known proverb states: ” Ignoring the facts don’t make them go away .”

Sulfur dioxide ( one of the gases released by burning oil and coal ) causes irritation of our mucous membranes. Especially the mucous membranes in the nose and upper airways take up this sulfur dioxide. When exposed to elevated concentrations of sulfur dioxide, respiratory problems manifest themselves, as well as eye irritation and lung problems, and it can even lead to death. It is also known that sulfur dioxide is a trigger for asthma attacks. ( , July 27, 2013)

Hydrogen sulfide also causes irritation of eyes, nose and/or throat. Exposure to high concentrations may even result in loss of consciousness. Prolonged exposure causes headaches, problems with concentration and deterioration of locomotion. The latter because hydrogen sulfide influences the central nervous system. It is also an unfortunate fact that children are at greater risk because hydrogen sulfide has a high density and forms a layer just above ground level. Children are shorter than adults, and will therefore be exposed to a higher concentration. ( Lit. JL Gerberding , Toxicological profile for Hydrogen sulfide , U.S. Department of Health and Human Services , july 2006)

Particulate matter is the generic term for small particles released during the combustion of fossil fuels. Other gaseous emissions released during combustion also may be partly converted to particulate matter. Fine particles are small particles suspended in the air. These particles are so small that they are not filtered out by our nose. The particles enter the respiratory system and often end up in the lungs. Scientists indicate that particulate matter might be held responsible for strokes, heart attacks, lung disease, cancer and premature death. ( Int. , July 27, 2013 )

Flora and Fauna

A little research we did showed that it takes about three months before plants, planted along the side of a busy road, die off. Although they were provided with sufficient water and shade these plants died anyway because of all the exhaust gases to which they were exposed daily. If we would study the areas around large industrial areas, it would show that there is little variation in the vegetation present. If there is any left, that is.

The gravestones of this historic Jewish cemetery are almost gone - acid rain in action ...

The gravestones of this historic Jewish cemetery are almost gone – acid rain in action …

Sulfur dioxide inhibits the growth of plants and animals and causes acid rain. Acid rain in turn causes damage to crops and buildings. ( int. , July 27, 2013 ) The pH of the soil and surface water is also affected by acid rain. In one sentence: acidification of the ecosystem is taking place. Acidification weakens the ecosystem to such levels that it no longer can handle diseases, storms, drought and insects. ( Lit. Buijsm . E , Measure where the people are , 2008-2009 ) Sulphur dioxide also contributes to the strengthening of the greenhouse effect. Research also showed that sulfur dioxide causes damage to the DNA of bacteria. A fact that certainly should not be underestimated. ( Lit. Dutch Expert Committee on Occupational Standards , Sulphur dioxide , December 2003 )

After hydrogen sulfide gas is released it stays present in the atmosphere for about 18 hours. During this period, it is converted mainly into sulfur dioxide and sulfuric acid. ( Lit. JL Gerberding , Toxicological profile for Hydrogen sulfide , U.S. Department of Health and Human Services , july 2006) The consequences of sulfur dioxide have been described above. Hydrogen sulfide and sulfuric acid (although considerably diluted) also cause acid rain, damage the protective layers of plants and cause leaching of nutrients. If this acid enters in the soil it affects the root systems of plants causing the uptake of nutrients to become inhibited. A low pH also creates the perfect breeding ground for all kinds of fungi.

Researchers have not quantified yet what the effects are of particulate matter on flora and fauna.

All in all, only one conclusion can be drawn. If we want to ensure good air quality in Curaçao, serious measures should be taken on private, corporate and government levels. Improvement is most effective if it starts at the source. Anyone can contribute to ensure good air quality for his or her fellow man.

Carpooling, efficient planning of your journey ( also saves time and petrol ), refueling your car at the coolest times of the day ( less evaporation, more fuel in your tank ) and the planting of your garden with local plants ( these require little water and survive better in the Curaçao climate) are simple examples of actions that each person can perform to contribute without much trouble.

Companies have a range of choices, as described in Best Available Techniques ( BAT ) by which they can run their production processes cleaner. In addition, a company can encourage its employees to take up carpooling or the use of public transport, all in order to trigger a company culture of environment consciousness.

Last but not least , the Government should lay down rules and regulations concerning the emission of air pollutants and make sure these are effectively enforcement.

Having good air quality, and maintaining it, is quite possible!