Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, 2009
Spike at the power station
Pollution in Australia comes from many different sources. Some is a result of industrial activity but there are also sources of pollution that are not industrial, like cars, woodheaters and even lawn mowers.
The National Pollutant Inventory (NPI) is tracking pollution right across Australia by collecting data about 93 different toxic substances emitted into the environment. The NPI can show you the source and location of these substance emissions.
The substances that are studied were chosen because of the problems they can potentially cause for our health and the health of the environment.
Carbon monoxide is one of the substances that the NPI tracks across Australia. Here are some fascinating facts about carbon monoxide and some hints on how you can help minimise any harmful effects of carbon monoxide on our health and on the environment.
You may have heard that carbon monoxide is a dangerous, poisonous substance if people are exposed to it in high quantities. Research shows that it can be harmful, but did you know that carbon monoxide is also found naturally in the environment?
The industrial processes where carbon monoxide may be produced include: metal manufacturing, electricity supply, mining metal ore and coal, food manufacturing, extracting oil and gas from land or sea, production of chemicals, cement lime, plaster and concrete manufacturing, and petroleum refining.
Industrial plants emit carbon monoxide through the combustion of natural gas, coal and coke too. Combusion means burning — when fuel reacts with oxygen in the air to produce heat.
Carbon monoxide can occur naturally in the environment. It is released into the atmosphere by volcanoes as they erupt, from the smoke of forest fires, from the natural gases in coal mines, and even from lightning!
Other natural sources of carbon monoxide are marsh gases, which are also called methane and produced by plants decomposing under water, marine algae, kelp and seed germination growth.
Carbon monoxide is a major component of motor vehicle exhaust fumes, and is emitted into the atmosphere by cars, trucks, boats and aeroplanes.
Products that we buy do not actually contain carbon monoxide. However, if we burn or operate certain products, carbon monoxide is produced. Some examples are when cigarettes are lit and even when we start the engines of our lawnmowers.
Vehicle exhaust fumes and bushfires are the highest emitters of carbon monoxide.
Other sources include the internal combustion engines of chainsaws and leaf blowers, as well as charcoal heaters, such as barbeques, wood stoves, gas water heaters, gas stoves, fuel-fired heaters, fireplaces, and gas dryers. Using equipment that does not work properly can also produce extra carbon monoxide.
Spike monitoring pollution
When carbon monoxide is emitted into the atmosphere it effects the amount of greenhouse gases, which are linked to climate change and global warming. This means that land and sea temperature increases changing to ecosystems, increasing storm activity and causing other extreme weather events.
People and animals can be exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide during bushfires. When we are exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide, it can make us ill and make it more difficult to have babies.
Levels normally present in the atmosphere are unlikely to hurt you, but people can be exposed to carbon monoxide in the following ways:
- By breathing in contaminated air.
- Using equipment that has not been maintained, or is not working properly.
- Smoking, or breathing in other people's cigarette smoke.
- Living near industries that emit carbon monoxide, or near freeways and busy roads.
- Using non-electric heaters, like wood heaters.
- Working in a job where carbon monoxide is produced or used.
There are all sorts of things that we can do at home, school, and in our local community to help minimise the harmful effects of pollution on our environment.
Why not investigate ways in which you can take action every day to reduce the problems that polluting substances can cause people, animals and the environment? More about reducing pollution.
For more information about carbon monoxide see Australia's carbon monoxide emission report on the main NPI web site.
You will also find detailed information about the remaining 92 substances that the NPI tracks across Australia in the fact sheets on the main NPI web site.
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