The term smog was first used in 1905 by Dr H A Des Voeux to describe the conditions of fog that had soot or smoke in it. Smog is a combination of various gases with water vapour and dust. A large part of the gases that form smog is produced when fuels are burnt. Smog forms when heat and sunlight react with these gases and fine particles in the air. Smog can affect outlying suburbs and rural areas as well as big cities. Its occurrences are often linked to heavy traffic, high temperatures, and calm winds. During the winter, wind speeds are low and cause the smoke and fog to stagnate; hence pollution levels can increase near ground level. This keeps the pollution close to the ground, right where people are breathing. It hampers visibility and harms the environment. Heavy smog is greatly decreases ultraviolet radiation. In fact, in the early part of the 20th century, heavy smog in some parts of Europe resulted in a decrease in the production of natural vitamin D leading to a rise in the cases of rickets. Smog causes a misty haze similar to fog, but very different in composition. In fact the word smog has been coined from a combination of the words fog and smoke. Smog refers to hazy air that causes difficult breathing conditions.
The most harmful components of smog are ground-level ozone and fine airborne particles. Ground-level ozone forms when pollutants released from gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles and oil-based solvents react with heat and sunlight. It is harmful to humans, animals, and plants.
The industrial revolution in the 19th century saw the beginning of air pollution in Europe on a large scale and the presence of smog mainly in Britain. The industries and the households relied heavily on coal for heating and cooking. Due to the burning of coal for heat during the winter months, emissions of smoke and sulphur dioxide were much greater in urban areas than they were during the summer months. Smoke particles trapped in the fog gave it a yellow/black colour and this smog often settled over cities for many days.
The effects of smog on human health were evident, particularly when smog persisted for several days. Many people suffered respiratory problems and increased deaths were recorded, notably those relating to bronchial causes. A haze of dense harmful smog would often cover the city of London. The first smog-related deaths were recorded in London in 1873, when it killed 500 people. In 1880, the toll was 2000. London had one of its worst experiences with smog in December 1892. It lasted for three days and resulted in about 1000 deaths. London became quite notorious for its smog. By the end of the 19th century, many people visited London to see the fog. Despite gradual improvements in air quality during the 20th century, another major smog occurred in London in December 1952. The Great London Smog lasted for five days and resulted in about 4000 more deaths than usual. In response to the Great London Smog, the government passed its first Clean Air Act in 1956, which aimed to control domestic sources of smoke pollution by introducing smokeless zones. In addition, the introduction of cleaner coals led to a reduction in sulphur dioxide pollution. In the 1940s, severe smog began covering the city of Los Angeles in the USA.
Relatively little was done to control any type of pollution or to promote environmental protection until the middle of the 20th century. Today, smoke and sulphur dioxide pollution in cities is much lower than in the past, as a result of legislation to control pollution emissions and cleaner emission technology.
Ground-level ozone is formed through a complex reaction involving hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, and sunlight. Ground-level ozone is especially harmful for seniors, children, asthmatics, and people with heart and lung conditions. It aggravates respiratory symptoms and further impairs the ability of these individuals to perform normal activities. It can inflame breathing passages, decreasing the lung’s working capacity, and causing shortness of breath, pain when inhaling deeply, wheezing, and coughing. It can cause eye and nose irritation and dry out the protective membranes of the nose and throat and interfere with the body’s ability to fight infection, increasing susceptibility to illness.
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