Which pollutants to monitor for good air quality?

Although all media attention is focused on CO2 emissions because of its contribution to global warming, other particles and pollutants need to be monitored: toxicity for humans and the environment, reduction in air quality, increase in the greenhouse effect, … In addition to the nuisance caused by these pollutants, their lifespan, i.e. the time it takes for them to degrade, is an additional factor in their hazardousness.

BeeOdiversity, during its environmental quality measurement operations, identifies many different pollutants. What are they? What is the point of analysing them? What danger(s) do they represent for man and biodiversity?

 

Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)

The term POPs refers to a group of substances that are highly toxic to humans and the environment. They accumulate in the fatty tissue of living organisms. They persist for years or even decades before degrading into less dangerous forms and evaporating and travelling long distances in the air and water, far from their site of origin. There are different types of POPs: PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), dioxins and furans, PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) and pesticides.

PCBs are chlorinated organic compounds with two rings on which chlorine atoms replace hydrogen atoms. Their chemical stability gives them a low biodegradability and therefore a very long lifespan. They are emitted mainly by dielectric fluids from transformers and condensers, but also by industrial fluids, hydraulic fluids and gas turbines. They are also found in adhesives, certain textiles, printing and pesticides. Classified as carcinogenic to humans, the main source of exposure to PCBs is food: they are mainly found in products of animal origin (fish, meat, eggs, dairy products).

PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) are molecules made up of carbon and hydrogen atoms. For many years, PAHs have been studied extensively because they are compounds present in all environments and show a high level of toxicity. They are natural constituents of coal and oil, but also result from the incomplete combustion of materials such as fuels, wood or tobacco. They are present in air, water or food. Like PCBs, the vast majority of human exposure to PAHs is through food, animal products as well as fruit and vegetables.

Dioxins and furans are another group of highly toxic chemicals. Dioxins and furans are produced during various combustion processes. In some cases, this occurs during natural combustion activities, such as forest fires or volcanic eruptions. However, the majority of dioxins and furans are produced during human activities such as industrial combustion, uncontrolled incineration of hazardous and medical waste, chlorine bleaching of paper and other routine activities such as rubbish burning. Dioxins and furans have a wide range of toxic and biochemical effects on human health: cancers, decreased fertility, neurological effects, etc.

Finally, pesticides are all natural or synthetic chemical substances used in agriculture to control different kinds of pests (diseases, insects and weeds) with the exception of products for medical and veterinary use. This term therefore includes fungicides (to control fungi), insecticides, herbicides, acaricides (to control mites) and molluscicides (to control molluscs: slugs, snails, etc.). There are many mechanisms for transferring pesticides: they circulate in the air, soil, water by runoff, infiltration, volatilisation, absorption, etc.

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What about heavy metals?

Instead of the term “heavy metals”, which has no scientific or legal value, the term ” Metallic Trace Elements ” (MTEs) is now preferred. Heavy metals are generally referred to as natural metallic elements, metals or in some cases metalloid elements characterised by a high density, greater than 5 gr/cm³. All metallic trace elements are naturally present in trace amounts in the soil, but generally in very small quantities. A large number of “heavy metals” are useful for life, such as iron for oxygen transport. However, they become toxic when they exceed a certain concentration. Moreover, four of the MTEs have no beneficial role for our bodies and can, on the contrary, induce serious illnesses, such as mercury, lead, nickel and cadmium.

MTEs may be present in dust emitted by combustion sources, automobile traffic, metal manufacturing and processing activities, waste incineration, etc… As an example, three sectors account for more than 90% of heavy metal emissions in Wallonia, namely industry, transport and residential.

 

What is the point of analysing these pollutants?

Pollutant-related problems are numerous and sometimes with serious consequences: poor air quality, soil impoverishment, water pollution, biodiversity degradation, etc. In addition, these pollutants sometimes have to be monitored under regulatory provisions.

As a result, at the request of clients, BeeOdiversity, via BeeOmonitoring, carries out environmental analyses in different sectors of activity: real estate, agriculture, industry, cities, water sector, etc. Each client therefore has different needs in a different context.

BeeOdiversity offers a control of these pollutants by installing beehives on the site. The collection and analysis of pollen then allows to identify all the pollutants present, without limiting itself to some in particular.

BeeOmonitoring extends the geographical coverage up to 700ha, which makes it possible to assess the impact on the site(s) and surroundings, on a more territorial scale, taking into account the impact on stakeholders. Indeed, as we have seen, certain characteristics specific to families of pollutants show us that they are not always static and localised.

The identification of the pollutants present on the study site and their origin then allows action to be taken: improvement measures can be recommended and implemented with a collaborative and constructive approach. BeeOdiversity also assists its customers to integrate biodiversity regeneration in the strategy in order to improve for example products, their positioning, staff well-being, their relations with the local community, certification and permit applications, etc.

 

For more information about BeeOdiversity, please contact us.

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