Atmospheric pollution is a growing problem, particularly in urban areas and in less developed countries. With half the world has no access to clean fuels or technologies (e.g. stoves, lamps), the very air we breathe is growing dangerously polluted. More than 8 million people around the world die each year as a result of breathing polluted air that contains particles from fossil fuels, a new study has found.
According to the World Health Organization, one out of every nine deaths can be attributed to diseases caused by air pollution. Organic pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides and volatile compounds, are the main cause of this, and they are mostly emitted by vehicle exhausts and industry.
The health effects of air pollution are serious – one third of deaths from stroke, lung cancer and heart disease are due to air pollution. Microscopic pollutants in the air can slip past our body’s defences, penetrating deep into our respiratory and circulatory system, damaging our lungs, heart and brain. This is having an equivalent effect to that of smoking tobacco, and much higher than, say, the effects of eating too much salt.
Because environmental problems pose risks to the health, safety, and security of troops, they can influence combat operations. In most contingencies over the past two decades, U.S. forces have remained in the theater for much longer than anticipated, getting deeply involved in such non-combat activities as stabilization, reconstruction, and nation-building.
Environmental issues become even more important during such protracted engagements, not only because of the effect they have on day-to-day operations at base camps, but also because of the significant role they can play in achieving U.S. national objectives. Indeed, the longer the mission and more extended the post-conflict operations, the more important the environmental issues tend to become, and the more they can affect mission outcomes and operation costs. However, because they compete with other warfighting concerns for attention, investment, and manpower, environmental considerations rarely receive high priority in contingency operations.
U.S. Forces Korea has changed its policy to allow soldiers to wear black filtering masks while in uniform as protection against poor air quality in South Korea. Army regulations had barred soldiers from wearing the masks, which cover noses and mouths, in uniform unless they had a certified medical condition that merited an exception. By contrast, the Air Force permitted masks when pollution hit a certain level.
The new policy, posted in April 2019 , says all servicemembers may wear approved masks while outdoors in uniform when the air-quality index is reported as orange or higher, referring to a color scheme showing pollution levels.
The change comes as people in South Korea have endured record levels of fine dust that have smothered the country and prompted rising worries in the military community as soldiers spend a lot of time training and working outdoors.
Further with the gradual urbanization of the world’s population, future battles will inevitably be fought within city limits geometrically compounding the planner’s problem and the force commander’s options. In addition to the threat from the opposing force, the field commander will face structural damage, local industrial hazards, and loss of mobility and degradation of communication links.
This air pollution will also have long term environmental effects Further the pollution caused by war activity, during development and testing of hardware, weapon systems and procedures, also during war operations and subsequent reconstruction, which need serious consideration to avoid gradual deterioration of the environment and in particular the quality and temperature of the air.
Environmental Effects on Health of Soldiers
The harmful effect of air pollution become many times under battlefield situation, under proximity to burning buildings and vehicles, military munitions and bomb explosions that can release huge amounts of the gas, sending concentrations sky high in a limited area for the brief period before it can disperse.. The pollution will be even more severe for armies including Russia, India, and China which have large inventory of past generation less efficient vehicles.
Scientists from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) have been investigating the health impacts of brief exposure to high concentrations of nitrogen dioxide. In the USA, regulations set the limit for workplace exposure at 5 parts per million. Mr Gu concluded that battlefield troops could easily find themselves exposed to these concentrations of the gas, as could civilians caught in a terrorist bombing attack or a less sinister building fire for more than a few minutes.
The army scientists exposed rats to much higher concentrations ranging from 100ppm to 2,000ppm for five minutes then examined their lungs for signs of damage. Amongst the rats exposed to the gas a number of health problems were observed – breathing rate and depth were sharply inhibited, acute and delayed lung damage occurred and in some cases there was a rapid onset of lung oedema – swelling caused by accumulation of fluid.
Exposure to the gas at low and moderate levels is an unavoidable risk in most industrialised cities as it forms part of the cocktail of pollutants in the exhaust fumes of vehicles. The team from WRAIR have been studying the health effects of these brief, extreme exposures and have concluded that they can cause serious and lasting damage to the lungs.
According to the lead researcher, Dr Zengfa Gu, ‘extreme changes’ were observed even at the lower exposures suggesting that active troops, civilians in war zones and those caught up in terrorist attacks are at risk of long term damage to their health even if they survive the event that led to the pollution.
Environmental Considerations Can Affect Combat Operations
The combat phase of a contingency is often short, with commanders intently focused on achieving tactical objectives. Healthy, fit fighting forces and efficient logistics are vital to this effort, as is securing key resources. Environmental issues can affect all of these.
Effects on soldiers. Often the most direct effect of the environment is on soldiers. Endemic diseases can severely undermine the health of troops. Unclean water, polluted air, and poor sanitation can cause debilitating shorter-term illness and can also sometimes cause longer-term health problems, such as increased cancer risks. Other risk factors include uncontrolled insect or animal vectors and legacy pollution from earlier industrial contamination. Toxic substances are likewise a danger to troops, whether through accidental exposure or deliberate action by adversaries.
Effects on logistics. Operations that need less fuel, water, and other resources and produce less waste will reduce the logistics burden and free up logistics assets for other important tasks. When the environment is not properly managed at base camps, it can place significant and unnecessary demands on logistics systems that should be focused on other types of support.
Difficulties securing key resources. Adversaries can destroy dams to block avenues of approach, or they can create hazardous conditions for U.S. soldiers and affect visibility by setting oil wells on fire. Failure to secure such resources can compromise tactical success.
Each contingency is unique. Different environmental factors will come into play during any combat operation. By being aware of the range of possibilities, Army units and commanders can anticipate which issues they will confront and can plan for managing them. By doing so, they can protect soldier health and safety; safeguard unit readiness, efficiency, and effectiveness; and prevent interruptions to combat operations.
Perhaps as important, planners and commanders can also take steps in the combat phase to preserve environmental infrastructures and resources that will be important for stability and reconstruction after combat operations end. But understanding what to preserve will require them to take a strategic view of the operations, including desired end states.
Apart from the chemicals involved in war activity, the uncontrolled discharge of large quantities of heat should be considered seriously since it appears to accumulate, influencing the streamlines of the air flow and its distribution and therefore the climate of the planet.
By effectively managing environmental issues during deployments, Army units and commanders can gain tactical and strategic benefits that can extend from combat into the post-conflict phase of operations, says a RAND study.
Environmental considerations encompass anything related to the environment that either affects the planning and execution of military operations, positively or negatively, or is affected by those operations. They include (but are not limited to) environmental conditions affecting soldier health; clean water, sewage, and other environmentally related infrastructures; compliance with environmental laws; pollution prevention and environmental management; protection of historical and cultural sites; sustainability; and management of agricultural and natural resources.
The relationship between the Army and the environment is a two-way street. On the one hand, soldiers and operations affect the environment; on the other, the environment affects soldiers and operations. If not planned for and managed well, the presence of soldiers in a base camp can degrade the environment. But environmental degradation can also adversely affect the health and safety of soldiers. Similarly, a program to recycle motor oil can reduce the amount of hazardous waste that is generated and lower the demand for fuel and oil deliveries, which, in turn, can lower costs and the risks to soldiers.
The Army needs a coherent, comprehensive approach to address environmental issues in contingency operations—one that encompasses policy, culture, planning, training, investment, and sustainable operational practices. By establishing standards and building a body of knowledge and best practices, the Army can provide units, commanders, and planners with a pool of resources they can use to plan for and manage environmental issues to optimize mission outcomes, says RAND.
Environment Management technology
Environment can be managed by pollution detection and harmful effect mitigation technologies.
In a scientific first, Dutch and North-American scientists have detected a large source of methane pollution using space technology. The satellite-borne TROPOspheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI), which was developed in the Netherlands, was launched on 13 October 2017 and does world-wide sweeps of the planet in search of greenhouse emissions.
The source of the harmful greenhouse gas turned out to be an oil and gas installation in Turkmenistan in Central Asia. After the leak was reported to the company subsequent satellite images confirmed that the leak had been dealt with. Physics professor Ilse Aben from the Dutch institute for space research SRON, which was involved in the research, told public broadcaster NOS the leak was discovered ‘more or less by accident’. It was flagged up at the beginning of this year by Canadian and American colleagues and who were doing methane measurements related to volcanic activity.
‘Their measurements are limited to smaller areas while Tropomi covers the whole planet. However, they can zoom in more and on detecting a number of methane sources they contacted us to see if we could spot them too. And we could,’ Aben told the broadcaster. Pieternel Levelt, head of satellite detection at project leader KNMI, called the event ‘a game changer’. ‘The fact that we can detect this sort of methane leaks all over the world is very important for the climate. The instrument is having a huge impact.’
Tropomi, and others like it, will in future be used not only for the detection of individual sources of methane but also to check whether countries and businesses are complying with international climate protection agreements.
‘The European Union is currently working with the European Space Agency (ESA) on new satellites which are going to measure CO2 levels from space in a few years’ time,’ Levelt said. CO2 is largely responsible for the warming up of the planet but methane contributes about a third of harmful gases. The most common sources for methane are cattle breeding, the oil and gas industry and coal mines.
Smog-Eating Graphene Composite Reduces Atmospheric Pollution
Graphene Flagship partners the University of Bologna, Politecnico di Milano, CNR, NEST, Italcementi HeidelbergCement Group, the Israel Institute of Technology, Eindhoven University of Technology, and the University of Cambridge have developed a graphene-titania photocatalyst that degrades up to 70% more atmospheric nitrogen oxides (NOx) than standard titania nanoparticles in tests on real pollutants.
To address the problem, researchers are continually on the hunt for new ways to remove more pollutants from the atmosphere, and photocatalysts such as titania are a great way to do this. When titania is exposed to sunlight, it degrades nitrogen oxides – which are very harmful to human health – and volatile organic compounds present at the surface, oxidising them into inert or harmless products.
Now, the Graphene Flagship team working on photocatalytic coatings, coordinated by Italcementi, HeidelbergCement Group, Italy, developed a new graphene-titania composite with significantly more powerful photodegradation properties than bare titania. “We answered the Flagship’s call and decided to couple graphene to the most-used photocatalyst, titania, to boost the photocatalytic action,” comments Marco Goisis, the research coordinator at Italcementi. “Photocatalysis is one of the most powerful ways we have to depollute the environment, because the process does not consume the photocatalysts. It is a reaction activated by solar light,” he continues.
By performing liquid-phase exfoliation of graphite – a process that creates graphene – in the presence of titania nanoparticles, using only water and atmospheric pressure, they created a new graphene-titania nanocomposite that can be coated on the surface of materials to passively remove pollutants from the air. If the coating is applied to concrete on the street or on the walls of buildings, the harmless photodegradation products could be washed away by rain or wind, or manually cleaned off.
“Coupling graphene to titania gave us excellent results in powder form – and it could be applied to different materials, of which concrete is a good example for the widespread use, helping us to achieve a healthier environment. It is low-maintenance and environmentally friendly, as it just requires the sun’s energy and no other input,” Goisis says. But there are challenges to be addressed before this can be used on a commercial scale. Cheaper methods to mass-produce graphene are needed. Interactions between the catalyst and the host material need to be deepened as well as studies into the long-term stability of the photocatalyst in the outdoor environment.