Ambient Air, CANCER-CHECK: Ambient Air, Metals

AIRBORNE: THE MAKING OF STEEL

A chimney has many functions one of which is blocking the release of harmful emmissions from industries.

But what happens when it malfunctions…

Well, nearby settlements suffer because of polluted air.

Among the many industries, iron and steel production demands significant attention especially if their chimneys are malfunctional.

And here’s the reason why.

IRON ORE

Ever since the advent of the industrial revolution, the demand for steel has always been on the increase.

The houses we live in are supported by steel beams…

Not to mention the bridges…

Outdoor structures we often use…

Our utensils…

Doors and gates…

Railways lines…

Ships…

A need that has created a brand of entrepreneurs who specialize in extracting iron from its ore to make steel.

But iron extraction comes with its fare share of troubles and tribulations the major one being the need to get rid of impurities.

Conventionally, this is done through exposing the ore material to extremely high temperatures (using a blast furnace) to oxidize the impurities…

An age old skill craftsmen have used over the centuries.

But also the main reason why chimneys (as we mentioned at the start) are crucial.

As industrial gases such as carbon dioxide are let loose, potentially dangerous emmissions containing sulfur oxides, polycyclics and particulate matter are trapped by special filters located in the chimney.

But the chimney comes in handy not only because of smelting operations.

STEEL

Conversion of iron into steel involves reacting it with different types of materials such as nickel, chromium, titanium, manganese and carbon under high temperature.

Ideally, steel is formed through solid diffusion…

Forcing other metallic elements ‘through’ iron using the power of pressure and heat.

And wherever heat exists, there’s bound to be smoky releases.

These metals useful in the conversion of iron into steel suddenly become airborne particulate pollutants in our air.

Toxic particulates are particularly risky when inhaled over time because they definitely lead to respiratory problems and possibly cancer.

(So have in mind our bunch of unsuspecting inhabitants living just outside the factory).

Its therefore not only essential for the steel plant workers to wear personal protective equipment but crucial that chimney filters work to prevent air pollution just outside the factory.

P.M 2.5

Among the many types of particluates, P.M 2.5 attract considerable attenton for a couple of reasons.

First, they are very minute in nature (an average diameter of 2.5 micrometers) enabling easy penetration into the human respiratory tract.

Secondly, they come in laced with a concoction of harmful substances including not only metallic dust (from steel production) but also polycyclics (by-products of carbon exposure to high temperatures).

Lastly, P.M 2.5 particulates are categorized as human carcinogens associated not only with respiratory disorders but ultimately lung cancer.

Increasing evidence also seems to associate long term exposure to air pollution with mental disorders.

These particulates may seem a mere inconvenience noticable as a haze in the air we breathe.

But over time, inhabitants living around iron and steel industries with no emmission protocols pay a heavy price.

Infact, the children incur the heaviest cost because their infant immune systems are compromised from an early stage.

Which is why the chimneys in such plants need to be working all the time.

Smelting of iron and manufacture of steel in their absence should be a criminal offence.

IN CONCLUSION

There is room for the innovator concerned with our air quality to try out and test filter designs with different materials for improved efficiency.

Activated carbon is a promising material capable of trapping such particulates within it’s extensive pore structure.

It could not only be used to make chimney filters but also personal protective equipment used by factory employees.

But unfortunately, it is not fully exploited in this regard.

There is also an opportunity for robotics and machine learning research…

Since we cannot do without steel, could some of the riskier operations be carried out by machines?

This would go a long way in reducing exposure through the occupational route.

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