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Everything to know about Nitrogen Monoxide (NO)

Nitrogen monoxide belongs to a family (nitrogen oxides) of poisonous, highly reactive gases that form when fuel is burned at high temperatures. Nitrogen monoxide pollution is emitted by automobiles, various non-road vehicles such as boats and construction equipment. At Breeze Technologies, nitrogen monoxide is one of the common air pollutants included as a measurement parameter in our air quality sensor. Read on to find out why. 

What is nitrogen monoxide?

Nitrogen monoxide (also called nitric oxide) is a chemical compound with the chemical formula NO that appears as a colorless gas with a sharp, sweet odor. Although known as a toxic air pollutant, NO also has many important functions in the human body. It is used as a signal in the cardiovascular system and the nervous system, playing an important role in blood pressure regulation. NO can also be produced in large amounts by white blood cells. NO is an extremely important intermediate (i.e. a molecule that is created during, but immediately reacts further into the directly observed products of a chemical reaction) in the chemical industry. It is a toxic air pollutant produced by automobile engines and power plants. 

The following distinctions are made for the different compounds in the Nitrogen oxide family:

What are the sources of nitrogen monoxide?

Nitrogen monoxide is produced naturally by lightning and also to a small extent by microbial processes in the soil. The main sources of NO are combustion processes, partially from nitrogen compounds in fuel and from the direct combination of atmospheric oxygen and nitrogen in flames. While it is also produced in the human body, humans do not emit nitrogen monoxide.

The main man-made emission sources of NO include:

  • Power stations
  • Industrial and domestic combustion processes 
  • Motor vehicles and road transport 

The primary indoor sources of nitrogen monoxide are unvented fuel burning appliances such as gas ranges (mostly during cooking) and kerosene space heaters. Heating appliances and tobacco smoking are also indoor sources that have an effect on overall indoor air quality.

What is the health impact of nitrogen monoxide?

Breathing high concentrations of NO can make respiratory diseases such as asthma much more serious and even lead to respiratory infections. People with asthma, children, and the elderly are at a greater risk of the health effects caused by NO.

Respiratory symptoms of exposure to nitrogen monoxide include

  • Coughing 
  • Wheezing
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Development of asthma 

In addition, NO can also increase blood pressure leading to hypertension in some cases.

What is the environmental impact of nitrogen monoxide?

Nitric oxide interacts with water, oxygen, and other chemicals in the atmosphere to form acid rain. The damage caused by acid rain affects the following:

  • Vegetation
  • Buildings and materials
  • Acidification of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems 
  • Respiratory effect on humans and animals

NO also affects the air by making it hazy, a clear indication of air pollution. It creates the reddish-brown haze that people associate with smog. NO can also be the cause for nutrient pollution, i.e. the exposure to hazardous toxins and compounds caused from NO-triggered algae bloom, with the following effects:

  • Human health effects: Nutrient pollution can lead to  toxins and compounds in drinking water, causing rashes, stomach or liver issues, respiratory issues or neurological effects..
  • Environmental effects: The afore-mentioned NO-triggered  algal blooms can kill fish populations through their toxins, by causing dead zones (i.e. “hypoxic” areas with little to no oxygen dissolved in the water), or increased food scarcity. Algal blooms can also impact the water, recreation, businesses, and property values. 
  • Economic effects: Nutrient pollution affects business in fishing and tourism that depend on clean, clear water.

How can nitrogen monoxide be lessened?

The best way to lower NO emissions is to set national and regional standards in state and local governments and enforce their adherence. However, this would not be possible without effective and area monitoring. One important clean air action to take is to track the NO levels to help identify those areas that do not meet the national standards and find the most suitable intervention to ensure a cleaner environment. At Breeze Technologies, our compact, lower-cost sensors can be easily deployed to measure NO levels on urban, rural, and industrial infrastructure. With these real-time data collected, our air quality sensors can form an effective air quality monitoring network enabled by our Environmental Intelligence Cloud. Contact us today to make clean air a reality for all!