Air Pollutants - Definition, Classification, Effects, Causes

By : Neha Dhyani

Updated : Mar 10, 2022, 14:02

The accumulation of substances in the atmosphere that are detrimental to the wellbeing of humans and other species, or cause degradation to the climate or resources, is referred to as air pollution. These substances are called air pollutants and can consist of gases, dominantly carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxides, ammonia, methane, chlorofluorocarbons, inorganic and organic particles, biomolecules, etc. Thus, the classification of air pollution is necessary to measure its consequences.

There are many severe effects of air pollution. It can lead to ailments, infections, and deaths, impair other species such as animals and food crops, and can permanently deteriorate the environment through global warming, ozone depletion, etc.

Classification of Air Pollution

Air pollutants are the primarily responsible causes of air pollution and can be categorised in the following ways:

1. Based on origin

  • Primary pollutants- Such pollutants directly contribute to air pollution. Examples are dust, sulphur and nitrogen oxides, smoke, hydrocarbons, particulate matter, etc.
  • Secondary pollutants- Such pollutants are released into the atmosphere due to chemical interactions involving primary pollutants and environmental substances. Examples are sulfur trioxide, ketones, sulphuric acid, ozone, nitric acid, etc.

2. Based on resources

  • Natural resources- These include forest or wildfires, volcanic activity, sulphur springs, natural geysers, vegetative decays, marsh gases, cosmic dust, photochemical reactions, soil debris, and so on.
  • Man-made resources- These include human activities in industries, factories, urban hubs, aviation, autos, mining, and power plants, as well as nuclear tests, farming, household firewood burning, fossil fuel combustion, and deforestation.

3. Based on states of matter

  • Gaseous pollutants- Such pollutants exist in a gaseous state at standard temperatures and pressures. Examples include nitrogen dioxide, carbon dioxide, volatile organic compounds, sulphur oxides, benzene, ethylene, and other gases.
  • Particulate pollutants- These particles are produced and suspended in the air due to anthropogenic activities such as automobile manufacturing, factory activities, construction activities, or through natural sources such as volcanic eruptions, natural gaseous precursors, and so on. Examples include lead, fly ash, metallic oxides, and nanoparticles.

Effects of Air Pollution

  • These pollutants can permeate deeper into lung passages and into the circulatory system, where they can have an influence on the cardiac, cerebrovascular, and respiratory systems.
  • Numerous types of vegetation damage are caused by air pollution. Sulphur dioxide can harm field crops like alfalfa and trees like pines, particularly during the growing season.
  • Pollutants in the air deteriorate the external paint off cars and residences and also fasten the discolouration of monuments, heritage landmarks, marble statues, and other traditional and cultural places.
  • It is the principal cause of global warming and ozone depletion.

Combating air pollution is a matter of public interest, and it is every individual's duty. As a result, organised and collaborative efforts with active participation from all stakeholders are required to identify, measure, and curb the causes of air pollution. It should involve the government, municipalities, and society as a whole.

Furthermore, a policy that envisions a sustainable transition to renewable energy and sound urban planning changeover is the need of the hour.

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FAQs on Air Pollutants

Q.1. Which are the most common air pollutants?

The most common air pollutants include carbon dioxide, ground-level ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and lead.

Q.2. What are some major causes of air pollution?

The major causes of air pollution include emissions from burning fossil fuels, construction, wildfires, microbial decaying, vehicle emissions, etc.

Q.3. What are some significant health effects of air pollution?

Cardiovascular disease, lung cancer, and respiratory disorders such as asthma are all long-term health effects of air pollution.

Q.4. What are some prominent air pollution control devices?

Some effective devices include catalytic converters, cryogenic condensers, dry and wet scrubbers, etc.