Air Pollution: Effect, Causes, Impact, Air Pollution UPSC

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: November 14th, 2023

The accumulation of substances in the atmosphere that are detrimental to the well-being of humans and other species, or cause degradation to the climate or resources, is called 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.

Air pollution is a significant environmental issue that poses health risks and impacts ecosystems. It can be classified into different types based on the sources and composition of pollutants. The classification of air pollution helps in understanding its nature, identifying the main contributors, and implementing effective control measures. Each classification provides valuable insights into the sources and characteristics of air pollution, aiding in the development of targeted mitigation strategies.

Air Pollution

Air pollution is the contamination of the environment by any chemical, physical or biological agent that modifies the natural characteristics of the atmosphere. Air pollution contains smoke, harmful gases, particulate matter, and dust, drastically affecting plants, animals, and humans.

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 pollution is classified based on various factors, including the origin of pollutants, their resources, and their states of matter. This classification helps in understanding the different types of air pollutants and their sources, which in turn aids in developing effective mitigation strategies. The classification of air pollution includes:

  • Based on Origin: Primary pollutants directly contribute to air pollution, such as dust, sulphur and nitrogen oxides, smoke, hydrocarbons, and particulate matter. Secondary pollutants are formed through chemical interactions involving primary pollutants and environmental substances, such as sulphuric acid, ozone, and nitric acid.
  • Based on Resources: Natural resources, including forest fires, volcanic activity, vegetative decay, and cosmic dust. Man-made resources, including industrial activities, transportation, power plants, and deforestation.
  • Based on the States of Matter: Gaseous pollutants, which exist in a gaseous state at standard temperatures and pressures, such as nitrogen dioxide and carbon dioxide. Particulate pollutants, which are suspended particles in the air, are produced through human activities like manufacturing and natural sources like volcanic eruptions.

Classification of Air Pollutants

Air pollutants play a significant role in causing air pollution, which poses a serious threat to human health and the environment. Understanding the classification of air pollutants helps in identifying their sources and impacts, enabling effective measures to control and mitigate air pollution. The classification includes primary pollutants that are directly emitted and secondary pollutants formed through chemical reactions.

  • Primary Pollutants: These pollutants are directly emitted into the atmosphere and are considered the initial source of air pollution. Examples include:
    • Carbon dioxide (CO2): A major greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming and climate change. Carbon dioxide is a major component of greenhouse gas
    • Nitrogen oxides (NOx): Released during high-temperature combustion processes and lightning discharges.
    • Sulphur oxides (SOx): Produced from volcanic eruptions and industrial activities, leading to the formation of acid rain.
    • Particulate Matter (PM): Small solid or liquid particles suspended in the air, arising from sources like combustion processes and dust.
  • Secondary Pollutants: These pollutants are formed through chemical reactions involving primary pollutants and other substances present in the atmosphere. Examples include:
    • Ozone (O3): Formed by the reaction of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the presence of sunlight. Ozone is a pollutant and a constituent of smog.
    • Sulfuric acid (H2SO4): Formed by the reaction of sulphur dioxide (SO2) with other pollutants, contributing to acid rain. When it combines with NO2, it results in the formation of the compound known as H2SO4, leading to acid rain.
    • Smog: A combination of pollutants like nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, and particulate matter, formed through complex atmospheric reactions.
    • Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)– These are released from air conditioners, refrigerators, aerosol sprays, etc. CFCs are harmful to the ozone layer. When released into the stratosphere, they come in contact with other gases, and thus, the CFC damages the ozone layer.

Impact of Air Pollution

Air pollution has far-reaching impacts on our environment, health, and overall well-being. The consequences of air pollution can be seen in various aspects of our lives. Some key impacts include:

  • Environmental Degradation: Air pollutants contribute to the deterioration of buildings, monuments, and cultural heritage sites. They also harm vegetation, leading to reduced crop yields and damage to ecosystems.
  • Health Hazards: Inhaling polluted air can result in respiratory problems such as asthma, bronchitis, and allergies. Air pollution is also linked to cardiovascular diseases and can have negative effects on the immune system.
  • Climate Change: Air pollutants, including greenhouse gases, contribute to global warming and climate change. This leads to adverse effects such as melting glaciers, rising sea levels, and more frequent extreme weather events.
  • Economic Consequences: Air pollution imposes economic burdens through increased healthcare costs, reduced agricultural productivity, and damage to infrastructure. It can also impact tourism and cultural heritage sites, affecting local economies.

Causes of Air Pollution

Air pollution is a significant environmental concern that affects the quality of air and poses risks to human health and the ecosystem. Following are the causes of Air Pollution:

  • Industrial pollutants: Release of pollutants from factories, power plants, and industrial processes contribute to air pollution.
  • Vehicle pollutants: Exhaust smokes or fumes from vehicles, including cars, trucks, and motorcycles, release pollutants into the atmosphere.
  • Agricultural activities: Activities like burning of crops, and use of chemical fertilizers are responsible for contributing to air pollution.
  • Indoor pollutants: Household activities, such as cooking with solid fuels, using certain cleaning products, and smoking, can release pollutants indoors.
  • Natural sources: Natural events like volcanic eruptions, forest fires, and dust storms can release pollutants into the air.

Air Pollution UPSC

Air Pollution is an important topic in the UPSC Exam, specifically included in the Environment and Ecology section of the UPSC Syllabus. It is essential for candidates to have a strong understanding of the causes, effects, and measures of air pollution for comprehensive preparation.

To prepare effectively for the exam, candidates must grasp the classification of air pollution, familiarize themselves with various air pollutants, and comprehend the impacts of air pollution. candidates can also check Environment and Ecology Notes for UPSC to enhance their exam preparation and perform well in the UPSC exam.

Air Pollution UPSC Questions

Candidates are strongly advised to solve questions related to the topic of Air Pollution based on their knowledge. By attempting the provided questions, candidates can gain a deeper understanding of the core concepts. Practicing regularly and adopting a systematic preparation strategy will enable candidates to comprehend and explore the concepts thoroughly for the exam.

Question: Human activities in the recent past have Caused an increased concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but a lot of it does not remain in the lower atmosphere because of : (1) Its escape into the outer stratosphere, (2) The photosynthesis by phytoplankton in the oceans, (3) The trapping of air in the polar ice caps.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct? (A) 1 and 2, (B) 2 only, (C) 2 and 3, (D) 3 only

Answer: (C) 2 and 3

Question: In the cities of our country, which among the following atmospheric gases are normally considered in calculating the value of the Air Quality Index? (1) Carbon dioxide, (2) Carbon monoxide, (3) Nitrogen dioxide, (4) Sulphur dioxide, (5) Methane

Select the correct answer using the code given below. (A) 1, 2 and 3 only, (B) 2, 3 and 4 only, (C) 1, 4 and 5 only, (D) 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5

Answer: (B) 2, 3 and 4 only

Question for UPSC Mains: Assess the impact of air pollution on public health and the environment in urban areas of India. Suggest effective measures and policies to mitigate the adverse effects of air pollution. (UPSC Mains, 2019)

Question for UPSC Mains: Analyze the role of various stakeholders, including the government, industries, and individuals, in combating air pollution in India. Evaluate the effectiveness of existing air pollution control measures and propose innovative solutions to address this pressing issue. (UPSC Mains, 2020)

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