Common pollutants of air and their sources

Common pollutants of air and their sources article focuses on Common air pollutants and sources.

1. Carbon Dioxide

2. Carbon Monoxide

3. Oxides of Nitrogen

4. Oxides of Sulphur

5. Oxidants

6. Hydrocarbons

Common pollutants of air

Carbon Dioxide

Carbon dioxide content of air has increased by 20% during the last century. Carbon dioxide causes nausea and headache. It’s increase in the air may cause greenhouse effect, rise in the atmospheric temperature. This may melt the polar ice resulting in rise in level of oceans and flooding of coastal regions.

Carbon Monoxide

It is a very poisonous gas and is produced by incomplete combustion of fuel. If inhaled. it combines with hemoglobin and reduces its oxygen-carrying capacity. This leads to laziness, reduced vision and death.

Oxides of Nitrogen

These include NO and NO2, which are released by automobiles and chemical industries as waste gases and also by burning of materials. These are harmful and lower the oxygen carrying capacity of blood.

Oxides of Sulphur

SO2 and SO3 are produced by burning of coal and petroleum and are harmful to buildings, clothing, plants and animals. High concentration of SO2 causes chlorosis (yellowing of leaves), plasmolysis, damage to mucous membrane and metabolic inhibition. SO2 and SO3 react with water to form Sulphuric and sulphurous acids. These may precipitate as rain or snow producing acid rain or acid precipitation.


Formed by the photochemical reactions between primary pollutants, viz. oxides of nitrogen and hydrocarbons. Nitrogen oxides in the presence of sunlight react with unburnt hydrocarbons to form peroxyacyl nitrate (PAN), Ozone, aldehydes and some other complex organic compounds in the air.


These are unburnt discharges from incomplete combustion of fuel in automobiles. These form PAN with nitrogen oxides, which is highly toxic.

Some other common pollutants of air includes particulate matter, aerosols, radioactive substances, and fluorides

Common pollutants of air and their sources

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Particulate Matter

Industries and automobiles release fine solid and liquid particles into the air. Fly ash and soot from burning of coal, metal dust containing lead, chromium, nickel, cadmium, zinc and mercury from metallurgical processes; cotton dust from textile mills; and pesticides sprayed on crops are examples of particulate pollutants in the air. These are injurious to respiratory tract.


Aerosols are chemicals released in the air in vapour form. These include fluorocarbon (carbon compound having fluorine) present in emissions from the Jet aeroplanes. Aerosols deplete the ozone layer. Thinning of ozone layer results in more harmful ultraviolet rays reaching the earth, which are harmful to skin, and can lead to skin cancer also.

Radioactive Substances

These are released by nuclear explosions and explosives. These are extremely harmful for health.


Rocks, soils and. minerals containing fluorides release an extremely toxic gas called hydrogen fluoride on heating. This gas is highly injurious to livestock and cattle.

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