What are common Air Pollutants?

Common AIR POLLUTANTS Summary Table

  • What pollutants are in the air?
  • Where do they come from?
  • What could they do to me or the environment?
Name of pollutant Properties Source Effects
Sulphur dioxide Colourless and smells like burnt matches -Most of it comes from smelters and power plants-Also comes from steel mills, petroleum refineries, and pulp and paper mills -High levels could lead to breathing problems and respiratory illness-Aggravates existing respiratory and cardiovascular diseases-Can lead to acid rain
Ozone A colourless and odourless gas -Formed in the lower atmosphere just above the Earth’s surface when energy from the sun reacts with industrial pollutants and motor-vehicle exhaust particles in the air -Irritates the respiratory tract and eyes-High levels can lead to chest tightness, coughing and wheezing-Linked to more hospital visits and premature death

Causes farm crop loss and damages plants and trees

Nitrogen dioxide A reddish-brown gas with a pungent odour -About 63 per cent of it comes from vehicles on the road-Most of the remainder comes from power generation, metal production and incineration-A small portion comes from natural sources -Irritates the lungs and weakens the body’s resistance to respiratory infections- When it chemically changes to nitric acid, it can degrade metal and rubber, fade fabrics, and damage trees and crops
Total reduced sulphur compounds Smells like rotten eggs or cabbage -Comes from steel companies, pulp and paper mills, refineries and sewage- treatment facilities-Also comes from natural sources like swamps, bogs and marshes. -It doesn’t really harm your health – it just smells bad-Extremely high levels can make people nauseated and cause headaches
Carbon monoxide A colourless, odourless and tasteless but poisonous gas -Produced when fossil fuels are burned-About 65 per cent of it comes from vehicles on the road-Most of the remainder comes from metal producers and fuel combustion in space-heating and industrial processes -In the bloodstream it reduces the amount of oxygen going to the lungs and the body’s tissues-High levels can impair vision, work capacity, learning ability and performance of difficult tasks-Those with heart disease are particularly sensitive
Fine particulate matter A mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets in the air -Most of it comes from fuel combustion from motor vehicles, power generation, and residential fireplaces-It includes aerosols, smoke, fumes, dust, ash and pollen -Linked with more hospital visits and several serious health effects, including premature death-Adverse effects can stem from both short-term exposure (a day) and longer periods (a year or more)

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