What is Pollution?- Definition, Types, and Causes

What is Pollution?

Pollution is the introduction of harmful materials into the environment. These harmful materials are called pollutants. Pollutants can be natural, such as volcanic ash. They can also be created by human activity, such as trash or runoff produced by factories. Pollutants damage the quality of air, water, and land.

Many things that are useful to people produce pollution. Cars spew pollutants from their exhaust pipes. Burning coal to create electricity pollutes the air. Industries and homes generate garbage and sewage that can pollute the land and water. Pesticides’ chemical poisons used to kill weeds and insects—seep into waterways and harm wildlife.

All living things from one-celled microbes to blue whales depend on Earth’s supply of air and water. When these resources are polluted, all forms of life are threatened.

Pollution is a global problem. Although urban areas are usually more polluted than the countryside, pollution can spread to remote places where no people live. For example, pesticides and other chemicals have been found in the Antarctic ice sheet.

In the middle of the northern Pacific Ocean, a huge collection of microscopic plastic particles forms what is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Air and water currents carry pollution. Ocean currents and migrating fish carry marine pollutants far and wide. Winds can pick up radioactive material accidentally released from a nuclear reactor and scatter it around the world. Smoke from a factory in one country drifts into another country.

The three major types of pollution are air pollution, water pollution, and land pollution.

Pollution is the introduction of harmful materials into the environment. These harmful materials are called pollutants.

Causes of Pollution

1. The Burning of Fossil Fuels

Sulfur dioxide, which is produced by burning fossil fuels like coal, petroleum for power generation in power plants, and other combustibles in the plant, is a major cause of pollution.

Billions of vehicles on the road are powered by gasoline and diesel engines that burn petroleum to release energy. Petroleum is made up of hydrocarbons and engines don’t burn them cleanly.

As a result, pollutants such as PM, nitrogen oxide, and NO2 (collectively referred to as NOx), carbon monoxide, organic compounds, and lead are emitted from vehicles such as trucks, jeeps, cars, trains, and airplanes, causing high levels of pollution. These modes of transport are part of our basic daily needs, so we rely heavily on them.

But overuse of them kills our environment as dangerous gases pollute the atmosphere. Carbon monoxide, caused by improper or incomplete combustion and generally emitted by vehicles, is another major pollutant besides nitrogen oxides, produced from both natural and man-made processes.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), exposure to outdoor air pollution accounts for 0.6 to 1.4 percent of the disease burden and 4.2 million deaths annually.

2. Agricultural Activities

Ammonia is a very common by-product of agricultural activities and one of the most dangerous gases in the atmosphere. The use of insecticides, pesticides, and fertilizers in agricultural activities has increased significantly. They release harmful chemicals into the air and can also cause water pollution.

Farmers also set fire to the field and old crops to keep them clean for the next sowing. Burning in clean fields is said to cause pollution by releasing harmful gases into the air.

3. Waste in Landfills

Landfills are areas of land where waste is deposited or buried. This deposited or buried waste produces methane. Methane is an important greenhouse gas that is highly flammable and very dangerous.

E-waste is another serious problem that involves many unscientific dismantling such as chemical washout, burning of wires, and others.

4. Exhaust from Factories and Industries

The manufacturing industry releases a large amount of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, organic compounds, and chemicals into the air, which affects air quality.

Manufacturing can be found in every corner of the world and there is no area that is not affected by it. Petroleum refineries also release hydrocarbons and various other chemicals that pollute the air and cause land pollution.

5. Mining Operations

Mining is a process of extracting minerals underground using large equipment. During the process, dust and chemicals are released into the air, resulting in massive air pollution.

This is one of the reasons responsible for the deteriorating health conditions of workers and residents in the area.

6. Indoor Air Pollution

Household cleaning supplies and painting supplies emit toxic chemicals into the air and cause air pollution. Have you ever noticed that painting the walls of your house creates an odor that literally makes it impossible for you to breathe?

Particulate matter, known by the acronym SPM, is another cause of pollution. Regarding the particulate matter floating in the air, SPM is usually caused by dust, combustion, etc.

According to the WHO, around seven million premature deaths are caused each year by the combined effects of air pollution in the environment (outdoors) and in the home.

7. Natural Events

There are certain natural events such as volcanoes, forest fires, and dust storms that originate from nature and cause pollution.

Types of Pollution

The three major types of pollution are air pollutionwater pollution, and land pollution.

Explore the definition and causes of each type of pollution.

1. Air Pollution

In some cities, the air is dangerous to breathe. Why? Well, air pollution of course. Air pollution is when noxious gases and chemicals get suspended in the air. Think about the smog covering some areas of California and New York.

Dirt, grime, exhaust fumes, and other aerosols go into the air. These pollutants can go up in the atmosphere and infect our clouds creating acid rain, or they can just hang out like smog does and make it harder for people to breathe. For more information read Air pollution.

2. Water Pollution

Humans need water to survive. That is a fact. However, trash and chemicals can get thrown into the ocean and lakes. This is called water pollution. Not only can they affect fish and other marine life, when pollutants get into the water, but they also have a devastating effect on the water cycle.

Natural causes of water pollution include algae blooms and volcanos. However, humans also cause water pollution through trash and wastewater from factories.

3. Land Pollution

Land pollution is another one of the big three pollution types affecting the human population. Land pollution happens when the soil gets contaminated by fertilizers or chemicals being dumped. The pollution in the land can seep into the groundwater or run into lakes and streams creating a vicious pollution cycle.

4. Radioactive Pollution

When you think of radioactive pollution, you might think of Chernobyl or Fukushima. Both of these nuclear power plants used fission of radioactive materials, uranium, and plutonium, to create electricity, and both failed. Their failure led to toxic chemicals and radiation being leaked out into the environment, which is radioactive pollution.

5. Noise Pollution

Have you ever needed to wear earphones for loud noises? If so, you were experiencing noise pollution. Noise pollution is caused by loud noises that can hurt the human ears.

Types of noise pollution can include explosions, jet engines, and even concerts (if you are close to the speakers). Noise pollution is dangerous because it can cause hearing loss.

6. Light Pollution

Have you ever noticed that in a big city with a lot of lights, it is impossible to see the stars and galaxies? Light pollution, using electric lights to light up the sky, is the cause. While lights are great for helping us to see at night, too many lights cause light pollution blocking out the night sky.

Light pollution can also be harmful to animals. For example, the lights of big cities can confuse migrating birds.

7. Thermal Pollution

While most pollution types are straightforward, thermal pollution is a bit tricky. Many times, nuclear power plants and factories use water to cool things. However, if they put that warmed up water back into the environment, it wreaks havoc on the fish and wildlife because it has less oxygen.

This is called thermal pollution. Thermal pollution can be caused by natural forces too like soil erosion giving water more sunlight.

How to prevent and control pollution?

Pollution prevention (P2) is any practice that reduces, eliminates, or prevents pollution at its source. P2, also known as “source reduction,” is the ounce-of-prevention approach to waste management. Reducing the amount of pollution produced means less waste to control, treat, or dispose of.

Follow these Tips Every Day to Reduce Pollution:

  • Conserve energy – at home, at work, everywhere.
  • Look for the ENERGY STAR label when buying a home or office equipment.
  • Carpool, use public transportation, bike, or walk whenever possible.

Follow gasoline refueling instructions for efficient vapor recovery, being careful not to spill fuel and always tighten your gas cap securely.

  • Consider purchasing portable gasoline containers labeled “spill-proof,” where available.
  • Keep car, boat, and other engines properly tuned.
  • Be sure your tires are properly inflated.
  • Use environmentally safe paints and cleaning products whenever possible.
  • Mulch or compost leaves and yard waste.
  • Consider using gas logs instead of wood.

On Days when High Ozone Levels are Expected, take these Extra Steps to Reduce Pollution:

  • Choose a cleaner commute – share a ride to work or use public transportation.
  • Combine errands and reduce trips. Walk to errands when possible.
  • Avoid excessive idling of your automobile.
  • Refuel your car in the evening when its cooler.
  • Conserve electricity and set air conditioners no lower than 78 degrees.
  • Defer lawn and gardening chores that use gasoline-powered equipment, or wait until evening.

On Days when High Particle Levels are Expected, take these Extra Steps to Reduce Pollution:

  • Reduce the number of trips you take in your car.
  • Reduce or eliminate fireplace and wood stove use.
  • Avoid burning leaves, trash, and other materials.
  • Avoid using gas-powered lawn and garden equipment.


What are the 7 types of pollution?

Major forms of pollution include air pollution, light pollution, litter, noise pollution, plastic pollution, soil contamination, radioactive contamination, thermal pollution, visual pollution, and water pollution.

What causes pollution?

Air pollution is caused by solid and liquid particles and certain gases that are suspended in the air. These particles and gases can come from car and truck exhaust, factories, dust, pollen, mold spores, volcanoes, and wildfires.

How is pollution affecting the earth?

Air pollution can damage crops and trees in a variety of ways. Ground-level ozone can lead to reductions in agricultural crop and commercial forest yields, reduced growth and survivability of tree seedlings, and increased plant susceptibility to disease, pests, and other environmental stresses (such as harsh weather).

What are the 4 types of pollution?

The major kinds of pollution, usually classified by the environment, are air pollution, water pollution, and land pollution. Modern society is also concerned about specific types of pollutants, such as noise pollution, light pollution, and plastic pollution.

What are 10 ways to reduce pollution?

Let’s discuss these 10 best ways to reduce air pollution.

  • Using public transports.
  • Turn off the lights when not in use
  • Recycle and Reuse
  • No to plastic bags.
  • Reduction of forest fires and smoking.
  • Use of fans instead of Air Conditioner.
  • Use filters for chimneys
  • Avoid usage of crackers.

What are the effects of pollution?

Long-term health effects from air pollution include heart disease, lung cancer, and respiratory diseases such as emphysema. Air pollution can also cause long-term damage to people’s nerves, brain, kidneys, liver, and other organs. Some scientists suspect air pollutants cause birth defects.

How do you stop pollution?

On Days when High Particle Levels are Expected, take these Extra Steps to Reduce Pollution:

  • Reduce the number of trips you take in your car.
  • Reduce or eliminate fireplace and wood stove use.
  • Avoid burning leaves, trash, and other materials.
  • Avoid using gas-powered lawn and garden equipment.

What are 3 effects of pollution?

Exposure to high levels of air pollution can cause a variety of adverse health outcomes. It increases the risk of respiratory infections, heart disease and lung cancer. Both short- and long-term exposure to air pollutants have been associated with health impacts. More severe impacts affect people who are already ill.

Why is pollution the biggest problem in the world today?

Pollution is the largest environmental cause of disease and premature death. Pollution causes more than 9 million premature deaths (16% of all deaths worldwide). That’s three times more deaths than from AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined and 15 times more than from all wars and other forms of violence.

What will happen if we don’t stop pollution?

If air pollution is not controlled, by 2030 the air will become so poisonous that it will be necessary to use an oxygen kit to breathe easily. Rising air pollution will also lead to premature aging. Human exposure to air toxins will increase to a great extent if air pollution is not controlled.

What are types of pollutants?

Different types of pollutants include:

  • Nitrogen oxides (NOx)
  • Sulfur oxides (SOx)
  • Particulate matter (PM)
  • Ground level ozone (O3)
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
  • Mercury (Hg)
  • Peroxyacyl nitrates (PANs)

What are the pollutants called?

These six pollutants are carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen oxides, ground-level ozone, particle pollution (often referred to as particulate matter), and sulfur oxides.

Why is it important to stop pollution?

Reducing pollutants in the air is important for human health and the environment. Poor air quality has harmful effects on human health, particularly the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. Pollutants can also damage plants and buildings, and smoke or haze can reduce visibility.

Why should we stop pollution?

Pollution prevention protects the environment by conserving and protecting natural resources while strengthening economic growth through more efficient production in industry and less need for households, businesses and communities to handle waste.

How do you explain pollution to a child?

Pollution is when gases, smoke and chemicals are introduced into the environment in large doses that makes it harmful for humans, animals and plants. Some forms of pollution can be seen, some are invisible. Our Earth has an atmosphere that’s made up of different gases.

What are the positive effects of pollution?

Examples of positive effects of pollution, from sunken cars as reefs attracting fish and kelp, to oil sludge used as food for protein-producing microorganisms.

What is the solution in air pollution?

The most basic solution for air pollution is to move away from fossil fuels, replacing them with alternative energies like solar, wind and geothermal. Producing clean energy is crucial. But equally important is to reduce our consumption of energy by adopting responsible habits and using more efficient devices.

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