What Are Pollutants?- Definition, Types, and Effects

What is pollutants?

A pollutant is a substance or energy that is introduced into the environment and has undesirable effects or affects the usefulness of a resource. A pollutant can cause long-term or short-term damage by changing the growth rate of plant or animal species or by impairing human convenience, comfort, health, or property values.

Pollutants are the elements, molecules, and particles that are involved in pollution. When exposed to these materials, life can be harmed and their effects on humans and plants are well known. Pollutants can enter the environment naturally and by humans in a variety of ways.

Some pollutants are biodegradable and therefore do not remain in the environment in the long term. However, the breakdown products of some pollutants are themselves harmful to the environment, such as the products DDE and DDD produced from the degradation of DDT.

What pollutants do when they enter the atmosphere, soil, or water supply depends on the type of pollutant. However, it makes sense to characterize them as follows: primary pollutants are released directly into the environment, while secondary pollutants are formed from primary pollutants and external factors.

Many pollutants are introduced into the environment in different ways, have different and sometimes unique health effects, and occur in different amounts. It is difficult to briefly describe these for each chemical, but they can be found on each pollutant’s own page.

Types of pollutant

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)
  • and more

1. Stock pollutants

Pollutants for which the environment has a low absorption capacity are called Stock pollutants. Over time, stock pollutants accumulate in the environment. The damage they cause increases as more pollutants are released and persist as the pollutant builds up.

Stock pollutants can put a burden on future generations by circumventing the damage that persists long after the benefits of that damage are forgotten.

2. Fund pollutants

Fund pollutants are those for which the environment has a moderate absorption capacity. Fund pollutants do not cause environmental damage unless the emission rate exceeds the absorption capacity of the receiving environment.

Fund pollutants are not destroyed, but converted into less harmful substances or diluted/dispersed in non-harmful concentrations.

3. Light pollutant

Light pollution is the impact that anthropogenic light has on the visibility of the night sky. It also includes ecological light pollution, which describes the effect of artificial light on individual organisms and on the structure of ecosystems as a whole.

Worst Toxic Pollutants In The World

Let’s Discuss in detail about Different Types of pollutants:

1. Carbon dioxide

Carbon dioxide is one of the trace gases found in the atmosphere it causes air pollutants. It is about 0.04 percent of the atmosphere. Even at this small concentration, it plays an important role in maintaining the Earth’s temperature.

Carbon dioxide is one of the major products when fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas, and oil are burned. It is a major by-product in burning wood and solid waste. Its level in the atmosphere is normally balanced by green plants and trees using the process of photosynthesis.


It is a greenhouse gas. It helps retain the heat and radiation reaching the earth from the sun’s rays, which does not allow heat to escape. Thus, it causes the atmosphere to heat up. This phenomenon is called global warming.

2. Methane

Methane is the natural gas produced in the marshes by anaerobic organisms through fermentation. It is also found underground and below sea level. It is also produced by similar anaerobic organisms in landfills and garbage dumps. 16 percent of methane is produced by cattle and livestock.

Naturally occurring methane is very useful as a fuel for burning and is used daily in our kitchens. It is a greenhouse gas like carbon dioxide and causes the atmosphere to heat up.

3. Plastic

Plastic is a widely used material worldwide. It is made of polymers and is of various types such as polyvinyl chlorides, polyacrylates, phthalates, etc. The pollutant feature of plastic is that it does not biodegrade i.e. it does not break down its individual or simple components.

Larger pieces of plastic only break into smaller pieces, sometimes as small as a microscopic size. They are assumed to last at least 400–1000 years. Before they degrade.

Plastic waste is transported through runoff by air and water, and much of it ends up in oceans and distant places. This leads to the accumulation of drains and, when lit, emits dangerous chlorine gas. As they break into the oceans, they release a compound called bisphenol A which is very toxic to living organisms.

Premature death, birth defects, lower life span, thyroid disturbances, allergic asthma, and cancer are attributed to premature toxins. Plastic wastes contribute to the deaths of many animals and birds, the destruction of fragile ecosystems such as coral reefs, destroying the beauty of natural places.

4. Heavy metals

Heavy metals naturally contain substances, but they are brought into close contact with humans through mining, smelting, fertilizer production, sewage sludge applications, etc.

Metals that are of great concern are arsenic, cadmium, cobalt, chromium, copper, mercury, manganese, nickel, tin, lead, and thallium.

Mercury enters the environment through soil leaching by acid rain, coal burning, industrial, domestic, and mining wastes. In the sea, it accumulates in the body of fish and enters the food chain.

It damages the nervous system and causes a risk to the fetus in pregnant women. There is a debate that mercury found in dental amalgam causes toxicity but this has not yet been proven.

Lead is a component of paints, mining waste, incendiary ash, lead pipe, and automobile exhaust. It damages the brain and nervous system, kidneys, protein synthesis, learning disabilities, and red blood cell formation.

Cadmium Nickel: Cadmium is found in batteries, which emit cigarette smoke and are used in electroplating. It causes kidney disease and affects bone structure.

Arsenic is found in the herb, wood preservatives, and mining industries. It causes skin damage such as hyperkeratosis, pigmentation, and skin and lung cancer.

5. Nitrogenous wastes

The major sources of nitrogen-rich wastes are ammonia synthesis and nitrogen fertilizer industries, coal carbonization units, and amine production units. Out of this nitrogen waste accumulated in the soil due to excessive use of fertilizers, it is very toxic to the environment.

They drain into water bodies and destroy the ecosystem within them through the process of eutrophication. It also forms a dead zone in ponds, rivers, and in parts of the oceans where no life form can take place.

Gaseous nitrogenous waste is a component in the manufacture of smog

6. Ozone

Smog, the primary component of ozone, is produced when air pollutants are primarily composed of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds in the presence of sunlight. Ozone is a toxic compound that affects the respiratory system due to asthma, emphysema, bronchitis, and increased COPD and lung cancer.

It also causes eye irritation, reduces immunity which makes the body susceptible to infections, and heart attacks. Reduced lifespan and Alzheimer’s risk. Low birth weight and spinal cord birth defects are also responsible for ozone pollution.

7. Sulfur Dioxide

This gas is released by power plants and other industries during the burning of fossil fuels. To some extent, this gas is released in locomotive ships and other vehicles, while removing metals from ores. When materials with high sulfur content are burnt, a sulfur oxide is released.

Sulfur combines with other molecules in the air to form particulate matter. They cause respiratory problems. The deposition of these particles on stone and other building surfaces causes staining and damage.

Sulfur Dioxide ide molecules in the air react with water vapor and form small droplets of dilute sulfuric acid. When it rains or naps, the rain takes down the acid and is called acid rain. It causes soil acidification on land water or in bodies of water.

When the chemical constitution of a substance changes, it affects the organisms and flora that live in it. Plants and leaves are wasted. Fishes die, so there are some species of frogs.

8. Radioactive waste

There are natural and man-made sources of radiation. Cosmic radiations from the sun’s rays carry high-energy electromagnetic radiation and continuously reach us from outer space.

Uranium mining releases radon-222 gas into the air. Radium-226 is present in rocks, sediments, and soils and emits a small amount of background radiation. Other naturally occurring radioactive elements are uranium, thorium, and isotopes of potassium and carbon.

Man-made sources of radiation are

  • Clinical medical applications such as X-rays and CT scans.
  • Nuclear test- During these tests radioactive dust is released into the air 6-7 km above the surface of the Earth and carried along with the air around the blast site. They settle on the ground by rain and from soil and water they enter the food chain where they cause serious health hazards.
  • Nuclear reactors and their waste- Radiation leakage from nuclear reactors is occurring despite the best design and proper handling techniques. Natural and accidental disasters also contribute to leakage. Indiscriminate disposal of radioactive fuel waste is also a source of radiation pollution. Plutonium-239 and uranium-235 have such long half-lives, that they can be expected to decay only after thousands of years and by then they emit radiation.

Genetic and non-genetic damage is done to the body. Genetic damage means mutations in gene structures that appear as deformities in future generations. Non-genetic changes include birth defects, various types of leukemia, tumors, miscarriages, and reproductive problems.

10. Other toxic pollutants

They cause benzene (gasoline), toluene, perchloroethylene (dry cleaning facilities), methylene chloride (used as a solvent or paint stripper), asbestos (in building materials), and other air pollution.

The leather tanning industry causes groundwater contamination in many countries due to improper disposal of untreated wastes during various tanning processes. In this chromium, hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, pesticides, pathogens, and fats constitute the major pollutants.

Processed foods industries add a lot of preservatives and additives to foods that make them last longer. Coloring agents and artificial sweeteners are not safe for anyone.


What are Pollutants?

Pollutants are the elements, molecules, and particles involved in pollution – life can be harmed when exposed to these materials, and their effects on humans and plants are well known. Pollutants can be introduced into the environment in many ways, both naturally and by humans.

What are the 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) and more.

What is the definition of pollutants?

A pollutant is a substance or energy that is introduced into the environment and has undesirable effects or affects the usefulness of a resource. A pollutant can cause long-term or short-term damage by changing the growth rate of plant or animal species or by impairing human convenience, comfort, health, or property values.

What are examples of pollutants?

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

What are the top 10 pollutants?

The top 10, in alphabetical order, are: artisanal gold mining; contaminated surface water; contaminated groundwater; indoor air pollution; metals smelting and processing; industrial mining; radioactive waste and uranium mining; untreated sewage; urban air quality; and used lead-acid battery recycling.

What pollutant means?

A pollutant is a substance that is present in concentrations that may harm organisms (humans, plants, and animals) or exceed an environmental quality standard. The term is frequently used synonymously with a contaminant.

What are types of pollutants?

The term “pollution” refers to any substance that negatively impacts the environment or organisms that live within the affected environment. The five major types of pollution include air pollution, water pollution, soil pollution, light pollution, and noise pollution.

How many types of pollutants are there?

When you think of environmental pollution, it typically comes in seven different types. These include air, water, land, radioactive, thermal, light, and sound pollution. Explore the definition and causes of each type of pollution.

What is the largest pollutant?

No big surprise that the production of energy makes up one of the biggest industrial contributions to carbon emissions. Collectively making up 28% of the United States Greenhouse Gas contributions.

What is the biggest pollutant?

Whilst all of these are undeniably harmful to us, air pollution and water pollution pose the biggest threat. In 2017, air pollution contributed close to five million deaths globally – that’s nearly one in every 10 deaths. And as for water pollution.

What are pollutants made of?

Particle pollution comes in many sizes and shapes and can be made up of a number of different components, including acids (such as sulfuric acid), inorganic compounds (such as ammonium sulfate, ammonium nitrate, and sodium chloride), organic chemicals, soot, metals, soil or dust particles, and biological materials.

What are the two main types of pollutants?

Pollutants are categorized into two types: primary and secondary. Primary pollutants are directly emitted from the source and secondary pollutants form when primary pollutants chemically react in the atmosphere.

What are the 7 main 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 most pollution in world?

Most of the air pollution takes place due to the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, gasoline to produce energy for electricity or transportation. The release of carbon monoxide at a high level indicates how much fossil fuel is burned. This also emits other toxic pollutants in the air.

What polluted the most?

The World’s Most and Least Polluted Countries

  • Bangladesh – 77.1 µg/m³
  • Pakistan – 59.0 µg/m³
  • India – 51.9 µg/m³
  • Mongolia – 46.6 µg/m³
  • Afghanistan – 46.5 µg/m³
  • Oman – 44.4 µg/m³
  • Qatar – 44.3 µg/m³
  • Kyrgyzstan – 43.5 µg/m³

What is the largest pollutant in water?

Every year, over 2 billion pounds of pollutants are dumped into our waterways by power plants – the largest source of toxic water pollution in our country. This wastewater contains heavy metals and chemicals known to harm human health, like lead, mercury, and arsenic.

Where can you find pollutants?

Mobile sources – such as cars, buses, planes, trucks, and trains. stationary sources – such as power plants, oil refineries, industrial facilities, and factories. area sources – such as agricultural areas, cities, and wood-burning fireplaces. natural sources – such as wind-blown dust, wildfires, and volcanoes.

What are the 5 primary air pollutants and their sources?

The five primary air pollutants include carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, sulfur oxides, and volatile organic compounds. The sources for all five of these pollutants include electricity production, industry, and transportation.

What is a primary pollutant?

A primary pollutant is an air pollutant emitted directly from a source. A secondary pollutant is not directly emitted as such, but forms when other pollutants (primary pollutants) react in the atmosphere.

What are 6 common pollutants?

EPA has established national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for six of the most common air pollutants carbon monoxide, lead, ground-level ozone, particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide known as “criteria” air pollutants (or simply “criteria pollutants”).

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