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8 Different Types of Air Pollution (Plus Vital Facts)

A boy wearing a mask with greenhouse gases on the background.

Diseases caused by air pollution have led to 600,000 deaths per year among children under age five and one out of eight deaths per year among adults across the globe. While we are aware of the consequences brought about by outdoor air pollution, not many of us are aware of how dangerous indoor air pollution also is.

In fact, it can be worse since there are twice or five times as many pollutants inside the house than found outdoors. About 96 percent of homes have at least one air quality problem, so women who work from home have a 54 percent higher risk of dying from cancer than those who work outside of their homes.

Basic Types of Air Pollution

All-Natural Sources

Bearded man smoking a cigarette.

All-natural sources of air pollution are not those that are manufactured in a company, but those that are found in naturally occurring situations. They include products such as:

  • Cigarette smoke. Although excellent measures have been taken to separate people who smoke from those who don’t, cigarette smoke is still a very dangerous product, and it goes a long way to increasing the odds of a person getting lung cancer. In fact, there are 10 times more deadly chemicals in a cigarette than there are in exhaust fumes from diesel engines, so if you are a smoker, you should either quit or drastically cut down. They are bad for the smoker and bad for the environment, so the fewer of them there are on the planet, the better.
  • Dust and dust mites. These can be found anywhere, and they always have a high amount of pollen in them, which can also be described as dust. Dust is made mostly with things like minerals in fine quantities, carbon particles that are unburnt, hair, thin fibers, particles from the soil, skin cells, and of course, pollen grains. Because of all of these ingredients, dust is considered a very serious health risk to everyone.
  • Firecrackers. This is one that few, if any, people think about, but because of everything that is contained inside of a firecracker, they are extremely damaging to the environment. Depending on the firecracker itself, it can contain a lot of very unhealthy ingredients, and since you inhale most of these ingredients after they’re set off, this is usually where the damages start.
  • Natural gas. Natural gas has become increasingly dangerous to the condition of the air, and with each passing year it gets worse. It causes extreme changes to the environment, and not in a positive way.


Ammonia emmision from agriculture.

Most of the ammonia found in the air is the result of agriculture, and since everyone wants to eat, it is unlikely that there is a lot that can be done to eliminate it entirely.

Over 93% of the ammonia found in the air comes from agriculture, and the rest of it, those composed of very small parts, result from things such as industrial processes such as manufacturing plants, waste management issues, and even the distribution and production of energy.

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Ammonia is a very damaging substance, and to make matters worse, it has a very bad odor that makes it both dangerous and unpleasant. It is a pungent odor that automatically turns people’s stomach, because it is very strong and pungent.

However, this is the least of your worries when you’re fighting with ammonia in the air that causes horrible air pollution.

Basic, Standard Air Pollution

Harmful gases emitted from factories.

This is what a lot of people think of when they think of very common forms of air pollution, and it can come from things that include nitrogen dioxide, pollution from particulates, ozone found at ground level, organic compounds that are considered volatile, Sulphur dioxide, and, of course, carbon monoxide.

In other words, the sources of pollution found in this article are the most common types of pollutants found in the air today. Unfortunately, the simple operations and activities that people need to perform for other people to live, work, and breathe in society these days almost always contribute to air pollution.

Because of this, it is unlikely that it is possible for all pollutants to ever be eliminated from the air. Let’s face it, people will always have to drive their vehicles, take jobs that manufacture items which contribute to the problem of pollution, and operate other types of vehicles that spew chemicals into the air.

Therefore, it would be more beneficial for society as a whole to concentrate on reducing the amount of pollution in the air, instead of eliminating it altogether.

Greenhouse Gases and Chemicals

Industrial factories emitting greenhouse gases.

Highly dangerous to society, greenhouse gases and chemicals have two basic sources. The first is a natural greenhouse effect, which is caused from naturally occurring activities that no one can control.

The second source comes from things humans are doing to cause the gases and chemicals, including destroying the ozone layer through the use of certain products which contain CFCs.

When fossil fuels are burned, it contributes greatly to the greenhouse gases found in the atmosphere, and these gases include methane and carbon dioxide, among others. Of course, another negative result of all this is that the earth is getting a lot warmer, a phenomenon known as climate change or global warming.

Although many people think all of this makes the entire climate warmer, the truth is that it can also produce extreme changes in temperature, which means if it gets colder than usual during the winter months, this could possibly be caused by climate change.

Organic Compounds: Volatile

A traffic jam of cars emitting harmful gases.

VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, consist of five major components:

  • Industrial and chemical processes
  • Non-road pieces of equipment
  • The use of solvents
  • Vehicles found on the road
  • Other types of compounds that are not as common as the other four

Put simply, VOCs are greenhouse gases that are extremely dangerous to the environment, and many of the most common diseases and illnesses caused by air pollution are a direct result of these gases.

VOCs are dangerous and include a lot of miscellaneous chemicals that are small but lethal and which cannot be classified in other categories.

Pollution from Particles

A forest fire spreading quickly.

According to many experts, pollution that comes from particles is the most common type of air pollution nowadays. This usually means that the very small, sometimes almost invisible particles in the air can amass into dangerous particles and pollute the air.

The way people live their lives contributes to these particles developing, so, according to some people, there is little anyone can do about them. The particles can come from anywhere, and they are made up of items such as:

  • Fires that are started and kept in the outdoors
  • Fireplaces and wood stoves in both homes and businesses
  • Miscellaneous particles from things like dust and other items
  • Particles being released from the operation of cars and trucks
  • Particles from industrial companies, such as chemical plants and warehouses

Particles from these and other sources can be many different sizes, but most of them are quite minute. Because of this, many people often don’t realize that they exist, and, since they don’t realize that the items exist, it is easy for many people to ignore the problem and pretend it doesn’t exist.

Oddly enough, the biggest source of particles that cause air pollution is the second item listed above: the use of fireplaces and wood stoves.

Sulfur Dioxide

A volcano in Indonesia emitting sulfur dioxide.

Sulfur dioxide is produced when burning sulfur in the air, and although it is a colorless product, it has a very pungent, unpleasant odor and is very toxic. It can also be produced by volcanic eruptions, and even by the burning of fossil fuels, and it is dangerous to the environment and to people.

Unpleasant Odors

A man holding a garbage bag that emits an unpleasant odor.

Bad odors are not just unpleasant, they are potentially dangerous as well. After all, everyone is used to experiencing some type of unpleasant odors throughout the day, but if you are constantly sick, especially with upper respiratory problems, it could be the odors are getting into your lungs and wreaking havoc on your body.

These odors can result in everything from minor coughing to headaches and even damage to unborn children. Neighborhoods that keep their premises clean and sanitary have fewer problems with illnesses due to these odors, but unfortunately, those living below the poverty line are usually the most affected with these types of problems.

Basic Causes of Air Pollution

An artistic representation of air pollution through a woman's body with factories emitting harmful gases as her head.

All-Natural Sources

All-natural sources, despite the name, can wreak havoc on both the environment and a person’s health, and they are caused mostly from:

  • Cigarette smoke. Most people already know that cigarette smoke contains tar and nicotine, but it also contains dozens of very dangerous chemicals that do an immeasurable amount of damage with each and every puff. It is also bad for people nearby who do not smoke, and in fact, dying from second-hand smoke is a lot more common than most people realize.
  • Dust comes from numerous sources, including volcanic eruptions, basic pollution, dust particles that are lifted from the weather, and even soil. These and many other ingredients can be found in the typical dust particle, which is one of the many reasons that it is so dangerous.
  • Not only do firecrackers emit chemicals such as cadmium and copper, but they also tend to stay in the air for long periods of time, and long exposures to items such as this are extremely dangerous for the environment.
  • Natural gas. When natural gas is used, numerous ingredients are spewed into the air, including nitrogen oxides, mercury, Sulphur, and various particulates. Whether it is being combusted or released into the air, natural gas is not something to ignore, because it causes dozens of problems for citizens of all ages.

To learn more about fossil fuels and some interesting facts around them, check out our article “4 Types of Fossil Fuels”


Again, ammonia is extremely dangerous, pungent, and it smells awful. There are terrestrial organisms that feed on ammonia, but ammonia is extremely dangerous to both these organisms and human beings.

Basic, Standard Air Pollution

Because of the way people now live, carbon monoxide is produced in great quantities, and one of its biggest disadvantages is the fact that it is odorless, tasteless, and clear. This means that if you don’t see or smell it, it is easy to assume it is not in your home or business, but that is not always the case.

In fact, companies often add an odor to this product so that you will know it is being emitted, making it a lot easier to do something about it.

Carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide are both very dangerous and very common, but fortunately most countries in the world are trying to reduce society’s dependence on them, and choosing products that are more environmentally safe than these two items is a great start.

Greenhouse Gases and Chemicals

Greenhouse gases come mostly from the burning of fossil fuels, and, in fact, many experts feel that climate change is the number-one problem when it comes to pollution in the air.

Fortunately, people can do something about it if they band together. You likely can’t get rid of climate change altogether, but by reducing fossil fuels and other gases and chemicals found in the air, you can greatly reduce its harmful effects, which may mean people won’t have to start looking for another planet to live on.

Organic Compounds: Volatile

VOCs come in various states, and some of the most dangerous ones include 3-butadiene and hydrocarbon VOCs. One of the most harmful gases on the planet, the damaging effects of VOCs need to be taken seriously as soon as possible so that it isn’t too late for the damages that are certain to occur, if this hasn’t happened already.

Pollution from Particles

First of all, particles under this group of pollutants are made up of two main products, liquids and solids. Ashes make up most of the liquid particles, and most of this ash is the result of burning items such as coal, chemicals found in the air from various sources, and even exhaust fumes from diesel engines.

All vehicles, including commuter buses, 18-wheel vehicles, and even large trucks used for commercial uses tend to emit ashes and fumes, which wreaks havoc on the environment and causes large amounts of air pollution. Pollution that produces particles also includes items that burn coal.

Believe it or not, there are numerous chemical plants and heaters for both domestic and commercial use that still burn coal. Even though most governments are trying to reduce the use of coal because it is not a sustainable fuel source, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.

Sulfur Dioxide

Lots of situations can result in sulfur dioxide being spewed into the air, including when fuel that contains sulfur is combusted, during a variety of industrial processes, and in the smelting of various metals. Regarding fuel that contains sulfur, the most common fuels are oil and coal.

Unpleasant Odors

Unpleasant and unhealthy odors can come from almost anywhere, including exhaust smoke from the cars and trucks on the road and waste that has been improperly managed, and this includes both waste from individual households and from large industrial and manufacturing companies.

Let’s face it, most people have cars and thousands of people are needed to work in these commercial and industrial facilities. You can still reduce the effects of these odors, however, because if it means saving just one person, and it will, it is well worth the effort put forth.

How Air Pollution Can Impact Society

A snapshot of a city teeming with people who are feeling the effects of air pollution.

All-Natural Sources

All of the products listed below are extremely harmful to both the environment and to personal health, and here are some of the reasons why:

  • Cigarette smoke. The biggest risk of smoking is, of course, lung cancer, but since non-smokers can be exposed to second-hand cigarette smoke, it is a dangerous habit for both the smokers and anyone standing near them.
  • Some types of dust, particularly mineral dust, is difficult to get out of your lungs completely, which can cause illnesses such as pneumoconiosis, coal miners’ disease (a type of pneumoconiosis), silicosis, and even asbestosis. The more you are exposed to dust, the more likely you are to find it difficult to get all of the dust out of your system. Because many of the illnesses associated with dust are potentially fatal, it is good to be as careful with your health as possible if you work in areas where there is a lot of dust.
  • Firecrackers cause mostly upper respiratory illnesses, including sneezing, runny nose, headaches, and rhinitis. Unfortunately, because the chemicals stay in the air a long time, people sometimes don’t start these symptoms until months after the firecrackers were enjoyed.
  • Natural gas. Much less carbon dioxide (CO2) is emitted when natural gas gets combusted in a chemical plant that is newer and designed to run more efficiently, but, unfortunately, continuous high exposure to natural gas can result in a host of respiratory illnesses, and even deadlier diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease.


Pharmaceutical companies use a lot of ammonia in their products, and regardless of where it is found it is extremely dangerous. If found in the water, it can kill a host of aquatic animals, and if the doses are high enough in the air, you can feel it in your ears, throat, and nose.

There are, however, small amounts of ammonia in the soil that are needed to grow certain products, but because it has been found in higher than necessary amounts in the air, it can produce a burning effect on the inside of your body.

If you are constantly coughing, have an irritated throat, or suffer with bronchitis on a regular basis, it could very well be because there is too much ammonia in the air where you currently live.

Basic, Standard Air Pollution

Both carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide are very dangerous to the environment and in fact, many historical buildings throughout the world are now showing a lot of decay because of the smog that results from nitrogen oxide.

This gas is also one of the ingredients found in acid rain, which has been shown to cause all types of lung diseases and a lot of other illnesses, some of which are very serious.

In fact, many people don’t realize that the air is causing a lot of people’s illnesses, but every year tens of thousands of people die due to these and other types of chemicals being put into the air, which is a high price to pay.

Greenhouse Gases and Chemicals

One of the biggest disadvantages of greenhouse gases and chemicals affecting climate change is that it can problematic for both human beings and animals. The ice caps are melting, which is bad for the polar bears, and more and more animals are finding they cannot find food or live the way they once did.

Sometimes animals are forced to migrate, and even the flora and fauna can die out. This is why it is crucial to find solutions to this problem quickly, and while most countries around the world are working together to reduce the effects of greenhouse gases and chemicals.

Organic Compounds – Volatile

VOCs are the number-one ingredient found in smog and, they are largely responsible for forming ground-level ozone and particulates found in the air.

Smog is terrible for both the environment and for human beings, and it can cause ailments such as headaches, nausea, irritation of the nasal and ear region, and damages to the central nervous system, kidneys, and liver. These are items that need to be taken seriously because in the end, it can create a life-or-death situation if the situation is dire enough.

Pollution from Particles

Of course, pollution particles from coal and other sources of fuel have one main disadvantage, and that is the effect it has on the upper respiratory system of individuals. You may have simple coughing problems or something as serious as lung cancer, but you can also suffer with problems such as strokes and heart attacks.

If you can’t breathe, it can affect your overall health and therefore the quality of your life. This type of pollution also affects flora and other types of plants, even killing it in some instances, which is yet another good reason to try and control this type of pollution.

Sulfur Dioxide

Sulfur dioxide can cause cardiovascular disease and a variety of lung diseases, some of which are quite serious. Acid rain is made mostly of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, so the former is a very dangerous material that should be totally avoided whenever possible.

Unpleasant Odors

Unpleasant and dangerous odors cause numerous unpleasant reactions, and, like many of the ingredients listed here, many of them start with the upper respiratory system. Symptoms from these odors include reactions such as irritation in your eyes, bad headaches, and even difficulty breathing.

In fact, odors such as these, if inhaled over large periods of time and in large quantities, can even result in a person’s death. This is something no one wants, but unfortunately it happens year after year. If you are feeling any of these or other symptoms, especially if you suffer the effects on a regular basis, it could be coming from the odors you are inhaling day after day.