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Atmospheric Pollution

Last updated: September 26, 2018

What Does Atmospheric Pollution Mean?

Atmospheric pollution, or air pollution, is the presence of undesirable particles or chemicals in the air in quantities large enough to have negative effects. These materials may be harmful to human health, vegetation, animals, and the environment.

In addition to its health effects, atmospheric pollution can also cause the air to take on a dull and hazy quality or carry an unpleasant odor.

Safeopedia Explains Atmospheric Pollution

Atmospheric pollutants can be naturally occurring or a byproduct of industrial processes. In densely inhabited areas, particularly in industrialized countries, human activities are the principal sources of atmospheric pollution.

The Air Quality Index (AQI) rates atmospheric pollution levels on a scale of 0 to 500. The greater the number, the higher the concentration of pollution in the air. The AQI divides its scale into six levels of severity to give the public a quick sense of whether they should take measures to protect themselves (e.g. remaining indoors, wearing N95 respirators, making use of air filtration systems):

  • Good
  • Moderate
  • Unhealthy for sensitive groups
  • Unhealthy
  • Very unhealthy
  • Hazardous

Sources of Air Pollution

Natural sources of air pollution include:

  • Wind-blown dust
  • Ash or gasses emitted from volcanic activity
  • Smoke from forest fires
  • Pollen from flowers
  • Methane and other gases released when organic matter decomposes

Air pollutants from human activities, on the other hand, can result from:

  • Vehicle emissions
  • Incineration
  • Electric power generation
  • Industrial production of commodities and consumer products

Categories of Air Pollutants

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identifies six categories of air pollutants:

  • Carbon monoxide
  • Nitrogen oxides
  • Sulfur oxides
  • Lead
  • Ground-level ozone
  • Particulate matter

Effects of Atmospheric Pollution

The effects of atmospheric pollution on humans vary depending on the type of pollutant, their concentration in the air, the duration of exposure, and the health conditions of those exposed to the pollutants. People are exposed to varying concentrations of atmospheric pollution.

The health effects of air pollution include:

With an increase in wildfires over recent years, there is a greater potential for chronic exposure to harmful atmospheric pollution. The health effects of wildfire smoke-related atmospheric pollution include eye and respiratory tract irritation, reduced lung function, asthma, and heart problems.


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