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Types Of Pollution

What is pollution, Types of pollution, Practice Problems and FAQs

If you have ever travelled in heavy traffic, in a crowded city, then you have had a taste of its impure air. This realisation hits us harder if we have ever had the chance of camping in a forest, or strolling in a park which generally has clean air due to the presence of lush vegetation.

Take a stroll in the morning to the nearest pond, lake or river in your area. You will see that people are either bathing in the water bodies or washing clothes in it. In fact, you must have noticed that most factories in your city are located near the water bodies. Do you know why? This is because it is easier to dump the industrial wastes into the water.

Now think of what happens when loud music is played over loudspeakers during festivals. Do you think everyone enjoys it? While some may enjoy the loud music, there are many who don’t. Loud noise not only affects people suffering from hypertension and heart diseases but is also unpleasant for people who are trying to focus on studies or work.

In all of the above scenarios, human intervention has led to manipulation of the environment which has degraded its quality. Do you know the term for this phenomenon? It’s pollution and that is what we are going to discuss in this article.

List of contents:

  • What is pollution?
  • Types of pollution
  • Practice problems
  • FAQs

What is pollution?

Any undesirable change in physical, chemical or biological characteristics of air, land/soil or water can be called as pollution. Pollution occurs due to the presence of pollutants which are agents that bring about undesirable changes in the environment. Pollutants differ according to the type of pollution. Hence any solid, liquid or gaseous substance present in such concentration which is injurious to the environment can be a pollutant. Pollutants can be natural or anthropogenic or man-made.

There are different types of pollution caused by different pollutants. 3 major kinds of pollution are land pollution, water pollution and air pollution. There are other kinds of pollution too such as noise pollution.

                                  Fig: Different types of pollution

if we rewind our life around 10 or 20 years back the amount of pollutants in the environment were much less compared to what they are now. Sensus says that pollution has increased drastically in the last 30 years. The graph given below will give you a clear idea on this.

                     Fig: Graph showing increase in air pollution from 1982 to 2015

In the graph given here, the X axis indicates years and Y axis indicates PM10 which describes the concentration of inhalable particles with diameters that are generally 10 micrometres and smaller. As the years went on, the PM10 increased with time. What would be the reason for this? Let’s find it out.

The size of the human population has increased enormously over the last hundred years. This has led to an increase in demand for commodities such as food, water, space, electricity, automobiles, etc. which has exerted significant pressure on our natural resources and have polluted the environment. For sustainable living on the planet it is imperative that we control environmental pollution and eventually eliminate it.

                                          Fig: Increased human population

But how do we control environmental pollution? The need of the hour is to check the degradation and depletion of our precious natural resources and pollution without halting the process of development. The Environment (Protection) Act, was passed by the Government of India in 1986 to protect and improve the quality of our environment (air, water and soil). It provides the guidelines for the protection and improvement of the environment and the prevention of hazards to human beings, other living creatures, plants and property.

In order to control the pollution, we have to first know more about different types of pollution. So lets make a brief understanding of the different kinds of pollution around us.

Types of pollution

Air pollution

The pollution of the air we breathe is called air pollution. The pollutants that cause air pollution are gases (Carbon Dioxide, Carbon Monoxide, Sulphur Oxides, Nitrogen Oxides, HFCs CFCs, Methane), aerosols, organic chemicals (hydrocarbons and volatile organic carbon (VOCs)), particulate matter (dust, smoke/soot, smog/haze), radioactive dust and water vapour or steam.

                                                        Fig: Air pollutants

The sources of air pollution can either be artificial or anthropogenic, i.e, caused directly by human activities or they can be natural, i.e., caused without human intervention.

Some of the artificial sources are burning of fossil fuels in automobiles, emissions from factories, aerosols, cigarette smoke, exploration and mining, etc.

                        Fig: Anthropogenic sources of air pollution

Some of the natural sources are volcanoes, allergens and forest fires.

                               Fig: Natural sources of air pollution

In humans, it can cause short term effects like pneumonia or bronchitis, headaches, dizziness, and nausea, irritation in nose, throat, eyes, skin etc.

                           Fig: Short term effects of air pollution on humans

Long term effects of air pollution on humans are respiratory diseases such as emphysema, lung cancer, Nerve/ brain damage etc. It can also affect organs like kidneys, liver etc.

                                                    Fig: Long term effects of air pollution

The effects of air pollution on the environment can be in the form of acid rain, smog, increased greenhouse effect which results in global warming, ozone depletion, etc.

Water pollution

Water pollution is contamination of water bodies by harmful substances and particulate matter which renders them useless. Usually water pollution is a result of human activities such as poor sewage treatment and oil spills but, water contamination can, however, be caused by natural processes such as eutrophication or natural ageing of water bodies. Harmful chemicals or microorganisms that contaminate water and render it toxic are considered as pollutants of water.

                                          Fig: Water pollution in Citarum river, Indonesia

There are different kinds of water pollutants, the most common being domestic waste. It includes - solid wastes (like plastic, paper, kitchen waste, cardboard dumped into the water bodies) and liquid wastes (like soapy water, cleaning chemicals and sewage containing human and animal wastes).

                                             Fig: Domestic water pollutants

Industrial toxic wastes are also a cause of water pollution. These include any poisonous, radioactive, explosive, carcinogenic chemical disposed into the water. These toxic chemicals can lead to development of itching and eczema, stomach upset and even cancer in people who come in frequent contact with contaminated water. Pesticide and fertiliser-laden agricultural runoff can also lead to water pollution.

Adverse effects of water pollution include:

  • Ecosystem disintegration
  • Biomagnification of toxic substances at successive trophic levels
  • Increased risk of water-borne illness
  • Increased concentration of hazardous substances (such as mercury) in bodies of water
  • Accelerated eutrophication and algal bloom

Water pollution has had the most catastrophic effects on humanity. For example, in 1932, a severe incidence of water contamination rendered a whole city in Japan unable to function for decades due to neurological disorders and mental sickness. However, the initial cause was unknown, but it was ultimately determined to be acute mercury poisoning. Methylmercury was thrown into the water and eventually bio-accumulated inside fishes. The local populace subsequently ingested these fishes, resulting in the emergence of ill effects and neurological disorders.

Soil pollution

Soil pollution refers to the contamination of soil with anomalous concentrations of toxic substances. It is a serious environmental concern since it harbours many health hazards. The toxic substances include a variety of substances such as plastic, chemical fertilisers, etc. Soil pollution is caused by numerous factors. They include mainly solid wastes, agrochemical wastes. Solid wastes further include plastic wastes and other hazardous wastes like e-wastes and biomedical wastes.

                                                       Fig: Municipal solid waste

Exposure to polluted soil can cause headache, coughing, nausea, chest pain, skin irritation, eye irritation etc. If the exposure is prolonged then it may affect the central nervous system and cause damages to organs like the liver.

Soil contamination has a wide range of consequences. When specific wastes, such as radioactive waste, are not adequately contained, they become extremely dangerous. A well-documented example is the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, which rendered an area of 2,600 km2 uninhabitable for many thousand years.

Other adverse consequences of soil contamination include soil nutrient loss, which leaves the soil unsuitable for agriculture and also impacts the natural flora and fauna that live in the soil. High-level salt in the soil degrades vegetation.

Noise pollution

What do you think is noise? Noise is defined as any sound which is undesired and high level. Noise pollution is defined as excessive noise in the environment that disturbs the natural equilibrium. Did you know that the India an Air act, which was initially implemented in 1981, was amended in 1987 to include noise as an air pollutant? This is because high levels of noise is an invisible danger that poses a health risk. The sound range around and beyond 85 decibels is considered as noise pollution. Even a brief exposure to sound as high as 150dB which is generated during the take off of jet planes and rockets can permanently damage your eardrums.

The sources of noise pollution are mostly man-made - honking of vehicles, loudspeakers, industrial sites, crowded places, etc.

                                             Fig: Sources of noise pollution

Noise causes psychological and physiological disorders in humans and other animals too. Thus, noise is also included as an air pollutant. The effects of noise pollution are hearing disability, improper sleep issue, increased heart beat, stress, altered breathing pattern, hypertension, issues in proper communication, etc.

Practice Problems

1. Read the following statements (I - IV) and identify which of the statements is/are not harmful effects of noise pollution?

I. A brief exposure to extremely high sound levels such as the one during the take off of a jet plane, may damage eardrums.

II. It interferes with communication with one another.

III. Planting of trees multiplies the noise intensity.

IV. Prolonged loud noise can lead to deafness.

  1. I, II and III
  2. II, III and IV
  3. III
  4. I, III and IV

Solution: Noise pollution can be defined as a disturbing and unwanted sound beyond 85dB that harms humans or wildlife. Noise is generated by mining operations, drillings, blastings, excavations, crushings, vehicular traffic, use of generators, etc. Planting of trees can muffle (cover) noises and prevent noise pollution. Trees act as barriers for noise by absorbing sound waves via stem, leaves, branches and wood (due to rough and thick bark and surface area). So statement III is not a harmful effect of noise.

Hence the correct option is c.

2. Identify how many of the domestic wastes given below are solid wastes.

Plastic, Paper, Vegetable peel, Cardboards, Soapy water, Cloth, Oil

  1. 5
  2. 4
  3. 6
  4. 7

Solution: Domestic solid wastes include all those things that we throw out in trash. These include plastic, paper, kitchen waste (vegetable peels), cloth and cardboards.

Hence the correct option is a.

3. Read the following statements and identify the correct statement related to water pollution.

  1. Wastewater from industries contains pathogenic organisms only
  2. Dysentery, typhoid, cholera and influenza are water borne diseases
  3. Wastewater from hospitals contains toxic substances like heavy metals only
  4. Mercury and copper are normally present in industrial wastewater

Solution: The contamination of water bodies like oceans, seas, lakes, rivers and groundwater caused mostly due to human activities is called water pollution. Wastewater from industries such as chemical manufacturing, metal extraction, etc contains toxic heavy metals such as cadmium, copper, lead, mercury etc. Heavy metals are elements with density more than 5 g/cm3.

Pathogenic organisms are mainly found in wastewater from hospitals and heavy metals are mostly found in industrial wastewater. Dysentery, typhoid and cholera are water borne diseases but influenza is an airborne disease.

Hence the correct option is d.

4. State whether the following statements regarding air pollution are true (T) or false (F)?

I. Air pollution can only be due to anthropogenic or man-made activities.

II. Air pollutants do not affect the growth and yield of crops.

III. Air pollutants have detrimental effects on the respiratory system of humans.

  1. I - F, II - T, III - F
  2. I - T, II - T, III - F
  3. I - T, II - F, III - F
  4. I -F, II - F, III - T

Solution: Air pollutants cause harm to all living organisms and are added to the atmosphere either from natural sources such as volcanic eruptions, pollens released from flowers, etc., or by human activities such as automobile exhausts, burning of fossil fuels, etc. Exposure to pollutants can inhibit growth or cause premature death in plants which can lead to reduced crop yield. Air pollution can have detrimental effects on the human respiratory system. Short term effects can result in respiratory diseases such as bronchitis, pneumonia etc. Long-term effects can result in lung cancers, emphysema etc.

Hence the correct option is d.


1. How do volcanoes pollute the environment?
Volcanoes, which emit massive amounts of hazardous gases into the atmosphere during eruptions, are one of the most significant natural causes of pollution. Carbon dioxide, which can be fatal in high concentrations and contributes to climate change, hydrogen halides, which can cause acid rain, sulphur dioxides, which are toxic to animals and deplete the ozone layer, and hydrogen sulphides, which can kill humans at concentrations of less than 1 part per thousand, are all examples of volcanic gases. Fine and ultrafine particles in volcanic eruptions can contain harmful compounds and substances including arsenic, lead, and mercury.

2. Which countries are the least polluted in the world?
The world's cleanest countries are all in Northern Europe: Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Estonia. This is unsurprising given that during the last few years, each country has consistently had less than 8.0 g/m3 of pollutants in the air. Despite their low PM2.5 (particulate matter of size equal to or less than 2.5 micrometre) levels, none of these countries are among the world's least populated.

3. Which are the most polluted countries in the world?
Bangladesh has the highest pollution levels in the world, with 77.1 g/m3. It has been at the top of the list in the years 2018 and 2019, and despite huge reductions in emissions - along with every other country on the planet - it is not enough to knock the country off the top spot. Pakistan, India, Mongolia, and Afghanistan round up the top five most polluted countries on the planet.

4. What is the definition of environmental dumping?
The practice of shipping wastes (home waste, industrial/nuclear waste, etc.) from one country to another is known as environmental dumping. The purpose is to transport the waste to a country where environmental rules are less stringent, or where environmental laws are not properly enforced. The economic benefit of this technique is low-cost garbage disposal or recycling outside of the originating country's economic regulations.

Youtube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OmsTtAFlwgo

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