Various Types of Pollution – Air, Water, Soil, Noise etc (with images)

There are various types of pollution which affect our lives on daily basis. Environmental pollution is one the most significant challenges that the world is facing in our day. Without a doubt, Environmental pollution has existed for centuries. But, it began to be a severe issue following the industrial revolution in the 19th century. Pollution generally takes place when pollutants pollute the natural surroundings, and it can bring about changes that affect our everyday lifestyles unfavorably. Pollution also results in environmental degradation. Evidence suggests that since the industrial revolution, contaminants in atmosphere have been growing day by day and resulting in severe damage to the earth. Hazardous waste, toxic chemicals, suspended particles are affecting both humans and animals on daily basis. Many of the toxins, chemical and plastic have found their way in ecological food chain. traces of such harmful substances are found in living organisms which is a serious problem.

Pollutants are the main elements of pollution which are usually waste materials of diverse types. Environmentalists consider that pollution can disturb our ecosystem and also the steadiness in the environment. With modernization and urban growth, the rise of factories across the world, the development in the field of technology, the increasing use of vehicles and growth in our lives, pollution has hit the highest point. Environmental pollution is a primary reason for giving rise to global warming and many if the incurable human diseases. Pollution happens in different forms such as air, water, soil, radioactive, light, noise, and heat. There are different kinds of pollution and each of them have their sources and causes associated with them.

Following are the Main Types of Pollution

The effects of pollution are undoubtedly many and extensive. Extreme levels of pollution are causing scores of harm to human health, animal health, tropical rain-forests etc. All kinds of pollution including air, water, soil pollution, etc. have an impact on the environment.

  1. Air Pollution
  2. Water Pollution
  3. Land Pollution (soil pollution)
  4. Noise Pollution
  5. Radioactive/ Nuclear Pollution
  6. Thermal Pollution, etc
  7. Light pollution
  8. Marine Pollution/ Ocean Pollution

Related: Importance of Environmental Education

Water Pollution

One of the most common forms of pollution is water pollution. Generally, it is the contagion of any body of water including lakes, groundwater, sea, oceans, etc. A few examples include raw sewage and waste water running into the lake or streams; Industrial waste drips polluting groundwater, the illicit putting of stuff or items within bodies of water, etc. The most explicit kind of water pollution affects surface waters including oceans, lakes, and rivers which are used as drinking water. Sewage, Nutrients, Chemical waste, radioactive waste, etc. can make water polluted. Water pollution also results in death of water bodies, kill organisms and fish, crabs, birds; seagull.s, dolphins, etc.

Increased use of non degradable material and especially the use of plastic is a large contributor in water pollution. Plastic material such as carry bags, plastic straw, bottles etc are choking our drains and harming marine and aquatic life. Serious problems have emerged because of increased plastic content in aquatic organisms. The increased level of contaminants in water and exploiting existing natural resources has resulted in water crisis in many urban areas. This has resulted in acute shortage of drinking water or high level of contamination which makes it unfit for drinking purpose. Increased soil pollution too have an direct impact on quality as the underground water gets affected by those toxic contaminants. This type of pollution also results in various types of environmental degradation.

Common Sources of Water Pollution: 

Human activities are the main source of water pollution. The most polluting type include discharging of industrial waste into water bodies such as lakes and rivers. The harmful chemicals and toxic waste without being treated is directly discharged to water bodies. Another reason is the mixing of untreated sewage to rivers. Polluted and contaminated water from houses is not treated and rather made to enter the water bodies. Plastic materials such as bottles, carry bags, packaging material also find their way to water bodies which adds to the water pollution and adversely affects its quality and also aquatic life. Another example of water pollution includes mixing up of high temperature (hot water/ discharge) into water bodies at normal temperature. The sudden change and rise in temperature of water also has negative impact on aquatic life. Acid rain is also regarded as one of the polluting factor.

Acid Rain: Sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides react with water in the atmosphere producing sulphuric acid and nitric acid. These acids come down along with the rain. This phenomenon is called acid rain. The pH of acid rain varies from 3-6. The composition of acid rain is sulphuric acid, nitric acid and weak carbonic acid.

It has the following adverse effects:

  • Causes respiratory and skin disorders.
  • Affects productivity of plants by damaging the leaves.
  • Enters the soil and affects pH and other conditions.
  • Enters the ground and river which causes harm to the aquatic  life.
  • Causes damage to marble and thus damages buildings and monuments like the Taj Mahal

Air Pollution

Air Pollution is another main environmental pollution faced by our world today. It takes place when damaging stuff including particulate matter and biological molecules are dumped into Earth’s atmosphere. It results in diseases, allergies or premature death in humans. Air pollution can bring harm to other living organisms such as animals and food crops that we eat. In general, it is the pollution of air by smoke and dangerous gases, chiefly oxides of carbon, sulfur, and nitrogen. Exhausting fumes from vehicles, natural gas, the burning of fossil fuels, Radiation spills or nuclear accidents, destructive off-gassing from things such as paint, plastic production, and so on can cause pollution. Such a type is generally regarded as “external pollution” only however it is not true. Pollutants outside the home is as dangerous as inside the home and offices. Such pollution which is present in a closed space of home or office space is called indoor air pollution.

Greenhouse effect, global warming are well known issues cause because of burning of fossil fuels such as coal, petroleum, natural gas resulting in increased emission of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides, heavy metals in atmosphere. Out of various kinds of pollution, air pollution is the major contributor to global warming. People often talk about carbon dioxide (CO2) interchangeably with GHGs. This is because CO2 is the most prevalent GHG. It represents about three-quarters of all global GHG emissions, and the amount in the atmosphere has risen dramatically. Before the industrial age, levels were around 275 parts per million (ppm), now they are at 395 ppm, with some areas at 400 or higher. This is significant, since the last time the planet had levels that high was likely 800,000 years ago. People often talk about carbon dioxide (CO2) interchangeably with GHG. When we cut down forests, we lose part of the system that reduces GHGs. Additionally, if these cut trees are then burned or allowed to decay, the carbon which was trapped in the tree is then released back into the atmosphere. So not only do we lose an ally for reducing GHGs, we end up causing an additional increase.

Effects of air pollution:

Formation of Photochemical Smog

When pollutants like hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides combine in the presence of sunlight, smog is formed. This is a mixture of gases and since it is formed by photochemical reactions, it is called the photochemical smog. The word ‘smog’ is derived from the two words-smoke and fog. It forms a yellowish brown haze especially during winter and hampers visibility. It also causes many respiratory disorders and allergies as it contains polluting gases.

Depletion of Ozone layer

The stratosphere of the atmosphere has ozone (O3). Ozone is known to absorb the Ultraviolet (UV) rays present in the sun’s radiation. The UV rays are believed to cause skin cancer and mutations. Thus, the ozone protects us from the harmful effects of the UV rays. However, hydrocarbons such as the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) destroy the ozone molecules which deplete the ozone layer. Ozone holes have been detected in the atmosphere which permit the UV rays to reach the earth’s surface. The harmful effects of the UV rays are visible in the countries such as Australia and New Zealand where the rate of skin cancer is higher than the other regions of the world.

Aerosol Formation

Aerosol is formed by the dispersion of solid or liquid matter in the atmosphere. There are natural aerosols also in the atmosphere. However, polluting aerosols are formed by the pollutant particulate matter like carbon particles. If the aerosols form a thick layer in the troposphere, they affect the weather conditions by blocking the solar radiation. Aerosols are also deposited on the leaves and affect the photosynthesis. Aerosols disperse the organic metallic pollutants far and wide.

Indoor Air Pollution

It refers to the physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of air inside home, office, an institution or centre. Indoor air pollution is a concern from the developed countries, where energy efficiency improvements, sometimes make homes sterile, reducing ventilation and increases pollutants level. Indoor air problem can be subtle and don’t always produce early impact on health.

In the developing countries, it is the rural areas that face the greatest threat from indoor pollution, where some 3.5 billion people continue to rely on traditional fuels such as firewood, charcoal, and cow dung for heating and cooking. Concentrations of indoor pollutants in families that burning traditional fuels are somewhat alarming. Fuels that are such that are burning produces large quantity of smoke and other air pollutants at the home’s space, leading to elevated exposure. Women and children are the groups most exposed as they spend more time indoors and are exposed to smoke. The World Bank designated air pollution from the developing countries as one of the four most critical global environmental issues. Daily averages of amount totaled indoors often exceed current guidelines and amounts. Although a lot of hundreds of chemical agents are recognized in the smoke from biofuels, the four most pollutants are formaldehyde, carbon dioxide, polycyclic organic matter, and particulates. Alas monitoring was done in poor and rural indoor surroundings.

Common Sources of air pollution:

The most widely known source of air pollution is the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and petroleum. Fossil fuels are being used in large quantities for over centuries in one or other form. Automobiles are driven by fossil fuels which causes pollution. Another example is the burning of coal in coal based electric power stations to generate electricity. Burning of crops, waste and garbage are another equally damaging to the environment. Construction activity though does not result in release of harmful gases directly but it adds large amount of particulate matter and other harmful suspended particles which causes pollution.

Related: Importance of Solar Energy, Environmental Sustainability

Soil Pollution

Soil Pollution takes place when the existence of toxic chemicals, pollutants or impurities in the soil is in high. Soil contamination presents a high risk to plants, wildlife, humans and indeed, the soil itself. The surplus, escalating the use of chemicals such as pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, and fertilizers is one of the main contributory factor.

The primary cause why the soil becomes impure is on account of the presence of human-made waste. Industrial activity, agricultural activities, waste disposal, accidental oil spills, acid rain, etc. are the main reasons for soil pollution. Effects of soil pollution include the effect on the health of humans, effect on the growth of plants, decreased soil fertility, toxic dust, changes in soil structure, etc.

Massive cutting of trees, referred to as deforestation is a major contributor of land pollution. The roots of trees which binds the soil gets lost with time because of running water & also because of strong winds. In hilly and mountain areas, trees play even a much more important role and keeps big rocks in place. Because of activities such as blasting, cutting of trees and construction in hilly areas, occurrences of landslides have increased.

Common Sources of Soil Pollution

Soil pollution is a major problem with agricultural areas because of extensive use of human-made waste products which are full of chemicals. It directly affects the quality and quantity of crops. The major contributory factors of soil pollution include use of chemical fertilizers in agricultural practices. Some of the causes are same as that of water pollution like acid rain, discharge of untreated sewage and industrial waste. Additionally, throwing of garbage, especially plastic material contributes substantially to this kind of pollution since they are non biodegradable. Burning of crops after harvesting also has negative effect on the soil and it lowers its fertility.

Related: Living walls & its benefits!, The Importance of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)

Noise Pollution

Noise pollution has become more of an environmental issue since the industrial age. It is disturbing or extreme noise that can harm the activity or balance of human as well as animal life. The cause of most outdoor noise globally is primarily originated from machines and transportation systems, motor vehicles engines, factory machine sounds, aircraft, and trains. Noise pollution can result from machines, construction activities, and music performances. Noise pollution can cause tinnitus, hearing loss, sleep disturbances, hypertension, high-stress levels, and other destructive effects on humans. It causes uneasiness and damage to living being’s mental and physical health.

Radioactive/ Nuclear Pollution

Radioactive pollution is a different type of pollution, it is caused because of radioactive contamination (radio-logical contamination). Such pollution is not very common in everyday life but of particular concern where radioactive material and radioactive substances are used. The risk of radioactive contamination increases in vicinity of Nuclear thermal power plants, factories, in major hospitals etc and can cause serious problems if the radiation and exposure is not controlled. Generally, the use of such harmful substance is very careful manner in controlled environment. This is because of the widespread and long lasting damage in case of any leak or contact with such substance. Dealing with radioactive waste becomes particularly important because of the lack of safe disposal of such waste, thus mishandling of radioactive waste can cause huge damage.

Some other Main types of pollution that we must be careful include:

  • Light pollution: It is a broad term that denotes many problems that are caused by the useless, ugly, and pointless use of artificial light. Specific class of light pollution consist of light trespass, over-illumination, glare, light clutter, and sky glow.
  • Thermal pollution: It denotes the sudden increase or drops off in the hotness of a natural body of water which may be ocean, lake, river, sea or pond by human influence. A general reason of thermal pollution is the use of water as a coolant by power plants and business firms.
  • Radioactive pollution: It can happen because of the release of radioactive stuff or high-energy elements into the air, water, or soil on account of excessive human activity, either by mistake or intentionally.
  • Ocean or marine pollutionThis is caused because of the pollutants and unwanted material entering into water bodies. It can be result of such material from various lower level water bodies or  direct dumping into oceans.

Major issue and What is being done about the increase in pollution levels

Global Warming: Most of the solar radiation entering the earth’s atmosphere is reflected back into the space. However some of the heat is absorbed by the gases like the carbon dioxide. This serves to keep the earth warm much like the greenhouses. Greenhouses are glasshouses which maintain a temperature higher than the surroundings for the plants to grow and yield better. The other gases that contribute to this are water vapour, methane, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and nitrous oxide. These gases are called the greenhouse gases.

While greenhouse effect is a necessary and natural phenomenon. Every year the temperature are going up due to pollution and the levels of these greenhouse gases is also going up. This is called global warming. According to estimates, at the current rate of increase, the average global temperature will go up by 3oC to 8oC in the next 100 years.

This has an adverse effect on climate of different regions. Moreover, distribution of plants and animals is also disturbed. Food and agricultural production will be hit drastically. Melting of snow caps and resultant increase in sea levels. This will submerge parts of coastal cities of Calcutta, New York, London and other major cities.

Various rules and regulations have been formed all over the world. Environmental Protection Agency, Water Department, Pollution Boards, NGOs and departments have been formed. These agencies or departments forms guidelines, policies and acts to check the pollution levels. They also work on collecting data about worst polluted places, hazardous waste sites, changes in pollution levels etc. Rules & regulations in form of acts defines the acceptable level of pollution, defines penalties, actions and other requirements to be kept in mind. Depending on the need, such rules are applicable to individuals, business entities, industries, manufacturers and as well as government undertakings. School

There are millions of people worldwide who are affected because of one form of pollution or other. Considering the large impact of various type of pollutions, not only developed countries like United States, United Kingdom, Japan etc needs to be concerned but each and every single individual should care about it. It is a collective responsibility to save our natural resources. United Nations Sustainable Development Goals also puts emphasis on saving environment.

Facts about pollution types:

  1. America is one of the major polluter in world, not because of the carbon emissions but because of the lifestyle. Americans use a large number of resources, generate 30 billion foam cups, 220 million tires, and 1.8 billion disposable diapers every year. (As per Green Schools Alliance)
  2. Air pollution takes millions of lives every year and contributes upto 7.6% of deaths worldwide. (Source: WHO). Indoor air pollution is also becoming a major threat as in many cases indoor air has found to be more harmful as compared to ambient air.
  3. The Mississippi River drains the lands of nearly 40% of the continental United States. It also carries an estimated 1.5 million metric tons of nitrogen pollution into the Gulf of Mexico each year, resulting in a dead zone each summer about the size of New Jersey.
  4. Pollution in China & India has the ability to change weather patterns in the United States. This is because of the large and fast movement of winds by means of jet streams. These jet streams takes less then a week to take the heavy pollution to USA which stops clouds from producing rain and snow.
  5. 82.8% of the soil in China contains contaminants such as copper, lead, mercury, arsenic etc making China one of the most affected countries in the world.
  6. In India, the agencies responsible for making course curricula like CBSE, NCERT, ICSE puts in special efforts to educate school students on environment.

Pollutants, their source and effects

Carbon monoxide Automobile exhaust, photochemical reactions in the atmosphere, biological oxidation by marine organisms, etc. Affects the respiratory activity as haemoglobin has more affinity for Co than for oxygen. Thus, CO combines with HB and thus reduces the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood. This results in blurred vision, headache, unconsciousness and death due to asphyxiation (lack of oxygen).
Carbon dioxide Carbon Burning of fossil fuels,depletion of forests (that remove excess carbon dioxide and help in maintaining the oxygen-carbon dioxide ratio). Global warming as it is one of the greenhouse gases.
Sulphur dioxide Industries, burning of fossil fuels, forest fires, electric generation plants, smelting plants, industrial boilers, petroleum refineries and volcanic eruptions. Respiratory problems, severe headache,reduced productivity of plants, yellowing and reduced storage time for paper, yellowing and damage to limestone and marble, damage to leather, increased rate of corrosion of iron, steel, zinc and aluminium.
Hydrocarbons Polynuclear Aromatic Compounds(PAC) and Polynuclear Aromatic Hydrocarbons(PAH) Automobile exhaust and industries,leaking fuel tanks, leaching from toxic waste dumping sites and coal tar lining of some water supply pipes. Carcinogenic (may cause leukemia)
Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) Refrigerators, air conditioners, foam shaving cream, spray cans and cleaning solvents. Destroy ozone layer which then permits harmful UV rays to enter the atmosphere.
Nitrogen Oxides Automobile exhausts, burning of fossil fuels, forest fires,electric generation plants, smelting plants, industrial boilers, petroleum refineries and volcanic eruptions Forms photochemical smog, at higher concentrations causes leaf damage or affects the photosynthetic activities of plants and causes respiratory problems in mammals.
PAN – peroxyacetyl -nitrate Photochemical reactions of hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides. Irritation of eye, throat and respiratory tract, damage to clothes, paint and rubber articles, damage to leaves and stomata tissue in plants.
Particulate matter Lead halides (lead pollution) Combustion of leaded gasoline products Toxic effect in man.
Asbestos particles Mining activities Asbestosis – a cancerous disease of the lungs
Silicon dioxide Stone cutting, pottery, glass manufacturing and cement industries. Silicosis, a cancerous disease.
Biological matter like the pollen grains Flowers Allergy
Fungal spores, bacteria, virus, etc Microbes Infectious diseases


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