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Natural causes of air pollution: Methane Emissions

Methane is an odorless, colorless greenhouse gas with the chemical formula of CH4. It is mainly used as a component of natural gas.

Natural sources create 36% of global methane emissions, long before humans existed there has been methane emissions into the atmosphere. However, methane expulsion is mainly man-made, in activities such as landfills and livestock farming. As a fact, it may seem interesting to know that daily methane emissions from cows (through belching and flatulence) and from cars are pretty similar.

It can lead to severe asphyxiation if someone is highly exposed to methane gas in the air. Building construction must take into account this factor, since the presence of methane in the airways of the building can lead to dire consequences.

Methane levels have more than doubled over the last 150 years. This is because of human activities like fossil fuel use and intensive farming. Before the Industrial Revolution, natural sinks kept methane levels in a safe range.

Methane is twenty times more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide when released into the ozone layer. It is also highly inflammable when it combines with other elements in the air and it massively contributes to global warming. Bellow you will find the main natural sources of methane.


A wetland is a distinct ecosystem that is inundated by water, either permanently or seasonally, where oxygen-free processes prevail. The primary factor that distinguishes wetlands from other landforms or water bodies is the characteristic vegetation of aquatic plants, adapted to the unique hydric soil. Wetlands play numerous roles in the environment, principally water purification, flood control, carbon sink and shoreline stability.

Wetlands are the largest natural source of methane producing 78% of natural methane emissions. Microbes need environments with no oxygen and abundant organic matter, thus wetlands are perfect for them to be born.

Wetlands are estimated create 147 million tonnes of methane each year. Part of these emissions are absorbed by methane-consuming microbes. However, the majority of these emissions are released into the atmosphere and the ozone layer.


Termites are eusocial insects that you probably know due to they can break into your house and destroy all the wood structures. However, do you know these little insects produce large amounts of methane?

Termites eat cellulose, but rely on micro-organisms in their gut to digest it. During the normal digestion process of a termite, methane gets produced.


At this point you are probably thinking: no way, this tiny insect cannot produce amount of methane I should worry about. You are right if you have just one termite, but if you take into account the total population of termites numbers add up.

Termites produce 12% of natural methane emissions, being a total of 23 million tonnes of methane per year. Surprising right? If you have termite infestation at home, be aware that you and your family can be highly exposed to methane.


Everyone knows what an ocean is, but almost nobody knows these are a major natural source of methane. In fact, oceans don’t produce itself methane, but these are the perfect environment for microbes to live and emit this type of pollution gas.


According to scientists from the University of Illinois and Institute for Genomic Biology, the ocean-based microbe Nitrosopumilus maritimus produces methane through a complex biochemical process the researchers referred to as “weird chemistry.”

Oceanic methane emissions often gets produced in deeper sediment layers of productive coastal areas. The methane created by these microbes mixes with the surrounding water. After some time in the water, it gets emitted to the atmosphere from the ocean surface.

At the end oceanic methane emissions are 10% of natural methane emissions and 19 million tonnes of methane per year.

Arctic’s methane issue

It is estimated that there are billions of cubic metres of natural methane gas trapped underneath huge areas of permafrost in Siberia, and under the frozen wastes of the Arctic. When methane is enclosed in frozen water it is called methane hydrate.

arctic iceberg

The Arctic has warmed more quickly than any other area of the planet. As the ice has melted, naturally formed methane gas, which would otherwise be trapped under the ice, is bubbling to the surface.

Currently, there are thousands of sites in the Arctic where methane gas is being released into the atmosphere and it could have serious ramifications for global warming.

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Natural causes of air pollution: Forest Fire

What are Forest Fires?

Forest fire originated by natural causes, or in other words without human activity involved, are also known as bushfires or wildfires. These are given when fire has place in highly dense vegetation areas.

Furthermore, bushfires also contribute to deforestation, what indirectly affects air quality in forests and jungles, that are considered Earth’s lungs.

Australia is well known as a country with plenty of vegetation and wildlife. However, the country has an important issue with bushfires, as they cost more than £180 million each year (both natural and man-made).

Unfortunately, there are a huge amount of notable bushfires in history. Some examples of most important wildfires worldwide have been:

  • China (1987) burning over 72.000km2 and Indonesia (1997) burning over 97.000km2.
  • Currently the U.S. and Canada have been the most active countries last 10 years with bushfires burning around 6.6 and 6.2 acres/year respectively.

A long time ago, palaeowildfires burnt plant material leading to fossil charcoal formation. Nowadays, fossil charcoal is being used as an indicator of palaeoclimatology in order to study evolution on bushfires over the years.

Causes of Bushfires

There are several different causes that lead to forest fire, but these are made more likely when the weather is hot and dry. Fallen leaves, dry grass or branches easily light up and can cause serious trouble to both urban and rural areas.


These terrible events often pass in just a few minutes, but they can last days, or in very unfortunate situations even months. The real threat when it comes to bushfires are high winds because these fan the flames and spread the blaze.

Forest Fire Pollution

Forest fire release pollutants like smoke, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, particulate matter and carbon monoxide into the atmosphere. The bigger the bushfire, the bigger emissions.

forest fire

In small amounts, carbon monoxide is present human bodies. The problem is that when inhaled in large amounts, and large amount of this gas are emitted on bushfires, it becomes toxic and can cause death.

Particulates on forest fire are either solid or liquid and consist of soot, tars, and other volatile organic substances. These particles can have different sizes: PM10, PM2.5, PM0.3 and smaller. They can cause cardiovascular and respiratory problems if they penetrate deeply into humans lungs.

Nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxides are minor problems when it comes to forest fire. Nitrogen oxides are only released in big bushfires, as they only appear at greater temperatures than 1,500 degree centigrade. On the other hand, except when peat and muck soil are involved, sulphur dioxide only appears to be less than 0,2%.

Health effects of wildfires

Wildfire in California during the summer 2018 caused hazardous air conditions across the state, prompting air quality alerts and forcing many residents to take refuge indoors to avoid unhealthy exposure to bad air.

It is not just about foggy and hazy skies, human’ risks and exposure are real. The air pollution from wildfires includes huge percentage of particles PM10, PM2.5, PM0.3 and thinner. Therefore, the health effects of wildfires are very similar to the ones explained during the blog post about Particulate Matter.

firemen wildfire

These health effects of forest fires include coughing, sore throats, extreme wheezing, cardiovascular illnesses and problems into lungs and bloodstream. Of course, sensible groups like children or elderly, are more likely to acquire these symptoms.

However, what do you have to do in the event of a forest fire? Firstly, you should be worried about the dangers of wildfires, so stay tuned to a local station for recommendations. Additionally, to protect yourself from air pollution: wear some kind of pollution mask, avoid staying outdoors and close all the opening from your house to prevent air pollution to enter. Finally, avoiding riding cars will help reduce SMOG, as this is produced with the mixing of combustion gases and the air pollution produced in forest fires.

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Anthropogenic causes of air pollution: Waste Incineration

Waste incineration definition

Incineration is one of the waste treatment methods used currently to deal with tremendous amounts of human-made garbage created every single day. It is part of the thermal waste treatments, as it uses high temperatures. This process involves the combustion of organic substances contained in waste materials.

waste incineration

Incineration converts waste into ash, flue gas and heat. Ashes are mostly formed by the inorganic constituents of the waste and may take the form of solid lumps or particulates carried by the flue gas. The flue gases must be cleaned of gaseous and particulate pollutants before these are released into the atmosphere.

In the past, incineration was only conducted without separating materials thus causing harm to people nearby. This resulted in risk for plant workers and the environment. Most of such plants and incinerators never separated the most harmful pollutants nor generated electricity, and nowadays there are still many that don’t do it.

As mentioned, in some incineration plants, the technique is used for generation of electric power, which is a good way to benefit from this process. However, there is still a lot of improvement to be made in the origin of the problem: generate less garbage or recycle correctly the humans’ waste, especially transforming organic waste into composting.

The problem with waste is that, even planet earth is huge, we don’t have enough land to fulfill with garbage. Even though incineration generates waste, the mass is reduced by approximately 95%, which makes the landfill problem way more easy.

incineration plant

Other waste-to-energy techniques

Waste incineration is by far the most used process on the garbage treatment, but currently there are other techniques used to convert this trash into power energy:

  • Gasification
  • PDG
  • Anaerobic digestion
  • Pyrolysis

Types of waste to incinerate

Municipal solid waste

It is the solid portion of the waste (not classified as hazardous or toxic) generated by households, commercial establishments, public and private institutions, government agencies, and other sources. This waste stream includes food and yard wastes, and a multitude of durable and non-durable products and packagings.

Hazardous waste

Hazardous waste is defined by EPA under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) as a waste material that can be classified as potentially dangerous to human health or the environment on the basis of different criteria. This type of waste is found usually on manufacturers, service and wholesale-trade companies, universities, hospitals, government facilities, and households.

hazardous waste

The hazardous waste can be classified as a threat for the following reasons:

  • Waste of easy ignition
  • Corrosive waste for materials and/or people
  • Reactive waste: meaning it can explode, catch fire or give up harmful gases.
  • Toxic waste

Medical waste management

Usually biomedical, this type of waste can have infectious or toxic characteristics, so they need to be treated correctly to avoid creating a public health issue. The whole medical industry generates medical waste, but hospitals are the main medical waste generators, with almost 30 pounds per day per hospital on average.

medical waste

Waste incineration causes air pollution

Mass cannot be created nor destroyed, so the reduction of volume during the waste incineration process has its effects, and that is the emission of flue gas to the atmosphere. In other words, air pollution. These different types of emissions depend on the waste incinerated:

Furans and dioxins

The emission of furans and dioxins is the biggest issue in the waste incineration process, giving that these are staidly injurious to health. Some governments have regulated these types of activities and obliged incineration plants to buy new machinery equipped with special equipment to clean emission of gases from these injurious components.

Carbon dioxide

Carbon dioxide (CO2), a major player in the global warming issue, is also produced in vast amounts during garbage incineration. These emissions are due to materials that include carbon in its composition, when incinerated, produce carbon dioxide.

Other gases

A part from the major gases mentioned, a huge variety of other gases are emitted during the incineration of trash. On this large list, the most present volatiles are: sulfur dioxide, hydrochloric acid, fine particles and heavy metals.

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Anthropogenic causes of air pollution: Smoking

It might seem insignificant if you look just at one cigarette emissions, but take into account the quantity of cigarettes burned per day and it becomes a clear cause of air pollution. Recent studies in 2018 show that more than the 20% of the world’s population smokes, which is an absolute value of more than 1 billion people smoking! And do you think they smoke only one cigarette per day?

Moreover, non-smokers are passively toxified by inhaling the fumes from smokers. The University of Minnesota estimates that up to 90 percent of the American population is routinely exposed to secondhand smoke, which means almost everyone is exposed to smokers’ risks.

Tobacco smoke contains more than 50 carcinogens, making it an especially lethal form of air pollution. It emits a series of toxic chemicals including a series of organic and inorganic chemicals, some of which are carcinogenic.

Air pollution:…

… growing tobacco

Tobacco is a very fragile plant, so during massive crops a lot of pesticides, chemicals and herbicides are used. Methyl bromide is a chemical that stands out on the list due to its well known effects on depleting the ozone layer.

tobacco plantation

Moreover, a lot of these pesticides and herbicides used when growing tobacco reach into the groundwater. An example is Aldicarb, a poisonous pollutant that can kill wildlife and humans, and was found in groundwater in 27 U.S. states in 2005.

… manufacturing

The manufacturing process of tobacco release several pollutants into the environment: ammonia, ethylene glycol, hydrochloric acid, hydrogen fluoride, methyl ethyl ketone, nicotine and nicotine salts, nitric acid, phosphoric acid, sulphuric acid, and toluene.

Supply always meets demand in every single product, and efforts should focus not on regulating this process, but on eradicating tobacco demand.

… transport

As any other product sold worldwide, major players grow and manufacture tobacco in few locations, and from there tobacco is spread worldwide using any mean of transport possible. Shipping vessels, trucks and planes, which are responsible for emitting tons of CO2, are used to deliver tobacco everywhere. There is not a single village or urban mile where you cannot find it.  

… consumption

There are 4.5 trillion filtered cigarettes smoked around the world every year, and all of those cigarette butts and fumes end up somewhere. Do we really think about it?

cigarette stub

Smoking cigarettes releases more than 50 carcinogens and other toxins into the air we all breathe. This pollutes the air and harms human and animal life. Non-smokers are also exposed to secondhand smoke respiration, and fatal consequences are a lottery.

… cigarettes vs diesel car exhaust

The magazine Tobacco Control released a study which compared the air pollution in a closed garage for 30 minutes of a diesel car exhaust and three cigarettes combustion (smokers will know you can smoke three cigarettes in less than 30 minutes).

The results were astonishing, PM2.5 levels were 10 times greater in cigarettes than in the diesel car. This study raised the concerns of the real involvement that tobacco has in the air pollution issue, and is now considered a major source of air pollution responsible of environmental impact worldwide.

cigarette stub

Smoking health risks

There are several short term and long term effects of smoking, and as you can imagine these are not beneficial, but dangerous effects. Overall, smoking has been one of greatest health hazards among humans, killing millions of people every year worldwide.

Non smokers can also suffer from these effects if they are exposed through passive smoking. In other word, breathing second hand smoke from smokers around them.

The most common disease associated to smoking is lung cancer, but this type of critical disease can be developed in multiple body parts:

  • Mouth
  • Lips
  • Throat
  • Voice box (larynx)
  • Oesophagus (the tube between the mouth and stomach)
  • Bladder
  • Kidney
  • Liver
  • Stomach
  • Pancreas

Smoking also damages your heart and your blood circulation, increasing your risk of developing conditions such as:

  • Coronary heart disease
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Peripheral vascular disease (damaged blood vessels)
  • Cerebrovascular disease (damaged arteries that supply blood to the brain)

How to quit smoking?

quit smoking

If you are willing to take action on this addiction, we recommend you to start writing the routines you have associated to smoking, an try to substitute these routines for other activities. For example, if you smoke after lunch, maybe you should wash your dishes, get a nap, watch the news or read a bit.

If you are looking for additional help, you will find several books on how to stop smoking in Amazon. These are just helpful if you follow the advice strictly. You can find also several apps that can help you on this issue.

There are several benefits of quitting smoking, but the most important one is that you will never harm your health and the health from the people you love.

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Anthropogenic causes of air pollution: Mining Operations

Mining operations definition

Mining is the industry or activity of removing substances such as coal or metal from the ground by digging. Even though it may not seem very common on first world countries, material extraction is a very common activity, and you can find it almost everywhere.

Mining operations include the extraction of minerals and metals such as copper, tin, nickel, bauxite (aluminum ore), iron ore, gold, silver, and diamonds from Earth’s surface as raw materials for the manufacture of other products and commodities.  

Types of mining operations

These types of activities are one of the main causes of air pollution and we will discuss it on this post. However, mining operations also create huge impact on the land and the environment, destroying wildlife, ecosystems, landscapes and polluting water.

You should not confuse mining activities with cryptocurrency mining, which is a very different concept taking place in cryptocurrencies like bitcoin or ethereum. Instead, check out the following mining types, mining pollution, and working conditions.

Surface mining

Surface mining, as the name itself indicates, is when the ore is accessed directly from the Earth’s surface, and contact is maintained with the surface throughout the operation. In other words, you don’t need to dig a tunnel to find the ore you look for.

surface mining

There are several methods used nowadays for surface mining, but the following are the most used in 2018: open-pit mining (also known as open-cast mining), quarrying, strip mining, mountaintop removal and dredging.

Underground mining

Underground mining is also called subsurface mining. This type of mining happens when miners need to dig tunnels into the earth to extract the ore. In this type no processes take place in the earth surface.

underground mining

As the previous type, you can find different methods used in 2018 of underground mining: room and pillar mining, cut and fill mining, sub-level open stopping, shrinkage stopping, long-wall mining, block caving and sub-level caving.

Mining air pollution

In the mining process a lot of activities are involved: drilling, blasting, hauling, collection, and transportation. Some mining methods may have significant environmental impact and public health effects during these activities, as miners have a huge and constant exposure to several air pollutants.

Air pollution from coal mines is particularly harmful due to emissions of particulate matter and gases, including methane (CH4), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and oxides of nitrogen (NOx), and carbon monoxide (CO).

Nonetheless, miners are not the only ones affected, nearby population and wildlife can also suffer diseases from this risky activity. The two most dangerous particles to exhale during this activity are coal dust and silica dust.

In particularly, silica, or often referred to as quartz, is a very common material to be found in many construction materials. The dust created by cutting, grinding, drilling or disturbing these materials can contain crystalline silica particles. These tiny invisible materials can penetrate deeply into lungs and have the ability to cut.

Mining risks and health problems


Miners contend with many daily health dangers from working around dust, heavy metals, hazardous gases, fumes and loud noises. Air quality in the chambers is very dangerous, and nowadays is mandatory to wear a dust mask even if you are around the mining area.

For many years until 2001, mining was considered the most dangerous industry for workers. During the recent years many policies have installed a culture of prevention in the mining sector, and number of deads have significantly dropped.

Still, miners’ chances of dying from explosions, cave-ins and equipment accidents are ever-present, and many chronic and fatal conditions are linked to their toxic work conditions. Even many years after they quit, lungs’ diseases appear due to the highly exposure for a lifetime career.

According to various governmental agencies the more dangerous health risks miners are exposed are the following:

  • Dust
  • Radon
  • Welding fumes
  • Mercury
  • Noise
  • Back injuries due to heavy loads
  • Whole body vibration (WBV)
  • UV exposure
  • Musculoskeletal disorders
  • Thermal stress
  • Chemical hazard

Two harmful diseases predominate due to the constant and highly exposure to dust:

Pneumoconiosis or black lung disease

This is due to long term inhalation of large concentrations of coal dust or silica dust. The settling and accumulation of these fine dust particles causes the scarring of the tissue between the air sacs, which eventually result in the inflammation and hardening of the lungs.


It is a consequence of the inhalation of large concentrations of silica dust, which results in the inflammation and buildup of fluid in the lungs, and shortness of breath. In the long run, chronic silicosis may also result in the development of lymph nodes in the chest and even death.

Gold, silver and coal mining jobs

Truth is that all these risks are accompanied with salary rewards, and miners have pretty good salaries.

gold mine

If you read this post and you are still willing to take a job on the mining sector, check indeed to look out for jobs and companies within your area.

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Anthropogenic causes of air pollution: Fossil Fuels Combustion

A major cause of air pollution in the world are humans burning of fossil fuels like petroleum or coal continuously, causing tremendous air pollution emissions to the atmosphere.  Moreover, our current ways of transportation are far from Eco-friendly, and even thought companies like Tesla look like they are going to instantly change the world, the electric market is responding quite slowly.

What are fossil fuels?

Any material containing hydrocarbon, naturally made and used to release energy is considered a fossil fuel. Fossil fuels are mainly used for heat energy, work and machine operations. Nevertheless, they are not only used in those particular situations, as fossil fuels are present in our daily routine. For example, every time you turn the lights on, you probably use electricity produced by burning fossil fuels.

oil extraction

Fossil fuels are biologically produced, but how are these exactly formed? Fossil fuels are the accumulated remains of living organisms buried millions of years ago that suffer a transformation process by anaerobic decomposition, high heat and high pressure due to the accumulation of layers of rocks, sand and mud.

Types of fossil fuels

Traditionally, fossil fuels have been divided into 3 types depending on their composition and origin: coal, natural gas and petroleum (also known as crude oil). However, since the mid-1980s orimulsion has been recognized as the fourth fossil fuel, a substance derived from the bitumen formed in the Orinoco oil belt in Venezuela.

Fossil fuels advantages and disadvantages

A lot problems may come to your mind when thinking about fossil fuels. However, as the major source of energy nowadays, it has been imposed because of the advantages it had over the competition. In this section you will find all the pros and cons of fossil fuels:

Fossil fuels advantages

  1. The energy produced by fossil fuels is greater than the one produced by an equivalent amount of other energy resource. It is the source with higher calorific value.
  2. Fossil fuels are a technology that is globally developed. It is not about energy or transportation, many products sold nowadays were developed thanks to fossil fuels, for example computers. Just about everything we do in life right now is tied, one way or another, to the consumption of a fossil fuel.
  3. Fossil fuels are both cheap and reliable. Fossil fuels like coal are way more inexpensive on energy production than any other source.
  4. Fossil fuels have become safer over time. For example, coal emissions can now be captured, condensed and released into a safer way through water.
  5. Available technology makes the research of fossil fuels pretty simple.
  6. Transport of fossil fuels is very easy, it is usually done through pipes.
  7. Huge advance were made on the construction and safety of power plants, so nowadays these are very easy to build up. However, nuclear energy is still very dangerous.
  8. Fossil fuels are easier to extract and process, hence are cheaper than the non-conventional forms of energy.


Fossil fuels disadvantages

  1. Fossil fuels are a finite resource and the alarming rate at which fossil fuels are being consumed has resulted in substantial depletion of their reservoirs. Besides, it takes millions of years and specific conditions to replace a fossil fuel.
  2. The hydrocarbons present in the fossil fuels, release greenhouse gases, such as methane, carbon dioxide etc., which are capable of damaging the ozone layer and polluting the environment.
  3. Fossil fuels are often cheap because of subsidies. Many governments tend to subsidize the price of fossil fuels instead of letting the free market govern, thus making prices more affordable for consumers.
  4. Other harmful gases emissions derived from fossil fuels processing, such as carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide, are responsible for acid rain, which has spelled disaster for the ecology.
  5. Fossil fuels can damage the environment through human error. Fossil fuels can also spill during transport, creating environmental damage as the product spills out. This is particularly problematic for petroleum products.
  6. Extraction of fossil fuels has endangered the environmental balance in some areas. Moreover, coal mining has jeopardized the lives of several mine workers.
  7. The depletion of reservoirs has made the extraction of fossil fuels an expensive affair. This is likely to affect the fuel prices in near future.
  8. Fossil fuels have directly and indirectly contributed to global warming, the issue that is being combated all over the world.

At the end, moral cases and debates on fossil fuels have been widely spread worldwide. If there is a thing that we all could agree is that this debates are predominated by a posterior lack of action.

Burning of fossil fuels in power plants

Power plants burn a massive amount of fossil fuels such as natural gas, coal and petroleum to produce electricity. As a result of these massive activities, they are one of the major causes of air pollution. Furthermore, these are all non-renewable resources and supply will ultimately be exhausted.

Numbers never lie, and in 2018 non-renewable energy is still the 80% of the total energy production in the world. Although some efforts have been on the regulation of these activities, in practice electricity is a basic need and most of them are ignored or covert actions.

power plant

Exhaust from vehicles

Pollution from automobiles is clearly visible in almost every city of the world. The vast majority of vehicles run on fossil fuels like gasoline that emit soot and harmful gases, generating primary and secondary pollutants on urban areas. On average, private transportation accounts for about 10 percent of your carbon footprint.

When we think about exhaust from vehicles cars come to mind, but we should take into account any mean of transport, including trucks, jeeps, cars, trains, airplanes, shipping vessels and others. We rely on them to fulfill our daily basic needs of transportation, but these vehicles are passively killing living organisms and the environment.

vehicles air pollution

Air pollution from fossils fuels combustion

A variety of primary and secondary pollutants are emitted due to these activities: airborne particles, sulfur dioxide (SO2), carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), hydrocarbons, organic compounds, chemicals, nitrogen oxides (NOx) and others.

Fossil fuel emissions contain the major greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, methane (CH4), nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases. Therefore, air pollution of these activities is not only a menace for the air quality in cities, but also a big threat to the global warming and the environment.

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Anthropogenic causes of air pollution: Factories and Industries Exhaust

In the world there are thousands of factories freely creating a negative environmental impact. Foundries, metal smelters, food processors and clothing manufacturers are just some examples for you to think how huge is the industrial infrastructure worldwide.

Refineries, which emit several pollutants into the air, also make a huge impact on the land. There are cities like Tarragona (north Spain) where Repsol occupies more than 500 hectares, which is a surface equivalent to the urban area.

The point is you can find factories and industries everywhere, and these deteriorating the quality of the air people breath. You can find them throw these long chimneys erected high into the air, with non-stop smokes and fumes coming out of them. This is why factories and industries are considered main sources of air pollution.

Related phenomena

On air quality regulations, factories have huge advantage because, as the effects of air pollution are often widespread, it is difficult to calculate the number of emissions. Moreover, exhaust gases can drift great distances and cause dangerous phenomena like acid rain in populations far away from the origin of the problem.

Another situation where you can find yourself in a very polluted environment in the petrochemical smog. Factory processes include a wide range of activities like cleaning, panting or others. Chemicals used in these processes evaporate, but they can react with sunlight and other pollutants, creating the peroxyacetyl nitrates, or commonly known as petrochemical smog. This toxic fog is very dangerous because it can last days or even weeks.

city smog

Air pollution from factories and industries

Industrial pollution is one of the primary sources of environmental contamination. This human-made source have profound effects on the health of living organisms and the entire planet.

A wide range of pollutants are emitted by the human activity on factories and industries, like carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, ammonia, particulate matter, lead, hydrocarbons, organic compounds and other chemicals.

Inhaling factories and industries fumes is very dangerous for humans health, increasing the probability of several diseases like asthma or bronchitis. However, the world is in permanent disease due to this issue, and climate change is not going to stop if manufacturing industries aren’t regulated.

factories exhaust

Regulations to air pollution

Emissions from factory processes globally are increasing year by year, and although it has become a public health issue, countries resist to regulate these tremendous industries. Lack of control policies, usage of old technologies and inefficient waste disposal drive this process of massive pollution.

An exemplary government on this issue is the Danish government, as danish companies are obliged to use the best available technology (BAT). BAT means that overall pollution is minimized, but not eradicated, reducing the possible impacts of air pollution.

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Anthropogenic causes of air pollution: Agricultural activities

Agriculture was originated thousands of years ago and since then it has been a crucial activity for the humanity’s survival and evolution. Currently, it is defined as the science or practice of farming, including the cultivation of the soil for the growing of crops and the rearing of animals to provide food, wool, and other products.

Our modern agriculture is based on finding new ways of getting the perfect product without taking into account how dangerous these activities are to the atmosphere. Two facts have prevailed: price and final result. Many pesticides, insecticides, fumigators and fertilizers are used without restriction, emitting harmful chemicals into the air and making it one of the main air pollution causes.

According to the use of land and resources, agricultural activities can be classified into different types: commercial, subsistence, intensive and extensive. The type of agriculture used in each area depends on the land conditions, the weather and the needs of that population. For example: in the middle of the Amazon basin, it must be subsistence agriculture since the closest village is usually hundreds of kilometers far away.

Moreover, world’s population increases year by year, meaning that every time we need more food, so more and more efficient agricultural and livestock activities are performed, emitting more harmful pollutants to the atmosphere. At the end, it has become one of the major pollution sources in Europe, the United States, Asia and Russia, creating massive impact on live beings, biodiversity and ecosystems.

agriculture pesticides

Animal waste drift

Ammonia, a very powerful pollutant which we will talk later on, is found on animal waste, mainly from livestock excretions. However, animal waste is mainly affecting water pollution and not air pollution, and plenty of regulations have been made to control it since water suitable for human consumption is fewer every year.

Nitrogen compounds from fertilisers

Production of artificial fertilizers has skyrocketed from about 20 million tons in 1950 to more than 200 million tons in 2018, and about a third of them are nitrogen-based. Nitrogen compounds from fertilizers are the real issue here, these gases drift over industrial regions and combined with industry and exhaust fumes from vehicles form fine particulate pollution (mainly PM2.5).

agriculture fertilisers

These solid particles created can stick in the fine lung tissue of children and adults, causing breathing difficulties, impaired lungs, heart function and eventually premature death. In fact, it is estimated these types of pollutants kill almost 3.3 million people worldwide every year.

A study from the Courtesy U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that more than half of the aerosol ingredients in much of the eastern and central United States comes from farming, which is an alarming statistic taking into account that these could easily combine with exhaust fumes in the region.


Ammonia, whose chemical composition is nitrogen and hydrogen (NH3), is a byproduct both of fertilized fields and animal waste, as it can come from the breakdown of livestock excretions.


When ammonia is placed into the atmosphere, it often reaches industrial or urban areas, where this gas can find pollutants like nitrogen oxides and sulphur compounds, and the combination of both creates PM2.5 pollution particles.

As these particles are invisible to human eyes, they penetrate deeply into our lungs to generate several health problems, especially for vulnerable segments like children or elder people. In the UK it has become a public health emergency, killing more than 40.000 people per year.

Some experts say that controlling the sources of industrial pollution, which are the agents that turn agricultural pollution into its harmful forms, must be a priority. The world is going to need more food, and therefore more fertilizers, so the focus should be on eradicating those compounds that combined with ammonia generate dangerous pollutants.