Air Pollution

Air pollution has only one cause – human activity. Burning fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and gasoline is the greatest cause of carbon dioxide being released into the air.

Whether it is done by individuals or by factories and industry, or to generate electricity, it is the major cause of damaging the air we breathe and the respiratory, lung, and heart problems that result.

The first time man learned how to make fire was the beginning of air pollution. Then came burning fossil fuels and then came the industrial revolution where burning fossil fuels was on a massive scale. Nothing much has been done in the intervening years to halt or even decrease the air pollution that is occurring worldwide.

Air Pollution

We have factories and industries producing all manner of goods, private vehicles, trains, ships, and airplanes that drink gas and/or oil, and then belch pollutants. Every engine, whether it is small for an individual’s use or large for an enterprise’s purpose, causes air pollution to varying degrees.


Carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels is the world’s major air pollutants. Nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide are expelled into the air during the combustion of fuel. These gases react to form smog, acid rain, and minute particles that adversely affect people’s health.

In cities that have high vehicle traffic, the amount of nitrogen oxides in the air is often at a dangerous level. Over cities such as London, New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Los Angeles, the particles in the air are visible as smog and can make breathing difficult. Many people who live and travel in these cities resort to face masks to protect their lungs.

Air Pollution caused by industries

CFCs or chlorofluorocarbons were used in refrigeration units and aerosols. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, these pollutants damage the ozone layer and have been banned since 1978 but there are places in the world where they are still used.

Smoke, soot, and heavy metal contaminants in the air caused by burning fuels are among the most dangerous pollutants to humans. There are many countries in the world that still use coal for heating and in these countries, tuberculosis is not an uncommon ailment.

Factories and power plants produce sulphuric air pollutants, which are toxic to all life, not just human and animal life. Organic life like plants and trees are damaged by sulphur dioxide entering leaf pores and removing the waxy coating on leaves that prevents water loss.

What can an individual do?

Conserve energy whenever you can. Turn off lights, electrical appliances, and computers when you are not using them. Use energy efficient light bulbs. Make sure your home is insulated and all your windows are thermal-pane and sealed units.

Limit your driving whenever possible by carpooling, biking, and walking. Make fewer trips to the grocery stores and combine many errands into one trip. Don’t let your vehicles idle for more than 2-3 minutes.

Operate your dishwashers and washing machines when they are full and not half empty. Air-dry clothes rather than using the clothes dryer on the heat setting or use a clothesline for some things.

Causes and Effects

Choose spray products over those that are aerosol. Buy environmentally friendly cleaners and water-based and solvent-free paints.

Make sure all garden and workshop chemicals, solvents, and other cleaners are in sealed containers to avoid evaporating into the air.

Urge your government representatives to demand stricter emission controls and standards for all businesses and all vehicles.


  1. What is the major cause of air pollution in the world today?
  2. What are three things you can do regarding driving a vehicle to cut down on pollution?
  3. What is the cause of smog and acid rain?
  4. What produces sulphuric air pollutants?
  5. What 5 things can you do in your own home to reduce air pollution?



  1. Burning fossil fuels is the major cause of air pollution.
  2. Cut down on driving your vehicle; don’t let your vehicle idle, and combine errands to make one trip instead of many.
  3. Nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide are emitted into the air when fossil fuels are burned and cause smog and acid rain.
  4. Factories and power plants produce sulphuric air pollutants.
  5. To reduce air pollution in your own home you can reduce the amount of electricity you use, buy products that are in spray bottles rather than aerosols, buy environmentally friendly cleaners, make sure your home is insulated properly, and make sure all cleaners, solvents, and chemical products are in sealed containers.

Earth Science