Types of Environmental Pollutants

Pollution is a significant problem facing the environment. As the world's population continues to grow, so does the amount of potentially toxic substances that are released into the ecosystem. Environmental pollutants can be derived from a number of sources. Knowing what the different types of pollution are and where they come from can help you to understand the potential impact of these pollutants on your health and the health of the planet.

A wheatfield with a factory on the horizon. (Image: Piter1977/iStock/Getty Images)

Soil Pollutants

Soil pollution is the pollution of the Earth's land surfaces. According to Green Pack, the most common types of soil pollutants are heavy metals such as cadmium, chromium, copper, zinc or mercury, pesticides or herbicides, organic chemicals, oils and tars, explosive or toxic gases, combustible or radioactive materials, biologically active compounds and asbestos. These types of pollutants can enter the soil through poor agricultural practices, industrial runoff, mining, landfill leakage, littering or the improper or illegal dumping of household or industrial waste materials.

Air Pollutants

Air pollution is the pollution of the Earth's atmosphere. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identifies six types of common air pollutants. They include ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and lead. These and other air pollutants typically enter the atmosphere through industrial processes related to the generation of heat and power, incineration of solid wastes and transportation. According to the University of the Western Cape, emissions from vehicles are estimated to be responsible for approximately 60% of all air pollution alone and 80% of air pollution in cities.

Water Pollutants

Water pollution is the pollution of the Earth's oceans and other water sources. According to the Minnesota Center for Environmental Recovery, common types of water pollutants include mercury, nitrates, phosphorous, fecal coliform and bacterial pollution. These and other types of pollutants enter the water supply through industrial waste runoff, sewage treatment plants, feedlots, urban and agricultural runoff, septic systems and the illegal dumping of solid waste.

Noise Pollutants

Noise pollution is a form of air pollution related specifically to the types of sound present in the atmosphere. The Environmental Protection Agency defines a noise pollutant as any sound that interferes with normal activities or disrupts or diminishes one's quality of life. Noise pollutants can be present in the home, school, work or the community at large. Different types of noise pollutants may include sounds generated by aircraft, trains, boats, automobile traffic, construction, industrial manufacturing, vehicle alarms or even loud music.

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