You are on page 1of 16


Pollution can be defined as any undesirable change in the composition of air,

water and soil or any segment of environment against nature. The pollution
results in deteriorating the nature and the quality of the environment.

The undesirable or unwanted foreign species causing pollution are called


On the basis of factors causing pollution, pollution can be classified under

the following heads:

1. Air pollution
2. Water pollution
3. Soil pollution
4. Solid waste pollution
5. Hazardous waste pollution
Air pollution:
It can be defined as the presence of chemicals in the atmosphere in
quantities and duration that are harmful to human health and the
environment. It occurs when the concentration of certain materials become
high enough to cause the atmospheric environment to become toxic.


The sources of air pollution can be natural or man made.

i) Natural Sources
• Volcanic eruptions emitting poisonous gases
• Decay of vegetation
• Marsh gases
• Pollen grains
• Forest fires
i) Man made Sources
• Increase in pollution
• Deforestation
• Fossil fuel combustion
• Vehicular emissions
• Industrialization
• Use of pesticides, insecticides in agriculture
• Explosives used in wars

Types of Air Pollutants:

The undesirable component in the atmosphere, causing pollution is referred

to as pollutant.

Pollutant can be classified on the basis of origin and physical state.

On the basis of origin, pollutants are of two types:

i) Primary pollutant: it is the product of natural events (like fires,

volcanic eruptions) and human activities added directly to air.
Examples include, CO, NO2, SO2 and hydrocarbons.
ii) Secondary pollutant: it is formed by the interaction of primary
pollutants with each other or with normal components of the air.
Examples include ozone, photochemical smog etc.

On the basis of physical state, pollutants are of two types:

i) Gaseous pollutants: these are the gases which mix with the air
without settling down. Gaseous pollutants include CO, SO2, CO2, SO3,
NOx and hydrocarbons.
ii) Particulate pollutants: it comprises of finely divided solids or liquids.
These include dust, smoke, smog, lead, mercury, cadmium and

Some Common Air Pollutants:

1. Carbon Monoxide
It is a colourless, odourless, tasteless gas that is by far the most
abundant of the air pollutants.
It is produced due to:
• Incomplete combustion of fuels
• Automobile exhausts
• Industrial operation

CO is also produced through natural processes such as volcanic

activity, natural gas and marsh gas emissions.

Sink for CO:

Sink is a system which absorbs the pollutant, thereby, nullifying its

harmful effect. A large mass of CO is generated and also there is
continuous increase in CO emissions within recent years. So it is
obvious that the amount of CO in the atmosphere should also increase.
But it has been found that the amount of CO in the atmosphere
remains relatively constant suggesting that a sink or scavenging
process also exists in the atmosphere. The micro organisms present in
the soil act as a major sink for CO.A significant amount of CO is
converted into CO2 by these microorganisms.


The levels of CO present in the urban air do not affect significantly the
plants and materials. However, these levels adversely affect human
health. In urban areas, the soil available is insufficient to act as a sink
thereby increasing the level of CO beyond permissible limits.

CO interferes with the blood’s ability to carry oxygen to different parts

of the body. The oxygen combines with hemoglobin, which is also
known as oxygen carrier, to form oxyhemoglobin. This oxyhemoglobin
travels to different parts of the body cells where it gives oxygen to the
cell and takes up CO2 through the lungs.

If CO is inhaled, it readily binds to hemoglobin to form

carboxyhemoglobin and blood carries less oxygen to various parts of
the body. Fortunately CO is removed from the blood stream when clear
air is cleaned.
Control of CO:

Control of pollution caused by CO can be achieved through the

following techniques:

(a) Modification of engine design: A low fuel-air ratio reduces NOx

emissions but increase CO emissions. So engine design should
design should be modified so that right proportion of oxygen is
maintained for complete oxidation of carbon and hydrogen to CO2
and h20 respectively.
(b) Fuel modification: The fuels which release lesser amount of CO are
recommended to be used. These fuels include natural gas, methane
and blends of light hydrocarbons.
(c) Treatment of exhaust gases: Two stag catalytic converters are used
to lower the pollution from exhaust gases. In the first stage NOx are
reduced to N2 and NH3 in the presence of catalyst such as Pt, Pd and
Ruthenium in the presence of reducing gas such as CO. in second
stage, oxidizing catalysts of noble metals supported on ceramic
materials are used, which ensure oxidation of CO and CO2.
1. Oxides of Nitrogen:
A number of oxides of nitrogen such as NO, N2O, NO2, N2O3 and N2O5
are introduced into the atmosphere due to natural as well as human
activity. Out of these, the two oxides NO and NO2 are responsible for
pollution and are considered as the pollutants and are represented by
NO2 is reddish brown in color having pungent smell and is suffocating,
whereas NO is colorless and odorless gas.
The sources of NOx include:
(a) Natural: during lightening discharge, N2 and O2 in air combine to
form NO
(b)Man-made sources:
• NO is formed when N2 and O2 at very high temperatures. This
temperature is usually attained during combustion of fossil
fuel in air.
• NOx is also produced in chemical industries as by products
such as in coal based power plants, sulphuric acid and nitric
acid manufacturing plants

Sink for NOx:

The NO and NO2 undergo various processes in the atmosphere leading
to the formation of HNO3. Thus NO2, NO, pollutants gets precipitated as
nitrates during rainfall. Ozone plays a significant role in these
photochemical reactions.

In presence of volatile organic compounds, NO2 reacts with water in

presence of oxygen resulting in formation of nitric acid. HNO3 comes
down from the atmosphere to the surface of earth in form of acid rain.
Here it reacts with bases such as ammonia, lime etc. to form nitrates.


• Almost all the NOx emissions are in the form of NO, which has no
known adverse health effects at the concentrations found in
• However, NO can oxidize to NO2, which in turn may react with
hydrocarbons in the presence of sunlight to form photochemical
• The HNO3 formed by NO2 causes acid rain which has corroding
effect on marble and the metallic structures. It decreases pH of
the soil, affecting its fertility.

Control of NOx:

The control measures include:

(a) Modifying the engine design: Reducing the amount of excess air for
combustion in air helps in controlling NOx emissions. The burners
are so modified that the fuel and the air mix more slowly reducing
the intensity and temperature of combustion.
(b) Scrubbing the flue gases: The flue gases are scrubbed with H2SO4 in
a scrubber. The reaction product thus obtained is then decomposed
to nitric acid and NO.
(c) Selective catalytic reduction: The selective catalytic reduction can
be achieved through CH4, NH3 and CO. The NOx is added to the
exhaust gases and the mixture is passed over a fixed bed catalyst
such as copper oxide.

It is interesting to note that the air pollution control methods also

require modification of combustion methods. But the methods that
improve CO emissions tend to make emissions of NOx problem worse,
and vise versa.
Environmental Effects of Air Pollution:
The air pollutants have a great impact on our environment. They are posing
a threat to earth’s general environment. The major effects are:

1. Photochemical Smog:
‘Smog’ is the combination of two words ‘smoke’ and ‘fog’. Smog is of
two types:
(a) London Smog:
The smog from SOx particulates and humidity is known as London
Smog. This type of smog caused death of around 4000 people in
London in 1952, hence the name. The mixture of smoke, SOx and
fog is chemically a reducing mixture and hence also termed as
reducing smog.
(b)Los Angeles Fog (Photochemical Smog): it results from the
photochemical reactions of the atmosphere. It is the atmospheric
haze that is formed near many large cities and is due to the action
of sunlight on hydrocarbons and the nitrogen oxides. This type of
smog was first observed in Los Angeles in 1950.

1. Acid Rain:
Unpolluted rain water is slightly acidic due to the presence of CO2 in
the atmosphere. CO2 combines with the water to form a weak solution
of carbonic acid with a pH of about 5.6
However in polluted environments, the rain passes through an
atmosphere polluted with oxides of sulphur and nitrogen. The falling
rain reacts with these oxides to form a mixture of sulphuric acid and
nitric acid and water. This is known as acid rain.
Acid Rain Formation:
The oxides of sulphur react with moisture to form H2SO4 in steps:
SO2 + O22SO3
SO3 + H2O  H2SO4

Similarly oxides of nitrogen form HNO3

NO + O3 NO2 + O
NO2 + O3  NO3 + O2
NO2 + NO3  N2O5
N2O5 + H2O  2HNO3
These acids along with HCL gives rise to the acid rain.
2. Green House Effect:
The green house effect is the rise in temperature that the earth
experiences because certain gases in the atmosphere absorb energy
from the sun. Without these gases, heat would escape back into space
and the earth’s average temperature would be about 60⁰ colder.
The phenomenon has been named green house effect as it is similar to
heat trapping effect of the glass walls in a horticulture green house.
The Process:
The earth receives a tremendous quantity of radiant energy from the
sun, about 30% of which is reflected back into space by the earth’s
atmosphere. The remaining energy passes through the atmosphere to
the earth’s surface. Some of the energy is absorbed by plants to drive
photosynthesis and some by the oceans to evaporate water, but most
is absorbed by soil, rock and water to increase the temperature of the
earth’s surface. This energy is in turn radiated from the heated surface
mainly as infrared radiation, often called heat radiation. However, only
a small portion of this energy makes it back into the space. The
majority of infrared radiations are absorbed the green house gases
present in the atmosphere. A net amount of thermal energy is retained
by the earth that makes it warmer than it would be without these
gases in the atmosphere.
3. Ozone Layer and its Depletion:
Ozone is a very small part of our atmosphere but its presence is
nevertheless vital to human wellbeing.
Most ozone resides in the upper part of the atmosphere called
stratosphere extending from 16 km to 40 km. the high concentration of
ozone in the ozone layer shields us from the harmful ultraviolet light
from sun.

Effect of Ozone Layer:

• Ozone protects us from harmful UV rays absorbing these
radiations. In absence of ozone layer these rays would reach
earth and cause:
(a) Skin caner
(b)Damage to the plants
(c) Sun burns
(e) Leukemia
(f) Cataracts etc.
• The absorption of UV radiation by ozone is a source of heat in
stratosphere. As a result ozone plays a key role in maintaining
the temperature structure of earth’s atmosphere.

Depletion of Ozone:

Ozone depletion has been found to occur through the following types
of compounds:

• Chloroflouro carbons (Freon)

• Nitric oxide
• Reactive hydroxyl radicals
• Atomic oxygen


• The existing ozone layer screens out more than 99% of incoming
UV radiations. The small fractions gets through is known to cause
sunburn, skin cancer and various kinds of damage to animal and
• The genetic material DNA has the capacity to absorb UV
radiations which may cause various disruptive defects.
• 5% depletion in ozone produces 10% increase in radiations
reaching the earth according to an estimate.
• Exposure to UV radiation damages the cornea and lens of the
eye causing blindness.
Water Pollution:
When toxic substances enter lakes, streams, rivers, oceans and other water
bodies, they get dissolved or lie suspended in water. This results in the
pollution of water where by the quality of water deteriorates.

The word polluted water is defined as the deterioration of physical, chemical

and biological properties of water brought mainly by human activities and
natural resources and which cause harmful effect on human and aquatic life.


Water pollution is caused by human as well as natural activities.

i) Natural Sources: These include decomposed vegetable, animal and

weathered products which are brought into main water resources.
ii) Human Activities: These include domestic as well as industrial
a. Domestic: The release of huge quantities of municipal and
domestic wastes through the drains into the rivers and canals is
the major cause of pollution. The domestic waste water contains
human faeces, kitchen wastes, organic water that provides
nutrition to fungi and bacteria.
b. Industrial: These include effluents from factories, refineries and a
number of chemical industries. Water gets polluted by acids,
alkalis, detergents, copper, zinc, lead, mercury etc. which are
constantly added to water by industrial effluents.
c. Apart from these two, the water is also polluted through
agricultural discharge such as pesticides, insecticides, fertilizers
etc. besides these, bacteria, algae, virus also cause water

Classification Of Water Pollutants:

The problem of water pollution due to discharge of domestic and industrial

waste into water has already become a serious problem in the country. To
aid in the systematic discussion of water pollutants, they have been
classified into nine categories:

1. Oxygen demanding wastes

2. Pathogens
3. Synthetic organic compounds
4. Plant nutrients
5. Inorganic chemicals and minerals
6. Sediments
7. Radioactive substances
8. Thermal discharges
9. Oil

1. Oxygen Demanding Wastes:

Dissolved oxygen (DO) is essential for sustaining the plant and animal life
in any aquatic system. Warm-water fishes require a minimum DO level of
5 mg/L. if DO level drops below the level necessary to sustain normal life,
then water is classified as polluted.

The amount of DO in water is reduced because of oxygen demanding

wastes. These are substances that oxidize in water, reducing the amount
of DO. These include organic substances contained in municipal waste
water or in effluents from certain industries.

The oxygen demanding wastes are oxidized by bacteria or micro

organisms consuming DO in water to CO2 and water. These substances
produce undesirable odor, tastes and reduce the acceptability of water as
domestic supply.

There are several measures f oxygen demand commonly used:

(a) Biological Oxygen Demand: BOD is the amount of oxygen required by
microorganisms to biologically degrade the wastes. It is the most
important measure of the strength of organic pollution
(b)Chemical Oxygen Demand: COD is the amount of oxygen needed to
chemically oxidize the wastes.

1. Pathogens:
These are disease causing organisms that grow and multiply within the
host. Water is potential carrier of pathogenic microorganisms. These
pathogens are carried into the water bodies by sewage and wastes from
farm and various industries.

Contaminated water caused by poor sanitation can lead to both water

borne and water contact diseases.

Water borne diseases are those acquired by ingestion of pathogens not

only in drinking water, but also from the water that makes it to person’s
mouth from washing food, utensils and hands. Examples are cholera,
typhoid etc.
Water Contact diseases do not require that the individual ingest the
water. Just contact with the water causes the disease. For example
bilharzia is the most common water contact disease in the world.

2. Synthetic Organic Compounds:

These include pesticides, synthetic organic chemicals and detergents.
These compounds are not biodegradable and persist for longer periods.
Most of these are accumulative toxic poisons and ultimately reach
objectionable levels in water.

Pesticides cover a range of chemicals that kill organisms that human

consider undesirable. These enter the water bodies from run off from
agricultural lands, waste discharge by pesticides manufacturers and by
other means. Because of their world wide usage, nearly all the rivers and
oceans of the world contain pesticides residue.

Detergent means cleansing agent. The basic active ingredient in

detergents is surfactant or surface active agent with contains hydrophobic
and hydrophilic groups. Surfactants decrease the surface tension of water
so that they can penetrate the surface and interstices of the object to be
cleaned. Te remainder comprises of polysulphate salts called builders and
other ingredients.
Surfactants concentrations as low as 1ppm produce foam in rivers and in
sewage treatment plants. Although these concentrations are non-toxic to
humans, their presence gives off taste of drinking water.
The detergent builders pose greater problem today. The polyphosphates
builders are released into water and act as plant nutrients. The extensive
growth of algae consumes most of dissolved oxygen from water.

3. Plant nutrients:
Nutrients are chemicals, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, carbon, sulphur,
calcium, potassium, iron etc. that are essential to growth of living things.
However, in terms of water, these nutrients are considered as pollutants;
when their concentrations are sufficient allow excessive growth of aquatic
plants, particularly, algae. When these algae die and decompose they add
undesirable odor and objectionable taste of water. Further, the decaying
of organic matter oxidizes and leads to reduced DO levels. The gradual
accumulation of silt and organic matter is known as eutrophication.
High concentration of nutrients poses the problem of eutrophication but
also when found in drinking water it is a serious health hazard.

4. Inorganic Chemicals and Minerals:

This include inorganic salts mineral acids and finely divided metal or
metal compounds, trace elements, cyanides, organo-metallic compounds
etc. they are added to the water bodies through municipal and industrial
waste water and mine run off.

Acid Mine Drainage:

It is a source of increasing acidity in natural water, acid rain also adds to
it. The minig of sulphur bearing ores containing lead, zinc and copper lead
to acid drainage. Coal mines discharge is also a cause of acid mine
Soluble Salts:
The salts or solids passing through water on its way to sea include cations
such as sodium, calcium, potassium, magnesium and anions like
chlorides, sulphates and bicarbonates. The measure of salinity is
concentration of total dissolved solids (TDS).

Heavy Metals:
It refers to metals with specific gravity greater than 4 or 5. Metals may be
inhaled or digested and have adverse effects on the body. Cadmium, lead
and mercury are nephrotoxic metals.

5. Sediments:
They include soil, sand and mineral particles washed into aquatic
environment by storms and flood waters. They are sources of organic and
inorganic matter which reduces the storage capacity. This decreases
evolution of oxygen and hence cannot support aquatic animals.

6. Radioactive Substances:
They enter aquatic system through the use of naturally occurring or
artificially produced radioactive materials. These pollutants enter the
water system through:
(a) Mining and processing of ores
(b)Nuclear power plants
(c) Leakage from underground nuclear detonations
(d)Radioisotopes in medicine etc.

These substances can enter human body through food and water and
cause cancer, eye cataract etc.

1. Thermal Discharges:
The used coolant water in industries id directly discharged into water
bodies which increases their temperature. This is thermal pollution.
Rise in temperature decreases DO content which affects the aquatic life.

2. Oil:
It is added to water bodies from industries as effluents oil refineries,
storage tanks and automobile waste oil. Oil being insoluble in water, floats
over it. It may penetrate the feathers of birds such that they find difficulty
in floating and flying. They may ingest it and die.

3. Volatile Organic Compounds:

They are volatile solvents used in industries. They are toxic and cause
harm when present in drinking water. Some of the VOCs are:
(a) Vinyl chloride
(c) Carbontetrachloride

Waste Water treatment Process:

Available waste water treatment processes can be classified as:

• Physical
• Chemical
• Biological

The waste water treatment processes are generally grouped according to

water quality they are expected to produce

1. Primary Treatment:
It utilizes physical processes like screening to remove a portion of
pollutants that settle or float.
(a) Pretreatment: It consists of screening and grit removal. Screening
removes large floating objects which are disposed off. Then water
passes into grit chamber where velocity of water is reduced.
(b)Sedimentation: From grit chamber sewage passes into primary
settling tank called sedimentation basin. It clarifies suspended
solids and 40% of organic matter.
1. Secondary Treatment:
The purpose here is to remove organic matter and is based upon
biological process similar to natural biodegradation by aerobic
bacteria. They include:
(a) Coagulation of colloidal matter
(b)Oxidation of organic matter
(c) Conversion of nitrogeneous matter to ammonia and finally to
nitrites and nitrates
(d)Anaerobic digestion of sludge
1. Tertiary Treatment:
It improves the quality of effluent further. It includes removal of:
(a) Suspended solids
(c) Dissolved organic solids
(e) Nutrients

Some of the techniques are:

(a) Micro-staining: It removes the solid wastes that get retained on

fabric of filter media
(b)Removal of Dissolved Solids: It can be done by adsorption of soluble
organics on activated carbon, solvent extraction, ion-exchange (To
remove hardness of water), reverse osmosis and chemical
precipitation through lime etc.
(c) Removal of Nutrients: it includes removal of nitrogen (ammonia
stripping) and phosphorous which may be present as
orthophosphates by alum.
(d)Removal of bacteria: By retaining effluents in maturation pond for
specified period of times.

Soil Pollution:

Soil pollution is degradation of soil mainly through human misuse. The

human influences include:
(a) Industrial waste: this is disposed into the soil and poses a detrimental
(b)Disposal of solid wastes: this is accumulation of lead particles from
automobile exhausts, garbage containing plastics etc.
(c) Agricultural practices: this is due to fertilizers and use of pesticides.
(d)Biological agents: this is through excreta of humans, birds and animals.
(e) Soil erosion: nutrients for supporting vegetation are wiped off.


Soil pollution adds a no. of chemicals to it and these are transferred into
humans through food chains.

Metallic contaminants destroy the beneficial micro organisms in soil and

hence effect plant growth.

Excessive use of fertilizers makes soil alkaline or acidic.

Use of pesticides makes soil contaminated and is also persistent. The most
dangerous pesticide DDT is now banned as it accumulates in the food chain.


They include method to reduce and dispose soil wastes. This can be
achieved through following ways-

(a) Proper dumping of soil wastes

(b)Banning of highly toxic and persistent chemical pesticides
(c) Proper awareness of the masses
(d)Increased crop rotation
(e) Recycling of the waste
(f) Plantation of trees to a larger extent.