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ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION – 02

Primary Pollutants

Pollutants that are emitted directly from identifiable sources are produced both by Natural Events (for example, dust storms and volcanic eruptions) and human activities (emission from vehicles, industries, etc.). These are called primary pollutants . There are five primary pollutants that together contribute about 90 percent of the global air pollution.

  • Carbon Oxides (CO And CO2)
  • Nitrogen Oxides
  • Sulfur Oxides
  • Volatile Organic Compounds (Mostly Hydrocarbons) 
  1. Suspended Particulate Matter.

Secondary pollutants – Pollutants that are produced in the atmosphere when certain chemical reactions take place among the primary pollutants are called secondary pollutants. A secondary pollutant is not directly emitted as such, but forms when other pollutants (primary pollutants) react in the atmosphere. Examples of a secondary pollutant include ozone, which is formed when hydrocarbons (HC) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) combine in the presence of sunlight; NO2, which is formed as NO combines with oxygen in the air; and acid rain, which is formed when sulfur dioxide or nitrogen oxides react with water, sulfuric acid, nitric acid, carbonic acid, etc.

MAJOR POLLUTANTS

CARBON MONOXIDE 

It is a Colourless, Odourless And Toxic Gas produced when organic materials such as natural gas, coal or wood are incompletely burnt. Vehicular exhausts are the single largest source of carbon monoxide. Vehicles are also poorly maintained and several have inadequate pollution control equipment resulting in release of greater amounts of carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is however not a persistent pollutant. Natural processes can convert carbon monoxide to other compounds that are not harmful. Therefore the air can be cleared of its carbon monoxide if no new carbon monoxide is introduced into the atmosphere.

  1. Sulphur oxides – are produced when sulphur containing fossil fuels are burnt.
  2. Nitrogen oxides – are found in vehicular exhausts. Nitrogen oxides are significant, as they are involved in the production of secondary air pollutants such as ozone.
  3. Hydrocarbons are a group of compounds consisting of carbon and hydrogen atoms. They either evaporate from fuel supplies or are remnants of fuel that did not burn completely. Hydrocarbons are washed out of the air when it rains and run into surface water. They cause an oily film on the surface and do not as such cause a serious issue until they react to form secondary pollutants. Using higher oxygen concentrations in the fuel air mixture and using valves to prevent the escape of gases, fitting of catalytic converters in automobiles, are some of the modifications that can reduce the release of hydrocarbons into the atmosphere.
  4. Particulates are small pieces of solid material (for example, smoke particles from fires, bits of asbestos, dust particles and ash from industries) dispersed into the atmosphere. The effects of particulates range from soot to the carcinogenic (cancer causing) effects of asbestos, dust particles and ash from industrial plants that are dispersed into the atmosphere. Repeated exposure to particulates can cause them to accumulate in the lungs and interfere with the ability of the lungs to exchange gases.
  5. Lead is a major air pollutant that remains largely unmonitored and is emitted by vehicles. High lead levels have been reported in the ambient air in metropolitan cities. Leaded petrol is the primary source of airborne lead emissions in Indian cities.

MECHANISM OF AIR POLLUTION IN THE ATMOSPHERE

Once pollutants enter the troposphere they are transported downwind, diluted by the large volume of air, transformed through either physical or chemical changes or are removed from the atmosphere by rain during which they are attached to water vapour that subsequently forms rain or snow that falls to the earth’s surface. The atmosphere normally disperses pollutants by mixing them in the very large volume of air that covers the earth. This dilutes the pollutants to acceptable levels. The rate of dispersion however varies in relation to the following aspects:

  • Topography Normally as the earth’s surface becomes warmed by sunlight the layer of air in contact with the ground is also heated by convection. This warmer air is less dense than the cold air above it, so it rises. Thus pollutants produced in the surface layer are effectively dispersed.
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