Air quality

The causes of air pollution

Historically, the main air pollution problem in both developed and rapidly industrialising countries has typically been high levels of smoke and sulphur dioxide emitted following the combustion of sulphur-containing fossil fuels such as coal, used for domestic and industrial purposes.

These days, the major threat to clean air is now posed by traffic emissions. Petrol and diesel-engined motor vehicles emit a wide variety of pollutants: principally carbon monoxide (CO), oxides of nitrogen (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and particulate matter (PM10), which have an increasing impact on urban air quality.

In addition, pollutants from these sources may not only prove a problem in the immediate vicinity of these sources, but can be transported long distances.

Download a detailed list of what causes air pollution (PDF 135.7KB) from Defra.

For more information on the causes of air pollution visit the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (link opens in new window) website.

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