Types of Environmental Pollutants - Classification and Examples

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When we talk about environmental pollutants, perhaps we are not aware of the amount of substances or compounds that are a danger to the environment, causing its instability and damaging its operation, sometimes irreversibly. But they not only affect the environment, but also its flora, fauna and human beings. Environmental pollutants have anthropogenic origin and it was in the era of industrialization that they began to increase uncontrollably to this day.

Next, in this interesting article by Ecologist Verde, the different types of environmental pollutants, as well as the types of contamination and their consequences.

What is environmental pollution

We talk about environmental pollution when they are present in the environment harmful substances. These substances are what we call environmental pollutants and they can be of physical, chemical or biological origin or a combination of them. Pollution can occur in different forms, in different places and with different concentrations. Furthermore, it is no secret that environmental pollution is a danger to living beings, including human beings, their health and well-being.

To learn more about it, you can consult this other article on What is environmental pollution and its types.

Types of environmental pollutants - primary and secondary

There are different types of air, water and environment pollutants in general. Thus, there are many environmental pollutants that are present in our environment and can be classified into two types depending on their origin: primary and secondary.

Types of primary environmental pollutants

Primary pollutants are those that are emitted directly to the natural environment, some examples are:

  • CO or carbon monoxide.
  • SOx or sulfur oxides.
  • NOx or nitrogen oxides.
  • CFCs or chlorofluorocarbons.
  • Radioactive waste.

There are numerous sources of emission of primary environmental pollutants:

  • Massive deforestation.
  • Burning fossil fuels, such as oil, coal, or natural gas.
  • Mining extractions.
  • Excessive use of cars that use gasoline or diesel.

Types of secondary environmental pollutants

These are normally formed from primary pollutants by physical-chemical processes that occur in the environment, among them are:

  • H2SO4 or sulfuric acid.
  • O3 or ozone.
  • CH4 or methane.
  • Biological contamination.

Types of environmental pollutants - solids, liquids and gases

In addition to classifying pollutants depending on their origin, we can do so by looking at their structure, we find that it can be solid, liquid and gaseous. A) Yes, other types of environmental pollutants are:

  • Solid contaminants: An example of solid pollutants could be the garbage that we generate daily in our homes.
  • Liquid contaminants: When we speak of liquid pollutants, they can be discharged by industries or gray or waste water from urbanized centers.
  • Gaseous pollutants: When we talk about pollutants that are gas, they can be those that come from vehicle traffic, industrial emissions, deforestation, etc.

Types of environmental pollutants according to their degradability

A pollutant is more or less dangerous depending on its origin, its concentration and its structure, but it also depends on how long it is in the natural environment. So, according to this classification, we find environmental pollutants with different degradabilityIn other words, they last longer or less in the environment and that they become more or less harmful.

  • Non-degradable contaminants: These are not decomposed by natural processes. To treat these polluting waste, it is best to recycle or reuse them, avoiding that they end up being disposed of in the environment.
  • Contaminants de slow or persistent degradation: They are substances that remain in the environment for a long time. DDT or most plastic are examples. In the case of plastic, it takes dozens of years to degrade, although it does not do so completely since microplastics remain a great threat to living beings when they enter the food chain. These substances are also bioaccumulative and are widely dispersed throughout the environment through wind, rivers and ocean currents.
  • Degradable or non-persistent pollutants: These end up being totally or partially decomposed by natural physical, chemical or biological processes.
  • Biodegradable pollutants: They are those that, thanks to the decomposition process used by living organisms, such as bacteria and other microorganisms, transform complex matter into simpler matter.

Emerging pollutants, a new class of harmful substances

Highlight a group of pollutants known as emerging or new pollutants, which refer to personal care and hygiene products (they contain parabens, phthalates …), hormones (endocrine disruptors), drugs, drugs … Until recently, many of them were difficult to detect, but thanks to technological advances it is possible to detect the presence of these substances.

In this other article you can find more specific information on this topic Emerging pollutants: definition, examples and how they affect us.

Types of pollution

Environmental pollutants end up in the natural environment interacting with it in a negative way. Therefore, taking into account the contaminated areas, we will talk about different types of pollution.

  • Water contamination: There is a high contamination of the water due to the discharge of industrial waste, another source of contamination is the pesticides used in the fields of crops that seep into the groundwater, organic waste, pathogens, radioactive substances, inorganic waste … Learn more about this list of harmful agents in this link to an article on What are water pollutants.
  • Atmospheric pollution: the causes that cause air or atmospheric pollution are volcanic eruptions, the use of machinery and chemicals in mining extractions, use of pesticide products, deforestation, etc … The presence of these substances, materials or forms of energy pose a danger or damage for people's health, as well as being a danger to the environment. We recommend you consult this other article on What is an air pollutant.
  • Soil contamination: the most common pollutants found in soil are heavy metals, persistent and emerging organic pollutants. The biggest problem with the soil is unsustainable agricultural practices, which use industrial pesticides, which are leaving the soil without organic matter, in addition to being contaminated by the chemicals that are used. Find out more about it with this post on What are soil pollutants.

Apart from these, which are the main types of contamination, there are some more:

  • Radioactive contamination.
  • Noise pollution.
  • Light pollution.
  • Visual contamination.
  • Electromagnetic pollution.
  • Thermal pollution.
  • Food contamination.

Consequences of environmental pollution

We are living a climate crisis in which the planet's temperature is increasing progressively. This phenomenon, called global warming, is a consequence of the emission of environmental pollutants and causes accelerated climate change. Environmental pollution is endangering the environment, as well as living things. These are some of the consequences of environmental pollution that already suffer:

  • Increase in respiratory and cardiovascular diseases due to poor air quality (polluted air) in cities.
  • Toxicological impact.
  • Presence of contaminants in food.
  • Presence of microplastics in food and water that end up in the food chain.
  • Loss of natural resources.
  • Destruction of ecosystems.
  • Extinction of species and the consequent loss of biodiversity.

Now that you know better the types of environmental pollutants that exist, as well as the types of pollution that these agents cause and their consequences, you may want to know some ideas on How to avoid environmental pollution.

If you want to read more articles similar to Types of environmental pollutants, we recommend that you enter our Pollution category.

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