5 Causes of Air Pollution Explained

Causes of air pollution are; waste mismanagement, natural disaster, agricultural practices, raw material extraction, and energy conversion.

This article discusses the causes of air pollution, as follows;



1). Waste Mismanagement (as one of the Causes of Air Pollution)

Waste mismanagement is one of the causes of air pollution.

All forms of waste handling can pose significant risks to air quality if sustainability is not established.

Dumping of waste in landfills among other dump-sites, can cause severe air pollution due to the volatilization and biodegradation of waste materials [3].

Also, efforts to utilize waste as an energy resource, through waste-to-energy conversion practices, can also contribute to air pollution of not handled in a conservative and efficient manner.

Biorefineries may act as sources of biological air pollutants; and various biomass conversion methods like torrefaction, incineration and pyrolysis, which are used to treat waste, can have negative environmental impacts and may reduce air quality.

A recommendable approach to minimize the ecological impacts of waste mismanagement is recycling.

Yet, recycling can lead to the release of air pollutants, especially for cases that involve energy-intensive procedures.

Protecting the atmosphere and entire ecosystem from such effects can only be achieved through a combination of innovative methods and functional policies that restrict atmospheric emissions.

Causes of Air Pollution: Waste Mismanagement (Credit: Sumaira Abdulali 2018 .CC BY-SA 4.0.)
Causes of Air Pollution: Waste Mismanagement (Credit: Sumaira Abdulali 2018 .CC BY-SA 4.0.)


2). Natural Disaster

There are significant connections between the events involved in some natural hazards, and the events which lead to air pollution.

Examples of natural disasters that can cause air pollution are; volcanic eruption, wildfire, dust storm, and flooding.

These phenomena lead to the atmospheric emission of particulate matter and other types of pollutants that reduce air quality.

Hazards like flooding cause air pollution when they occur alongside human-induced environmental problems like oil spill and industrial pollution. Volatile chemical compounds carried in floodwater under such circumstances, can escape into the atmosphere and become airborne toxins.


3). Agricultural Practices (as one of the Causes of Air Pollution)

Agricultural activities that can cause air pollution are; livestock farming, fertilizer application, soil tillage, composting, and burning of plant biomass.

These activities all yield air pollutants as byproducts of various processes like biodegradation, combustion and volatilization.

The percentage of air pollution caused by agriculture in developed regions like the United States is notably high, so that up to 17,900 annual deaths are attributed to agriculture-induced air pollution [2].

Agricultural air pollution can cause health problems and acid rain, among other effects.

Examples of such agricultural air pollutants are; ammonia, volatile organic compounds, sulfuric oxides and nitrous oxides.

Causes of Air Pollution: Agricultural Practices (Credit: U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Northeast Region 2012 .CC BY 2.0.)
Causes of Air Pollution: Agricultural Practices (Credit: U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Northeast Region 2012 .CC BY 2.0.)


4). Raw Material Extraction

The extraction of raw materials can cause emission of greenhouse gases and toxins that pollute the air.

This is among other forms of environmental degradation that are linked to the extraction of raw materials; such as deforestation, resource depletion, climate change, global warming, soil and water pollution.

Raw materials whose extraction can cause air pollution include biomass, metals like iron and tin; and energy resources like coal, oil and gas.

Extraction raw materials causes air pollution due to the energy conversion processes required to power equipment, and the conversion of the raw materials themselves during extraction.


5). Energy Conversion (as one of the Causes of Air Pollution)

Energy is related to pollution, on the basis of the environmental impacts caused by processes and materials that occur during energy conversion, consumption, storage, wastage and utilization.

The effect of energy conversion on pollution and air quality is usually negative, so that the risk of environmental pollution tends to increase with every increase in the scale of energy conversion.

Non-renewable energy is the type of energy that produces air pollution most. This includes fossil fuels like coal, natural gas and petroleum.

However, some renewable energy resources and processes like waste-to-energy, bioenergy and biofuel production; are also likely to cause air pollution, although the impact of such options is low compared to fossil fuels [1].

Combustion is the most common and effective energy conversion process that causes air pollution, as an effect of the release of gaseous byproducts from fuels.

Others such as electromechanical and thermoelectric conversion may also affect air quality in some cases.




Causes of air pollution are;

1. Waste Mismanagement

2. Natural Disaster

3. Agricultural Practices

4. Raw Material Extraction

5. Energy Conversion




1). Hill, J.; Nelson, E. J.; Tlman, D.; Polasky, S.; Tiffany, D. (2006). “Environmental, Economic, and Energetic Costs, and Benefits of Biodiesel and Ethanol Biofuels.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 103(30):11206-10. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0604600103. (Accessed 1 December 2022).

2). Kaplan, S.(2021). “Air pollution from farms leads to 17,900 U.S. deaths per year, study finds.” Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2021/05/10/farm-pollution-deaths/. (Accessed 1 December 2022).

3). Lin, J.; Hildemann, L. M. (1995). “A nonsteady-state analytical model to predict gaseous emissions of volatile organic compounds from landfills.” Journal of Hazardous Materials, Volume 40, Issue 3, March 1995, Pages 271-295. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/0304-3894(94)00088-X. (Accessed 30 November 2022).

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