What Is Environmental Pollution? Meaning, Definition, Types Of Environmental Pollutio

Environmental pollution is the addition of contaminants into the natural environment that causes detrimental effects to nature, natural resources and mankind. Any unnatural and negative changes in all the dimensions like chemical, physical and biological characteristics of any component of the ecosystem i.e. air, water or soil which can cause harmful effects on various forms of life and property is called environmental pollution.

Environmental pollution has existed for centuries. But evidence suggests that, since, the industrial revolution, contaminants in atmosphere have been growing day by day and resulting in severe damage to Earth. Hazardous waste, toxic chemicals, suspended particles are affecting both humans and animals. Many of the toxic chemicals and plastic have found their way in ecological food chain. Environmental pollution is a primary reason for the rise of global warming and many incurable diseases.

Pollutants & Its Types

Before studying about different types of pollution, we have to understand the meaning of pollutants. Pollutants are the contaminants that get introduced into the natural environment, beyond permitted limits and caused undesired effects or adversely affects the usefulness of a resource. They can be classified into primary and secondary pollutants. The primary pollutant such as Carbon Monoxide (CO) and plastic remain in form in which they were added to the environment. Secondary pollutants are formed due to interaction of primary pollutants amongst themselves, ozone is example of secondary pollutants which is formed when Hydrocarbons (HC) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) combine in presence of sunlight.

On the basis of origin, pollutants can be anthropogenic (human-made) or natural. Burning of fossil fuels, sewage etc. can cause anthropogenic pollution, whereas volcanic dust, photochemically formed ozone is example of natural sources of pollutants. On the basis of degradability, pollutants can be biodegradable or non-biodegradable. Biodegradable pollutant such as paper products, vegetables etc. are broken down naturally by micro-organisms and are not harmful to environment. Non-biodegradable pollutants such as polythene, plastics, etc., cannot be broken down into smaller, harmless or simpler substances.

Types of Environmental Pollution

Pollution happens in different forms such as air, water, soil, radioactive, light, noise and heat. There are different kinds of pollution and each of them have their sources and causes associated with them. Depending on the nature of pollutants and also subsequent pollution of environmental components, the pollution can be categorized as Air Pollution, Water Pollution, Soil Pollution, Noise Pollution and Radioactive Pollution

Air Pollution

Air pollution takes place when damaging stuff including particulate matter and biological molecules are dumped into Earth’s atmosphere. It can result from both human and natural actions. Natural events that pollute the air includes forest fires, volcanic eruptions, wind erosion, evaporation of organic compounds and natural radioactivity. Man-made sources are mostly related to burning different kinds of fuel which are chiefly oxides of carbon, sulfur and nitrogen. Exhausting fumes from vehicles, natural gas, the burning of fossil fuels, nuclear accidents, destructive off gassing from things such as paint, plastic production and so on can cause pollution

Out of various kinds of pollution, air pollution is the major contributor to global warming. Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide particles in the air can create acid rain when they mix with water and oxygen in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases such as hydrofluorocarbons are major greenhouse gases emitted by natural and artificial sources. In humans, the short

term effects, which are temporary include illnesses such as pneumonia or

bronchitis. They also include discomfort such as irritation to nose, throat, eyes and skin. Long-term health effects from air pollution include heart disease, lung cancer and respiratory diseases such as emphysema.

In India, National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) has been launched to tackle air pollution at the national level aiming for a 20-30 per cent reduction in PM 10 and PM 2.5 concentration by 2024.

Introduction of cleaner fuels, promotion of mass urban transport networks and stricter regulatory standards such as BS VI are other significant steps. Under Green India Mission, massive afforestation is carried out to tackle air pollution.

Water Pollution

Water pollution is any contamination of water with chemicals or other hazardous substances that are detrimental to human, animal or plant health. For example, releasing inadequately treated waste water into natural water bodies can lead to degradation of aquatic ecosystems. Many of these pollutants sink to the ocean’s depths or float far distances from original source, where they are consumed by small marine organisms and introduced into the global food chain.

Sources of water pollution are either point sources or non-point sources. Point sources have one identifiable cause of the pollution, such as storm drain, waste water treatment plant or stream. Non-point sources are more diffuse, such as agricultural run-off. Oil discharge into the surface of sea by way of accident or leakage pollute sea water to great extent in addition to plastic waste.

Water pollution can result in human health problems, poisoned wildlife and long term ecosystem damage. When agricultural and industrial runoff floods waterways with excess nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, these nutrients often fuel algae blooms that, then create dead zones where fish and other aquatic life can no longer thrive. High levels of nitrates in water from nutrient pollution can also particularly harmful to infants, interfering with their ability to deliver oxygen to tissues and potentially causing ‘blue baby syndrome’ Globally at least 2 billion people drink water that is contaminated, according to WHO and that may transmit dangerous diseases such as cholera and typhoid.

Two important legislation, Water Pollution Act (1974) and Environment Protection Act regulates and controls the effluent discharged into the water. Pollution Control Boards at the central and state levels are empowered to prevent, control and abate water pollution. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has established a network of monitoring stations on aquatic resources across the country. Under Namami Gange programme, sewage treatment plants are installed to control the point sources of population. At global level, the London Protocol went into effect in 2006. Under the London Protocol, dumping of all wastes and other materials is prohibited except for shortlist of items, like left over materials from dredging.

Soil Pollution

Soil pollution is defined as the build-up in soils of persistent toxic compounds, chemicals, salts, radioactive materials or disease causing agent which have adverse effects on plant growth and animal health. The major contributory factors of soil pollution include use of chemical fertilizers in agricultural practices, acid rain, discharge of untreated sewage, leaching of waste from landfills and burning of crops after harvesting.

Deforestation and soil erosion also plays important role in soil pollution. Excess heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury in soil can impair plant metabolism and decrease crop productivity, ultimately putting pressure on arable land. When they enter the food chain, these pollutants also pose risks to food security, water resources, rural livelihoods and human health.

To contain soil pollution, the government has launched schemes such as Integrated Wasteland Development Programme (IWDP) and Integrated Watershed Management Programme (IWMP). Under Bonn challenge, India had committed toward restoring 13 million hectares of degraded and deforested land by year 2020 and a additional 8 million hectares by 2030. Under Soil Health Card Scheme, Soil Cards are issued to farmer which carry crop-wise recommendations of nutrients and fertilizers. Further, bio-fertilizers and manures are promoted by authorities.

Noise Pollution

Noise pollution also known as sound pollution is propagation of noise with harmful impact on the activity of human or animal life. The sources of outdoor noise worldwide is mainly caused by machines, transport and propagation system. It has now become very common due to dense urbanisation and industrialisation.

Noise pollution can bring about adverse effects such as hearing loss, sleeping disorders, hypertensions and communication problem. Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) in associations with its counterparts monitors and regulates noise pollution under National Ambient Noise Monitoring Programme (NANMP).

Radioactive Pollution

Radioactive pollution occurs when there is presence of radioactive materials in the environment, especially where their presence is accidental and when it presents an environment threat due to radioactive decay. Fukushima and Chernobyl incidents are among prominent example of devastation caused by radioactive pollution. Causes of radioactive pollution includes nuclear accidents from nuclear energy generation plants, use of nuclear weapons, use of radio isotopes for medical purposes, mining, cosmic rays and radio active decay of waste products. Cancer is the most dominant radiation related disease apart from leukemia, anemia and hemorrhage. It is also responsible for genetic mutation in animals and plants. We can prevent the radioactive pollution in the following manner :

•By totally stopping leakages of radioactive materials from nuclear reactors, industries and laboratories.

•By taking preventive measures so that natural radiation level does not rise above the permissible limit.

•By changing the radioactive waste disposal into harmless form or storing it in safe places

Mitigation and Measure to Tackle Environmental Pollution

We can tackle the environmental pollution by taking following measures :

• Preserve the physical, chemical and biological integrities of the ecosystem with maximum protection of public health and the environment.

• Follow the three ‘R’s (Reduce, Reuse and Recyle) to conserve natural resources and landfill space.

• Volunteer for cleanups in your community. One can get involved in protecting one’s watershed too.

• One can help others understand the importance and value of our natural resources.

• Usage of energy efficient light bulbs can reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

• Support environmentally sound policies that reduce energy growth rates, emphasise energy conservation and encourage the use of renewable resources.

• Support measures to reduce pollution in order to protect surface water,
groundwater and drinking water.

• Promote policies to reduce the generation and promote the reuse and recycling of solid and hazardous waste.

• Do not discharge chemicals into the waterways and choose non-toxic chemicals in the home and public places.

• Buy less plastic and bring a reusable shopping bag.


Human beings often forget that we are largely dependent on mother nature and become ignorant towards taking care of it. One has to see that one’s actions can very well impact the Earth’s sustainability. Decisions and actions taken by individuals to a very large extent determine the quality of life for everyone. This necessitates that individuals should not only be aware of various environmental issues and the consequences of their actions on the environment, but should also make a firm resolve to develop environmentally ethical lifestyles.