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Air pollution – sources and health impacts

Air pollution can cause a range of health effects including breathing difficulties, heart disease and cancer.


Air pollution can cause a range of health effects including breathing difficulties, heart disease and cancer. There is now an extensive literature on the subject of air pollution and health.Historically, the main air pollution problem was typically been high levels of smoke and sulphur dioxide arising from the combustion of fuels such as coal. The major threat to clean air is now posed by traffic emissions.Motor vehicles emit a wide variety of pollutants, principally carbon monoxide (CO), oxides of nitrogen (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and particulates (PM10), which have an increasing impact on urban air quality.In addition, photochemical reactions resulting from the action of sunlight on nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and VOCs from vehicles leads to the formation of ozone, a secondary long-range pollutant, which impacts in rural areas often far from the original emission site. Acid rain is another long-range pollutant influenced by vehicle NOx emissions.Aircraft and airport-related traffic and activities produce the same types of pollutants as road traffic, domestic and industrial sources. Near to airports, airport activities may form a major or even the dominant source of pollution.The publication below (Word docment – 4 pages) gives a concise summary of the main pollutants, their sources and the health effects. It is mostly taken from the ‘UK National Air Quality Archive’ www.airquality.co.uk/archive/ (as at Jan 05).See also general briefing on air pollution (15 pages), summary of air pollution standards (1 page) and quotes from the aviation White Paper (5 pages).Air pollution – sources and health effectsWhat are the effects of air pollution? (Govt web site)What causes air pollution? (Govt web site)