Geography: Section 4

Impact of Air Pollution

As you discovered in the first section of this package air pollution poses a real and serious threat not only to our environment but to our own health, success and development.

After completing this section you will be able to:

  • Identify the impacts of air pollution
  • Explain how air pollution affects humans health and economy
  • Explain how air pollution affects animals and the environment.

Click here to download & print the Activity Sheet for this lesson.

How does Air Pollution impact us?

Air Pollution can lead to a variety of health problems especially in areas were pollution is high. To learn more about the major pollutants that cause air pollution take a look at the video below:

Use the information in this video to complete Activity One in the Activity Sheet.

There are many ways that Air Pollution can impact our lives. Our health is one, but there are others too. To learn more about the impacts Air Pollution has on us take a look at the interactive element below:

Impact on Health

Click the X at the top right of this window to close this window then click the pink spots on the graphic to learn more about the impact pollution has on us & our environment.


Stop and think for a moment how much gas or electricity you have used since you got up this morning. Did you know that the power we use in our homes, communities and workplaces is generated by burning other fuels? These fuels include coal, gas and oil. When these fuels are burned to generate power they release pollutants, such as sulphur dioxide and other greenhouse gases into our atmosphere.

Impact on Human Health

The effects of air pollution on our health varies from person to person and depends on the type of pollution and length of time we are exposed to it. People who suffer from lung or heart diseases, such as asthma, or the young or elderly are more at risk of suffering the effects of air pollution. Also, people who live in areas where their exposure to air pollution is over a longer period of time or at higher levels are also at greater risk of developing symptoms and problems with their health.
Air pollution can cause our eyes, nose and throat to become irritated. Some people may experience pain when breathing or start to cough. Breathing polluted air which contains dangerous chemicals can lead to the development of cancer, lung disease, heart and respiratory problems, brain and nerve damage and birth defects.
According to research, air pollution contributes to the death of about 2000 people every year in Scotland. That’s around 40 people a week and is ten times higher than people killed by traffic accidents. It also plays a significant role in reducing the average life expectancy of every person in the UK.

Impact on the Economy

Air pollution costs the UK economy around £16 billion per year. If people are off work because they are sick from illnesses caused by air pollution, businesses make less goods and in turn they make less money - meaning the government collects fewer taxes, which in turn means less money to invest in education, hospitals, transport and housing. Also the government has to spend money treating people who become sick because of air pollution.
Air pollution can also damage crops, forests and materials that businesses use.
Air pollution can make travelling difficult. The air pollution caused by a volcanic eruption in Iceland in 2010 closed European airspace for nearly a week and cost the economy $5bn
Damage to buildings from air pollution can cost money to repair.

Impact on Plants

Air pollutants can limit a plants ability to photosynthesise, reproduce and grow. Chemicals in the atmosphere can damage plants physically with brown spots, bleached areas or lesions appearing on leaves. High levels of nitrogen in soils and water can lead to the growth of toxic algae and some plants do not grow well in high nitrogen.

Impact on Animals

Some animals may experience similar health problems that we do such as respiratory (breathing) illnesses from air pollution. Pollution can make the environment toxic for some animals. Acid rain can pollute the water that marine animals call home and damage soil destroying food sources and habitats of other animals.

Impact on the Wider Environment

Damage to one aspect of an ecosystem and/or food chain can have a knock on effect on many other animal and plant species.
Pollution can lead to smog, damaged trees, forests, rivers/lakes and soil making the landscape unattractive and uninhabitable for some animals and plants.
Some air pollutants contribute to climate change. Climate change can lead to increasing temperatures, extreme weather, flooding, drought, melting of the ice caps and a loss of animal and plant habitats.

Click on each one to discover how each of these factors impacts on us and use the information to complete Activity Two in the Activity Sheet.

To learn more about the impact that air pollution has on our health click here: Science: Health

To learn more about the impact that air pollution has on the environment click here: Science: Environment

For more information on the impacts of Air Quality in Scotland, check out Scotland’s Environment Website

There is also a Homework Sheet you can download that supports and develops further the ideas from this section.