Major Pollutants

After years of research into various pollutants and how they can affect us, experts have identified eight pollutants that are more harmful to us than others. In Scotland we only have problems with a few of these.

Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2)

This is a gas made up of nitrogen and oxygen. It forms in air from the exhaust emissions from cars, buses, trucks and power plants. One of the biggest man-made sources of nitrogen dioxide in Scotland is from road traffic emissions, with some emissions also arising from power stations and other industrial sources.

Carbon monoxide (CO)

This is a colourless, odourless, tasteless gas that is a bit lighter than air. High levels of carbon monoxide are toxic to humans. It is produced from incomplete combustion (burning).

Fine Particles (PM10)

Fine particles, or PM10, are tiny specks of dust that float around in the air.
The size of dust we are interested in is much smaller than the width of a human hair, so tiny it cannot be seen by the naked eye.

This size of particle is of most interest to us because it can be breathed deep into our lungs where it can cause health problems, making existing breathing problems and asthma worse.

Fine particles can be made up of natural things like sea salt, pollen and sub-Saharan dust, which has been carried high into the atmosphere and deposited in Scotland! 

One of the biggest man-made sources of fine particles in Scotland is road traffic emissions. This can be directly from the exhaust pipe of vehicles and also from dust from brakes and tyres which gets stirred up and goes back into the air as traffic drives over it.

After exploring the three main pollutants: carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and fine particles, the pupils can then explore other pollutants that affect the quality of our air we breathe.

Possible pollutants to consider are:

  • Sulphur Dioxide
  • Ozone (which is formed in the air by other pollutants)
  • Methane (although this is not ‘measured’, it still has an affect on the environment)

Continue to Major Pollutants Activity