The Natural and Anthropogenic Causes of Air Pollution

Pollution is a major concern around the world. It can be caused by two basic process classifications:  Natural and Anthropogenic.


Of course, some air pollution can be the result of natural processes. These natural causes can include:

  • Microbial decaying process—microorganisms live in every environment on the planet and play a significant part in the natural decay processes of living organisms; all in all releasing natural gases (especially the very toxic methane)
  • Climate Change—abnormal heat (and cold shifts) can increase the overall amount of contaminants that volatize from polluted soil and polluted water
  • Volcanic activity—including both volcanic eruptions and smaller emissions of toxic gases (which can include sulfur and chlorine), as well as related particulate matter (like ash particles); though these are usually restricted to very localized areas
  • Radioactive decaying processes—as some elements decay, they become radioactive:  the Earth’s crust emits radon gas as it decays
  • Wildfires—naturally resulting from dry climates and high heat, these release carbon monoxide and particulate matter into the atmosphere
  • Winds and Air Currents—can mobilize all of these pollutants off the ground and through the air over great distances, further exacerbating existing issues


The types of air pollution we really need to be concerned about are anthropogenic—or, manmade—in nature. These could include:

  • Coal Power Plants—coal burning can emit various noxious gases and particulate matter
  • Construction and Demolition—related materials can result in pollution, particularly the destruction of older buildings, as they often contain now-banned chemicals
  • Mining and smelting—as metals are absorbed on/into particulate matter which emit into the air and suspend from the crushing and processing of various mineralogical deposits
  • Foundry activities—emit a variety of metals absorbed on particulate matter into the air and suspended as a result of the processing of metallic raw materials
  • Transportation—the emission of a series of air pollutants (which can include gases—carbon monoxide, sulfur and nitrogen oxides—as well as particulate matter) coming out of tailpipe exhaust from internal combustion engines
  • Mine tailing disposal—because they are of fine particulate nature (which result from the crushing and processing of mineral ores) mine tailing disposals make up various sources of metal in the ambient air, metals which can also spread over long distances
  • Agriculture—the application of pesticides and herbicides and insecticides can release toxic volatile organic compounds.