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Where does air pollution come from?

What's polluting the air? Air pollution comes from lots of different sources and can be found in both rural and urban areas. 

Where does outdoor air pollution come from?

An illustration showing where air pollution can come from
Illustration of road transport vehicles

Road transport, including cars and delivery vehicles, is the main source of Nitrogen Dioxide.

Illustration of lit fireplace and logs

Household burning, such as the use of wood stoves and open fires, is the biggest contributor to Particulate Matter pollution.

Illustration of factory chimneys with smoke coming out of them

The biggest source of Sulphur Dioxide is from energy generation and industry, and the largest source of VOCs is the solvents in household products.

Illustration of farming machinery

Farming is the main source of ammonia and pollutants are also created from other sources of transport such as planes, trains and boats.

Where does indoor air pollution come from?

Air pollution isn’t just about the outdoor world. There are many sources of indoor air pollution that can harm health. Studies have found that as much as 90% of the day is spent indoors so it is important to consider how to create clean air at home. Children for example spend most of their time indoors, with just 68 minutes spent outside on an average day. Too many of our homes and schools are damp and poorly ventilated – this may be damaging the health of children.

Illustration of saucepan

Cooking, smoking and burning solid fuels (e.g. wood, coal, and charcoal), which generate particulate matter (PM), as well as other pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and carbon monoxide (CO).

Line drawing of woman with boiler

Domestic appliances (boilers, heaters, fires, stoves and ovens), which burn carbon containing fuels (coal, coke, gas, kerosene/paraffin and wood) that can emit carbon monoxide (CO) as well as other pollutants if not properly maintained or vented.

Line drawing of sofa

New furniture and furnishings, which can be sources of pollutants such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or formaldehyde.

Line drawing of woman in door of house

Building materials (including fittings and flooring), which can emit volatile organic compounds.

Line drawing of aerosol can

Consumer products, including household (e.g. paints, aerosols, cleaning products and candles) and personal care products (cosmetics, hair sprays), which can emit volatile organic compounds and semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs).

Illustration of man with flame and gases

Flame retardants, pesticides and disinfectants, which can release semi-volatile organic compounds.

Illustration of man working at desk with cat

Biological sources, including mould, house dust mites, bacteria, pests and pet dander which can also lead to poorer indoor air quality.

Illustration of person breathing in particles

Naturally occurring pollutants can also lead to poor indoor air quality. For example, radon is a colourless, odourless radioactive gas that is formed by the decay of elements that occur naturally in rocks and soils, and can also be found in certain building materials and water. If you're concerned about Radon, you can get more information and advice at UKradon.