Major Examples of Primary Pollutants in Our Environment

examples of primary pollutants

Primary pollutants are types of pollutants that are directly harming the environment. These pollutants are usually harmful to human, plants and animals. Some examples of primary pollutants are carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide. In this article, I will be sharing some examples of primary pollutants and where it comes from. More importantly, how does it affect the environment and us.

Where does Primary Pollutants come from?

Most, if not all, of the primary pollutants that we see today are caused by human activities. Primary pollutants generally originate from many sources like:

  • Cars
  • Biomass
  • Volcanoes
  • Power plants
  • Natural forest fires

4 Examples of Primary Pollutants

Primary pollutants largely differ from secondary pollutants such that they do not form in the atmosphere unlike secondary pollutants. These primary pollutants include:

  • sulfur dioxide
  • nitrogen oxides
  • carbon monoxide
  • volatile organic compounds

Sulfur Oxides

Sulfur oxides are formed when fuels having sulfur undergoes combustion. Roasting sulfur ores also causes emission of sulfur oxides. Coal burning, eruption of volcanoes and non eco-friendly vehicles are other sources of sulfur oxide. The smell and taste of sulfur oxide can be noticed at a high concentration even though it is colorless.

Side Effects of Sulfur Oxides

Long exposure of plants to sulfur dioxide causes low yields, loss of leaves and even dying before they mature. Sulfate aerosols in the atmosphere, which are components of sulfur dioxide, reduces visibility thus causing smog and haziness. Dry acid depositions lowers the water PH that causes acidification. Sulfur oxides being components of acid rain they affect building stones.

Sulfur oxides are irritants that causes lung malfunction, respiratory diseases and irritation of nose, throat and eyes. Sulfurous acid that is formed by reaction of moisture and sulfur dioxide, fasters rusting in metals. Acidic gases from sulfur oxides emissions erodes limestone and marble. Sulfur can be removed during combustion by fluidizing the bed.

Nitrogen Oxides

Nitrogen oxides are poisonous and highly reactive gases that are formed after burning fuels at high temperatures. These gases are brown in color and they have chemical reactions other volatile organic compounds. The reactions lead to formation of smog during hot summer days.

Nitrogen oxides can lead to increased cases of respiratory illnesses and infections. Coal and oil are the major fossil fuels and they contain nitrogen. When burning these fuels to generate electricity, they produce fuel and thermal nitrogen oxides. Coal, oil and natural gas cannot be removed before combustion.

Therefore, nitrogen oxides can only be removed during or after combustion. Low nitrogen oxide burners can be used during combustion, to minimize nitrogen oxide emissions. Burning fuel at right-air fuel ratio leads to reduction of nitrogen oxide emissions. Reduction of nitrogen oxides formation is usually reduced by 30-55% using low nitrogen oxide burners,

Side Effects of Nitrogen Oxides

Nitrogen dioxide is very toxic to vegetation. It causes stunted growth, low yields and injuring of leaves. Nitrogen oxides also causes eutrophication. This is the depletion of oxygen in water bodies through the overgrowth of algae and thus harming ecosystem. Short-term exposure to nitrogen oxide can cause respiratory illness and infection to humans.

Long-term exposure to nitrogen dioxide can cause actual effects to the lungs. This is because it is an irritant, which is a major component of smog. Also in the atmosphere, nitrogen oxides can be changed into ozone and thus have its side effects to humans, animals and plants health.

Carbon Monoxide

This gas is formed due to incomplete combustion of fuels such as gasoline, propane oil, coal, wood or natural gases. It cannot be noticed without specialized tools because it is colorless and odorless. The sources of carbon monoxide include gas water heaters, wood stoves, furnaces and other appliances that use fuel.

Malfunction or misuse of the devices can cause the release of carbon monoxide. Other sources of carbon monoxide include tobacco smoke, blocked chimneys and car exhausts. Eruption of volcanoes, marsh gases, marine algae and forest fires also causes carbon monoxide. Other amounts of carbon monoxide are released from forest fires, ore and coal mining, food manufacturing, petroleum refining, electricity generation, concrete manufacturing and metal manufacturing.

Side Effects of Carbon Monoxide

In human body, it reduces the ability to carry oxygen within the blood. When carbon monoxide is lowly exposed, it can cause fatigue, impaired motor function, headache and shortness. When exposed for long time, it causes blurred vision, dizziness, difficulty in thinking and chest pain. It also may lead to coma convulsions and death. When carbon monoxide reacts with other pollutants, it forms ozone layer.

In order to refrain from carbon monoxide emissions, carbon monoxide detectors should be put in place to warn individuals in case of any danger. Devices like gas stoves, furnaces and fireplaces should be well maintained to prevent them from producing carbon monoxide. Idling vehicles in the garage should also not be allowed in garages for they emit carbon monoxide. 

Volcanic Organic Compounds

Volcanic organic compounds are given off from power plants and even trees. Reaction of these compounds with nitrogen oxides causes the formation of ground level ozone that is a harmful pollutant. They also play a major role in formation of smog and ozone. Different sources usually emit different forms of these compounds.

Volcanic organic compounds are produced through evaporation of liquids such as barbecue starter fluids, gasoline, cleaning products and industrial solvents. Vegetation is the major source of volatile organic compounds because it emits 5 times the emission of human sources. Improved regulation and public awareness leads diminishes these emissions. Gasoline is also pumped at night thus reducing the amounts that reacts with sunlight.


There are many examples of primary pollutants that are present in the atmosphere and in the environment. These pollutants usually have many negative effects to the humans and animals. Individuals should take a great care of the environment by ensuring that the pollutants are minimized thus reducing the chances of getting respiratory diseases and other ailments.

Clay Miller
the authorClay Miller
I am the creator/writer of Ways2GoGreen.com and Ways2GoGreenBlog.com. I'm an advocate for oceans, beaches, state parks. I enjoy all things outdoors (e.g. running, golf, gardening, hiking, etc.) I am a graduate of the University of Kentucky (Go Wildcats!!). I'm also a huge fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I was born and raised in the beautiful state of Kentucky.

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