What Are the Major Types of Air Pollutants?

Humans take in at least 23,000 breaths daily, either at home, work, or in the car. While these are a lot of breaths, most people aren’t conscious about it because breathing isn’t visible. However, what can’t be seen as well is the sheer amount of pollutants, which are invisible particles and gasses contaminating the air. Surprisingly, according to the World Health Organization, nine out of 10 people breathe unsafe air globally. Below are major types of air pollutants you should be worried about.

  1. Particulate matter

Also known as particulate pollution, they are a combination of solid and liquid substances that mix to form large particles that can cause havoc if inhaled. Particulate matter includes soot and dust (which are visible) and other invisible particles, making them a serious threat to indoor air quality. Particulate substances often take a toll on people with lung and heart diseases.

Particulate matter are of two sizes:

  • Fine particles – Also known as PM 2.5, they are particles that are equal to or less than 2.5 micrometers. Such particles are microscopic and invisible to the human eye, making them very hazardous. A study found that breathing in at least 1000 P.M 2.5 particles is equivalent to smoking more than 40 cigarettes daily.
  • Coarse particles – These are inhalable particles measuring between 2.5mm and 10mm. Common examples of P.M 10 pollutants include pollen, mold, and dust.
  1. Ozone

Ozone is a common greenhouse grass and is currently the second most dangerous gas that aggravates lung conditions like emphysema, asthma, and chronic bronchitis. Unlike particulate matter, ozone gas primarily affects people who spend most of their time outdoors. Good ozone, which isn’t hazardous, occurs naturally in the upper atmosphere, while bad ozone occurs on the ground surface, when chemical pollutants react in the presence of light.

  1. Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide is a common air pollutant that most people understand. Like other pollutants, this gas forms from burning fossil fuels, majorly from vehicles and industries. Dangers of carbon monoxide are common indoors, as it prevents the body from getting sufficient oxygen supply to the tissues.

General signs of carbon monoxide poisoning include unconsciousness, dizziness, and death if inhaled in high concentrations. Fortunately, you can leverage several air purification techniques to improve indoor air indoor quality.

  1. Nitrogen Oxide

Nitrogen oxide is another dangerous air pollutant that results from burning fossil fuels. What makes this gas very dangerous is its odorless and highly reactive properties. It reacts in the air with other particles to form particulate matter and ground-level ozone. It is also a major contributor to acidic rain. Several studies have linked increased nitrogen oxide levels to the rising cases of asthma, since it increases sensitivity to allergies, respiratory issues, and lung cancer.


Other dangerous air pollutants include sulfur oxides, ammonia, and lead. Long-term exposure to these gasses can lead to serious health effects. While exposure cannot be avoided, you can mitigate its effects by minimizing exposure and monitoring air quality. The best way to monitor your air quality is to invest in gas and particulate sensors. For this, Alphasense manufactures high-quality, industrial-grade air sensors that meet your needs.