We talk a lot about vehicles as sources of air pollution. But what other sources of air pollution are there, and what can we as individuals do about them?

Energy generation and air pollution

In the UK the electricity that we use in our homes comes from a wide mix of sources, and some of these involve power stations burning materials such as coal, oil, gas and wood to generate the heat that drives the turbines. Energy generation is a major contributor to the UK's levels of NOx and SO2 emissions. 

Burning coal at home can also result in a lot of internal SO2. Burning solid fuel at home is the single largest source of PM2.5 in the UK, causing air pollution both inside and outside the home.

For more information on indoor sources of air pollution, see see tips for reducing air pollution indoors.

By keeping electricity use to a minimum (simple things like turning off lights and equipment when they are not being used can make a big difference to our electricity consumption), and supporting the switch to cleaner energy through green energy tariffs, we can help reduce the amount of fuel that’s burned to support the energy demand of the UK, and reduce the pollution generated.

Industry and air pollution

Lots of industrial processes create air pollution, including:

  • the production of cement, glass and paper
  • the chemical industry
  • the iron and steel industry
  • industrial use of solvents.

Farming and air pollution 

Some farming practices, including storing and spreading manures and inorganic fertilisers, are major contributors to the amount of ammonia in the UK.

Ammonia reacts with other gases in the atmosphere to create other molecules which contribute to particulate matter concentrations (PM2.5).

This particulate pollution can have impacts a long way away from where the ammonia is initially created, leading to increased concentrations in urban areas.

When ammonia from the air is deposited it can damage sensitive plant species and over-fertilise natural plant communities with too much nitrogen, leading to biodiversity loss.

We can control ammonia emissions from farms through incorporating some best practice including:

  • Spreading only as much slurry, manure or mineral fertiliser as your crops need
  • Covering slurry stores and manure heaps
  • Spreading slurry using a trailing shoe, trailing hose or injector
  • Incorporating manure into the soil quickly after spreading (at least within 12 hours)
  • Switching from urea-based fertilisers to ammonium nitrate or using urease inhibitors

What you can do

To find out about the current levels of air pollution in your area, and for more information from Defra, visit the UK Air Information Resource.

If you want to find out more about the UK's plans for clean air, you can read and contribute to the Defra Clean Air Strategy consultation.

Check out our infographic on the sources of air pollution, below (click on the image to see a larger version).

Download our air pollution infographic (pdf)