Air pollution is the presence of chemicals in the earth's atmosphere that are not a normal part of the atmosphere. In other words, air pollution is contaminated air.
Air contamination is divided into two broad categories: primary and secondary. Primary pollutants are those released directly into the air. Some examples include dust, smoke, and a variety of toxic chemicals, such as lead, mercury, vinyl chloride and carbon monoxide. The exhaust from vehicles and industrial smokestacks are examples of primary pollution.
Secondary pollutants are created or modified after being released into the atmosphere. In secondary pollution, a compound is released into the air. This compound is then modified into some other form, either by reaction with another chemical present in the air or by a reaction with sunlight (a photochemical reaction). The altered compound is the secondary pollutant. Smog that gathers above many cities is a prime example of secondary air pollution.
Pollution of the atmosphere occurs in the bulk of the atmosphere that is within 40-50 mi (64.4-80.5 km) of Earth's surface. Nitrogen and oxygen make up 99% of the atmosphere; the remaining components are argon, carbon dioxide, neon, helium, methane, krypton, hydrogen, xenon, and ozone. Ozone is concentrated in a band that is 12-30 mi (19-48 km) above Earth's surface.
Smog can be damaging to human health because of the formation of ozone. A complex series of chemical reactions involving volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxides, sunlight, and molecular oxygen create highly
reactive ozone molecules containing three oxygen atoms. The ozone that is present higher up in the atmosphere is beneficial. It provides an important shield against harmful ultraviolet radiation in sunlight. Closer to the ground, however, ozone is highly damaging to both living organisms and building materials.
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