15 Main Sources of Toxic Air Pollutants Around the World

Toxic air pollutants are the type of pollutants that are surmised of causing cardiovascular diseases, asthma, respiratory diseases, cancer, reproductive effects, irritation in vital parts of the body, birth defects, damage to the health and immune system, and other dangerous health and environmental effects all around the world. (Click here to get information on ten major types of toxic or hazardous air pollutants.)

The main sources of toxic air pollutants around the world include, but may not be limited to:

1. Small chemical plants

Each small chemical plant around the world produces a variety of airborne solid, and liquid waste, along with toxic chemicals and pollutants that escape into the air in one way or another, increase the eventual cost of products (from the plants), and threaten human health and the environment.

2. Substantial accidental and intentional chemical discharges

This includes both accidental/unintentional and intentional leaks and spills which are sources of toxic air pollutants in various facilities around the world.

The EPA has drafted and established regulations under the Clean Air Act to employ risk management programs in preventing accidental chemical discharges; if they occur, then special techniques can be used to clean up the chemicals.

3. Aerospace manufacturing and repair/rework industries

This source of toxic air pollutants/pollution exists around the world in the form of industries that produce and/or repair aerospace vehicles and vehicle parts from space vehicles, helicopters, airplanes, and missiles.

Aerospace manufacturing industries produce toxic air pollutants such as chromium and methylene chloride which are discharged during paint stripping, priming, grinding, cleaning, and application.

4. Leaking of VOCs in small quantities from different areas

One of the greatest sources of toxic air pollutant emissions around the world is the leaking of VOCs from tanks, equipment, tanks, and their parts which may include pumps, compressors, valves, connectors, open-ended lines, sampling connections, and pressure-relief devices.

Leaking of VOCs, itself, in small quantities would not pose a significant problem; however, when small quantities from different areas around the world are added together, the result becomes a major problem.

It is believed that between 90% and 95% of VOC leakage around the world is due to gasket or seal failure as a result of wear and improper maintenance of connectors and valves.

5. Major point sources

These are special processes or stationary facilities or special processes that yield either at least 10 tons (per year) of a single contaminant or at least 25 tons (per year) of a mixture of toxic or hazardous air pollutants.

Major point sources of toxic air pollutants/pollution around the world include the fertilizer industry, the chemical industry, petroleum refineries, cement kilns, commercial, institutional, and industrial boilers, power plants, iron and steel manufacturing plants, solid waste incinerators, pulp and paper mills, and toxic waste storage, transfer, treatment, and disposal facilities.

6. Drycleaners

Drycleaners are used in many places around the world, and they are the largest sources of perchloroethylene emissions in the USA. They constitute a potential health hazard because their locations are usually close to large numbers of people and may cause nausea, headaches, dizziness, and cancer in some people.

7. Medical and infectious waste incinerators

These incinerators constitute the main source of toxic air pollutants around the world. The toxic air pollutants generated after incineration of solid waste (from veterinary clinics, nursing homes, hospitals, pharmaceutical research laboratories, and other surgical and medical facilities) include lead, mercury, dioxins, cadmium, etc.

8. Auto body and repair shops

Auto body shops and garages around the world engage in activities such as painting, welding, and paint stripping, and also replace and/or repair different components of vehicles.

Degreasers are commonly used in auto body and repair shops and other small and large industrial processes. Operations can generate a lot of dust, a variety of particulates, and also be the source of toxic or hazardous air pollutants such as chromium, lead, cadmium, VOCs, etc.

Auto body and repair shops also produce sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide which can increase the concentration of ground-level ozone.

9. Lawnmowers and garden tools/equipment

Lawnmowers and gardeners spill a considerable amount of fuel when filling their tools, equipment, or machines. Spilling becomes a pollutant hazard in air, water, and on land.

In the United States alone, lawnmowers and garden tools/equipment contribute about 5% of air pollutants. This amount increases in urban and suburban areas. One may consider how much it could be around the world.

Lawnmowers and garden tools/equipment may emit VOCs, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides.

10. Printing & publishing activities

Printing and publishing activities around the world include printers and facilities that produce packaging materials and paper products. VOCs are discharged from the cleaning of inks, wetting agents, and solvents, and larger printing & publishing plants can be a source of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. The toxic air pollutants discharged during printing & publishing activities include hexane, xylene, toluene, and methanol.

11. Gasoline distribution facilities and gas stations

This source of toxic air pollutants comprises of leakages from bulk terminals, rail cars, equipment, tank trucks, pipelines, storage areas, transferring areas, etc.

All over the world, there are countless underground gasoline storage tanks beneath the surface of gas stations. A considerable number of them are rusty, old, poorly maintained, or damaged, and most of them potentially contaminate land and surface water sources, and also cause air and land pollution.

Toluene, benzene, and eight other toxic air pollutants are usually present in the gasoline vapor that is emitted from gas distribution facilities and gas stations.

12. Off-site waste operations

In many parts of the world, off-site waste facilities are used to treat, store, and dispose of hazardous wastes which come from various industries and facilities, including solvent recycling facilities, industrial wastewater treatment facilities, used oil recovery facilities, etc. A legion of air toxics can be discharged from containers, tanks, process vents, equipment, and surface impoundments.

13. Shipyards

Ship manufacturing, maintenance, and repair is a major industry and source of toxic air pollutants around the world. Activities such as painting, stripping of old paint, and cleaning generate pollutants which contaminate air, water, and land.

Painting increases the quantity of particulate matter in the air and discharges a variety of VOCs. The toxic air pollutants released at shipyards from cleaning and painting operations include xylene, chlorinated compounds, toluene, solvents, etc. 

14. Surface coating & painting of materials

Surface coating and painting both protect and preserve the surfaces of wood, metals, plastics, and products for decoration. Glue and adhesives are typically used in many surface coating and painting operations, and solvents are used to clean surfaces and prepare them by removing unwanted material. The processes of cleaning, coating, and painting can produce toxic air pollutants and VOCs.

15. Wood furniture manufacturing

This source of toxic air pollutants includes all types of plants and cabinet shops that produce various kinds of residential and industrial furniture. The toxic air pollutants discharged during wood furniture manufacturing operations or processes (cleaning, gluing, and finishing) include xylene, formaldehyde, toluene, and methanol. These pollutants can cause irritation in the eye, nose, throat, and skin, and damage the kidneys, liver, and heart.

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