In simple terms, the majority of air pollution is caused by the combustion of fossil fuels — either for generating power or for powering transport — which result in emissions of nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, heavy metals, toxic organic micro-pollutants and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Industrial processes other than those that use combustion, such as coating processes, can also result in emissions of VOCs.

The four pollutants generally recognised to cause the most damage to human health are particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and ozone. Evidence shows that air pollution is responsible for tens of thousands of premature deaths worldwide, with more people affected by respiratory illnesses.

Vehicle emissions are regulated at a wider level through maximum allowable limits of emissions of specified pollutants per km, and at a local level through controls on traffic movements. Emissions from industrial processes are also typically regulated through controls on the activities themselves, and emission limit values for any releases to air.

This topic describes the measures to manage air pollution in the UK. See also our topic on Control of Emissions of Smoke, Dust and Grit.

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