Easily understand air pollution

Welcome to our complete dossier on air pollution.

At R-PUR; we believe that a global understanding of air pollution would help to change mentalities faster.

We are therefore committed to explaining simply what air pollution is, what is responsible for it, and what you can do to protect yourself.


In this comprehensive article on how to easily understand air pollution, we will cover the following topics:

1. The composition of air

2. The main air pollutants

3. Means of measuring air pollution in France

4. The ATMO index

5. The causes of air pollution

6. Natural causes of air pollution

7. The influence of meteorological conditions on air quality

8. The impact of air pollution on health

9. The impact of air pollution on the environment

10. The recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO)

11. Solutions for better air quality

1. What is the air we breathe made of?

"Air" is the name we give to the mixture of gases that make up the earth's atmosphere.

The composition, physical and chemical properties of air are very similar around the world.

Our air is therefore a gaseous mixture mainly composed of 78% nitrogen (N2) and 21% oxygen (O2).

The remaining percentage is a complex mixture of other gases such as carbon dioxide, helium and argon.

However, the air we breathe is never pure, since it is regularly polluted, largely by human activity but also by nature.

We will focus on how air is polluted, measured, regulated, in France and in the world, and the dangers of its pollution for our health.

2. What are the main air pollutants?

There are two categories of air pollutants:

- primary pollutants, emitted directly: nitrogen monoxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, particles (or dust), heavy metals, volatile organic compounds, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons...

It is therefore an air pollutant emitted directly by a given source.

- secondary pollutants resulting from physico-chemical transformations between air pollutants under the effect of particular meteorological conditions: ozone, nitrogen dioxide, particles)

This pollutant is therefore not emitted directly as such, but is formed when other pollutants (primary pollutants) react in the atmosphere.

And when the word VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) is mentioned, what are they?

Many pollutants are identified under the acronym VOC, the best known being benzene. It is also the only pollutant regulated to date.

A VOC substance is a substance that is defined both by its composition (organic), and by its volatility (it can change from a solid state to a gaseous state under normal conditions of pressure and temperature).

Some 400 different types of volatile organic compounds can be found in the air today, and several thousand substances in commerce meet the definition of VOCs.

What about heavy metals?

Heavy metals are metallic elements that occur naturally in the environment and are used extensively in industry.

This term is used when talking about air pollution because it can be found in the form of very fine dust and can be toxic in high concentrations.

To be more precise on their composition, in the European law, they are defined as such:

"A heavy metal means any compound of antimony, arsenic, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel, selenium, tellurium, thallium and tin, as well as these materials in metallic form, provided that they are classified as hazardous substances."

Now that we have listed the different pollutants that make up our air, let's see which ones are monitored and regulated, and how they are listed in France.

3. How do we judge air quality in France?

The French territory is covered with networks of pollution measuring stations.

In total, there are 1900 analysers, on 670 measuring stations.

An optimal pollution measurement is then ensured by mobile stations, or by direct investigations on the ground.

These measurements will then be used by all the AASQA, Associations Agréées de Surveillance de la Qualité de l'Air.

Approved by the State, they have a strong expertise in the continuous monitoring of the air we breathe and in the accompaniment in the ecological transition with public and private actors but also the general public.

Their missions can be summarized in four points:

-Monitor and forecast pollution episodes.

-Inform and