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Air Pollution 

Industrial PlantThe constant movement and mixing of air masses allow the atmosphere to absorb a certain amount of air pollution.  Emissions from cars and trucks, smokestacks, chimneys, and flare stacks are mixed with the air, diluted, and moved away.  Air pollution occurs when these emissions are too concentrated for the air to move away or when conditions in the atmosphere disperse emissions too slowly.

When the air is very still, mixing and dispersal are very slow.  Sometimes the air near the ground is cool and the upper air is warm.  The warm air acts like a cap, preventing the air from mixing.  This is called an inversion.  When this takes place air pollution can build up and exceed standards because emissions cannot escape.

Air pollution is a more serious problem in cities than it is in rural areas.  This is because there are more sources for emissions in a city.  Major sources of pollution are: exhaust from cars and trucks, industrial emissions, electrical generating plants (coal and natural gas), fireplaces and home heating.  In urban areas of Alberta, the major source of pollutants is vehicle exhaust.  In rural areas, oil and gas processing, power plants, pulp mills, wood and paper processing, forestry and some agricultural activities contribute to air pollution.  

Reprinted from Focus On Air Quality  (1993) with permission of Alberta Environment.

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