Can the word pollute be used in the same context as emit? For example,

It emitted harmful chemicals into the environment.
It polluted harmful chemicals into the environment.

Everything I've found so far in my searches only seems to allow

It polluted the environment with harmful chemicals.

  • 5
    The direct object of 'pollute' is usually the thing that is made dirty (e.g. the environment), not the thing that is doing the dirtying (e.g. chemicals). Your sentence "It polluted harmful chemicals into the environment" is easily understood, but very non-standard (I'd be interested in seeing frequency data). I would not use it.
    – DyingIsFun
    Aug 7, 2016 at 18:36
  • 2
    'To pollute [something] into [something]' isn't English (yet; I hope). Although it is used on some if the Internet.
    – Řídící
    Aug 7, 2016 at 19:16
  • What Silenus said.
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 7, 2016 at 19:52

4 Answers 4


Q) Can the word pollute be used in the same context as emit?

A) No, I can't think of any context that allows this. Here, emit is cause and pollute is effect. Can you use cause and effect interchangeably?

It emitted harmful chemicals into the environment.

This is fine.

It polluted harmful chemicals into the environment.

This does not look like correct usage. If this sentence is even allowed, it probably (probably incorrectly) means: The harmful chemicals in question are polluted by it. I am not sure where into the environment even fits here.

From M-W:

pollute verb

to make unfit for use by the addition of something harmful or undesirable

Synonyms: befoul, defile, foul, poison,contaminate, taint

poison verb  

: to put a harmful or deadly substance in or on (something)

So, the sentence fragment

It polluted harmful chemicals


It put a harmful or deadly substance in harmful chemicals.

I hope it is clear why that doesn't make much sense.


This seems to be a question of clearly ascribing meaning to the function of an object or system with an associated value judgement regarding the use of the object or system. To start with, you should try to avoid using words that ascribe connotations of ethical or moral value directly to inanimate objects, if possible.

Moving on, in civil engineering we often use the term 'released' rather than 'emit,' because it is succinct, unambiguous and relatively untainted in terms of subjective connotations, though 'emit' works, too.

So, as an alternative: 'It released harmful chemicals into the environment.'

Perfectly functional statement.

As a simple alternative, you could say: 'It released pollutants into the environment."

If you want your reader to see both 'harmful chemicals' and a form of the word 'pollution' in the sentence, you could say: 'It released pollutants with harmful chemicals into the environment."

Hope that helps.


Emit is closer to "producing" (could be more neutral to the medium or environment), while pollute often relates to "mixing" (generally harmful, negative) in something that already exists.

One can neutrally emit CO2 (etymology: sent out, with the root ex-, meaning from), even if the environment is already CO2-loaded. But you can pollute a CO2 place with O2 emissions, for instance, if you share (for a moment) the point of view (or the point of breath) of an organism to which O2 is a poison.

  • Your last sentence could use some work. I understood it only by changing CO2 to O2 and thinking of plants emitting O2 into the atmosphere today in contrast to cyanobacteria polluting the atmosphere with their O2 emissions 2.3 billion years ago -- pollution from the point of view of anaerobic bacteria which populated the earth then.
    – ab2
    Aug 7, 2016 at 20:59
  • @ab2 I do not really get your comment: if the volume is already full of CO2, you can still emit CO2. But you do not pollute a CO2 place while emitting CO2... Aug 7, 2016 at 21:03
  • I was trying to politely tell you that the second sentence of your answer is not well written, to the point that I checked your bio to see if you had a science background. You do; I agree that you know what you are talking about. I still think your example, as worded, requires too much work from the reader.
    – ab2
    Aug 7, 2016 at 21:49
  • @ab2 I have no concern about politeness here. This SE place is one of the most aggressive of those I do visit. Indeed a CO2-prone being could be polluted by O2, if I understand your comment. I shall rephrase my answer. Aug 7, 2016 at 21:56

In short, not really. To emit is to discharge or produce something and is generally used for light, electricity, gas, radiation, carbon monoxide. It can also be used as a positive connotation in poems or writings, "she emits such radiance", etc.

To pollute is to contaminate something with harmful substances. This one is guaranteed to mean one thing only. Again, it can be used in free writing and used as a literary style "his demeanor is dark, he pollutes the minds of young one"

As you can see however, many times both words are not interchangeable.

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