When individual emissions of pollutants combine in an unpredictable way because of complex physical interactions and random perturbations, an ambient pollution problem arises. Water contamination is a widely studied case. Ambient or diffuse pollution occurs because complex processes (e.g. infiltration, agricultural practices) and random events (e.g. rainfalls) affect the concentration of pollutants in surface and ground waters. This contrasts to point source pollution, where effluents enter a river course at well-identified locations, such as pipe discharge. The use of pesticides and nitrogen in agriculture, emissions by mobile sources in the transportation sector, dumping in open sea and, at a larger scale, greenhouse gas emissions, are a few examples of the widespread phenomenon of ambient pollution. Traditional emission-based instruments, such as emission taxes, subsidies for abatement, standards and licences, which are based on individual emissions, do not readily apply to the ambient pollution case. The lack of low-cost monitoring technologies prevents the identification of individual emissions.
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