aka Chalky, aka Mr White
And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.
— Revelation 6:2, King James edition
In the traditional reckoning of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, this horseman is Pestilence. However, apparently Pestilence retired in 1936, “muttering about penicillin” (263), and Pollution took over.
“His skin was pale, his hair a faded blond, his eyes light gray. He was somewhere in his twenties at a casual glance, and a casual glance was all anyone ever gave him. […] He was almost entirely unmemorable” (64).
A later passage amplifies the description: “Farther down the riverbank sat a young man dressed all in white. […] His hair was white, his skin chalk pale. […] He looked like Victorian Romantic poets looked just before the consumption and drug abuse really started to cut it” (185). A little later, it’s specified that his hair is long (263).
For the most part, however, nobody notices him. That’s how he works. “He was unobtrusive; his presence was cumulative” (65). He’s responsible for massive oil spills, for nuclear plant meltdowns, for the development of “the petrol engine, and plastics, and the ring-pull can” (65). As the Apocalypse approaches, his powers seem to grow: when he touched the silver crown that is his badge of office as a Horseperson, “tarnish […] suffuse[d] its silver surface [and] spread to cover it completely,” (187) so the crown is now black, and when he arrives at the diner where the Horsepeople are gathering, “the wind blew empty crisp packets and newspapers and ice cream wrappers in with him. They danced around his feet like excited children, then fell exhausted to the floor.” The waitress can’t find clean cups: “the entire rack seemed suddenly to have been coated in a light film of motor oil and dried egg” (261).
As far as personality, he doesn’t seem to have one. He enjoys his job: to him, a polluted river is “all so damn beautiful” (186), and when R. P. Tyler indignantly asks how he would feel “if I came over to your house and dropped litter everywhere,” Pollution “smile[s] wistfully. ‘Very, very pleased,’ he breathed. ‘Oh, that would be wonderful‘” (319). But the closest to human he gets is while discussing the coming Apocalypse with the other Horsepeople. “I thought there’d be trumpets […] I can’t say I imagined it’d be somewhere like this, either. I thought it’d be, well, a big city. Or a big country. New York, perhaps. Or Moscow. Or Armageddon itself” (326). Once the Horsepeople have entered the airbase, whatever human traits fall by the wayside in favor of “the part of them that did not walk and talk like human beings” (338). Pollution glistens, and “while still walking, nevertheless gave the impression of oozing” (338).
Pollution is the last of the three Horsepeople who fall, and is the only one who tries to avoid his fate: “[he] had already started to run, or at least to flow quickly, but Brian snatched the circle of grass stalks from his own head and flung it. It shouldn’t have handled like one, but a force took it out of his hands and it whirred like a discus. […] This time the explosion was a red flame inside a billow of black smoke, and it smelled of oil” (343).
He has gone “where they belong […] where they have always been. Back in the minds of man” (344). There is no indication as to whether he can return in human form.