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Industrial Revolution Pollution Essay

Industrial Pollution

With the coming of the Industrial Revolution, humans were able to advance further into the 21st century. Technology developed rapidly, science became advanced and the manufacturing age came into view. With all of these came one more effect, industrial pollution. Earlier, industries were small factories that produced smoke as the main pollutant.

However, since the number of factories were limited and worked only a certain number of hours a day, the levels of pollution did not grow significantly. But when these factories became full scale industries and manufacturing units, the issue of industrial pollution started to take on more importance.

Any form of pollution that can trace its immediate source to industrial practices is known as industrial pollution. Most of the pollution on the planet can be traced back to industries of some kind. In fact, the issue of industrial pollution has taken on grave importance for agencies trying to fight against environmental degradation. Countries facing sudden and rapid growth of such industries are finding it to be a serious problem which has to be brought under control immediately.

Industrial pollution takes on many faces. It contaminates many sources of drinking water, releases unwanted toxins into the air and reduces the quality of soil all over the world. Major environmental disasters have been caused due to industrial mishaps, which have yet to be brought under control. Below are few of the causes of industrial pollution that have resulted in environment degradation.

Causes of Industrial Pollution

1. Lack of Policies to Control Pollution: Lack of effective policies and poor enforcement drive allowed many industries to bypass laws made by pollution control board which resulted in mass scale pollution that affected lives of many people.

2. Unplanned Industrial Growth: In most industrial townships, unplanned growth took place wherein those companies flouted rules and norms and polluted the environment with both air and water pollution.

3. Use of Outdated Technologies: Most industries still rely on old technologies to produce products that generate large amount of waste. To avoid high cost and expenditure, many companies still make use of traditional technologies to produce high end products.

4. Presence of Large Number of Small Scale Industries: Many small scale industries and factories that don’t have enough capital and rely on government grants to run their day-to-day businesses often escape environment regulations and release large amount of toxic gases in the atmosphere.

5. Inefficient Waste Disposal:Water pollution and soil pollution are often caused directly due to inefficiency in disposal of waste. Long term exposure to polluted air and water causes chronic health problems, making the issue of industrial pollution into a severe one. It also lowers the air quality in surrounding areas which causes many respiratory disorders.

6. Leaching of Resources From Our Natural World: Industries do require large amount of raw material to make them into finished products. This requires extraction of minerals from beneath the earth. The extracted minerals can cause soil pollution when spilled on the earth. Leaks from vessels can cause oil spills that may prove harmful for marine life.

Effects of Industrial Pollution

1. Water Pollution: The effects of industrial pollution are far reaching and liable to affect the eco-system for many years to come. Most industries require large amounts of water for their work. When involved in a series of processes, the water comes into contact with heavy metals, harmful chemicals, radioactive waste and even organic sludge.

These are either dumped into open oceans or rivers. As a result, many of our water sources have high amount of industrial waste in them which seriously impacts the health of our eco-system. The same water is then used by farmers for irrigation purpose which affects the quality of food that is produced.

Water pollution has already rendered many ground water resources useless for humans and wildlife. It can at best be recycled for further usage in industries.

2. Soil Pollution:Soil pollution is creating problems in agriculture and destroying local vegetation. It also causes chronic health issues to the people that come in contact with such soil on a daily basis.

3. Air Pollution:Air pollution has led to a steep increase in various illnesses and it continues to affect us on a daily basis. With so many small, mid and large scale industries coming up, air pollution has taken toll on the health of the people and the environment.

4. Wildlife Extinction: By and large, the issue of industrial pollution shows us that it causes natural rhythms and patterns to fail, meaning that the wildlife is getting affected in a severe manner. Habitats are being lost, species are becoming extinct and it is harder for the environment to recover from each natural disaster. Major industrial accidents like oil spills, fires, leak of radioactive material and damage to property are harder to clean-up as they have a higher impact in a shorter span of time.

5. Global Warming: With the rise in industrial pollution, global warming has been increasing at a steady pace. Smoke and greenhouse gases are being released by industries into the air which causes increase in global warming. Melting of glaciers, extinction of polar beers, floods, tsunamis, hurricanes are few of the effects of global warming.

The issue of industrial pollution concerns every nation on the planet. As a result, many steps have been taken to seek permanent solutions to the problem. Better technology is being developed for disposal of waste and recycling as much polluted water in the industries as possible. Organic methods are being used to clean the water and soil, such as using microbes that naturally uses heavy metals and waste as feed. Policies are being pushed into place to prevent further misuse of land. However, industrial pollution is still rampant and will take many years to be brought under control.

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Rinkesh is passionate about clean and green energy. He is running this site since 2009 and writes on various environmental and renewable energy related topics. He lives a green lifestyle and is often looking for ways to improve the environment around him.

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In 2014, over 230 years after the Industrial Revolution began in London, England, the effects of industrialization are still felt. Air pollution levels are still extremely high in England. While most of the pollution does not come from the factories that were introduced during the Industrial Revolution but rather cars and residential emissions, it is because of this industrialization that occurred so long ago that England is able to live the way they do and create the pollution that fills their air. Over 5,000 miles away in Beijing, China whose industrialization began only a mere 60 years ago, a scene even worse is observed. Their air is full of toxic pollution. In some places it is even difficult to see in front of yourself because the air all around you is so dirty and polluted.[1]

Although occurring decades to even centuries apart, the industrialization in England and China bear similarities as well as differences. England industrialized their nation over a period of about 50 years, and faced environmental consequences as a result of this industrial development. England has put environmental regulations and policies into law to control this pollution. China also went through industrialization just as England did, yet China’s was much more rapid. A great deal of industrialization occurred during the Great Leap Forward from 1958-1961. China’s industrialization led to a great deal of pollution just as England’s Industrial Revolution did, and as the problem got worse, laws were put into place to control this pollution. Unlike England, these laws are not enforced, and pollution in China continues to rise.

Between 1780 and 1830, England went through a period of great industrial growth, and the lives of people would be forever transformed. A period of economic growth in the 1700’s in England set the stage for this industrialization. As the economy grew so did urban growth; people began moving out of the countryside and into urban areas. The population of these urban areas began to increase rapidly. In fact, between 1550 and 1820, the population in the urban areas of England grew a staggering 280% while populations in other countries in Europe such as France and Germany only grew about 50% during that same time period.[2] As population increased in England, the demand for goods amplified as well. This high demand for goods created the need for an increase in production as well as efficiency; this helped pave the way for England to begin industrializing itself. In this time of industrialization, labor began to move from agriculturally based production to factories. This switch from manual labor to work in factories allowed for mass production, a rise in efficiency, and a decrease in the cost of production.[3]

This industrialization was great news for the economy in England. Goods were finally able to be made quickly and there was a profit coming off of them, too. Yet this transition from agricultural labor to factory work did not come problem free. A newspaper article from 1921, although years after the Industrial Revolution began, speaks of the effects of these factories and industrial work. The skies were dark, full of vaporized tar and soot coming from the factories. The atmosphere above the people of London was polluted with toxic gases. Those gases in the air were even causing corrosion on metals and stones that filled the city. One’s own body could feel the effects of this polluted air, too. This dirty air choked the lungs of people and animals alike. It also caused harm to plants surrounding the city. The only day people may get a breath of fresh air was on a Sunday when the factories were not in use. Even then the air was extremely dirty; Sunday air still contained “two-thirds the quantity of dirt found on the week-days”.[4] While using open fires and coal to run their factories, England would face this horrible, deadly pollution in their air. At the time, England was trying to find new sources of fuel to run their factories to try to limit the amount of fire and smoke created. There was even talk of creating a smokeless fuel in the 1920’s, yet because of cost and disagreement, change was still a ways away.[5]

Interestingly enough, although smoke from coal combustion in factories did lead to pollution in the air, nearly 85% of all smoke in England at the time was due to domestic hearths and fireplaces. Hundreds of thousands of people had these open hearths in their homes “often burning sulfurous bituminous coal with insufficient oxygen”, filling the air with sulfur dioxide particles.[6] All of this smoke eventually lead to an increase in fog, or smog as many people call it, around the city of London which is still extremely common today. In 1952 came an extremely deadly week of smog called the Killer Fog or the Great Smog. For five days, the people of London were trapped in fog, and it was deadly. London was nearly blacked out by the fog, for it was so thick. The thick and dense fog was full of thousands of tons of coal and soot particles that were now trapped in the city’s atmosphere. The air reeked of rotten eggs, and the ground was covered in slippery, black grease. At its worst point, one could barely even see their own two feet as they walked the streets. By the time one got home after being outside, they would be wheezing and coughing and parts of the body dirtied by the polluted air. It was advised that people stay indoors, for the air was too unsafe to be breathing. It is estimated that anywhere from 4,000 to 12,000 people died from the effects of this smog throughout the course of the next six months.[7]

As one could tell from these accounts, the factories and hearths in use during the time of industrialization created pollution that held consequences. First of all, as seen from these two accounts, the factories creates smoke. As the smoke fills the air, it dirties the air and creates smog. As people breathe in the air around them, their lungs fill with the toxins that were once held in the air. Breathing this pollutant filled air affects one’s lungs and breathing, and it can even lead to deadly diseases such as lung cancer and COPD. The pollution created by industrialization also affects water. The toxins released from the factories go straight into the air and when it rains, it is not fresh water that is falling to the ground; it is acid rain. This acid rain contaminates water as it falls from the clouds, leaving little fresh water for people and animals to consume. It also kills plants and aquatic life. Overall, pollution creates nothing but harmful effects.[8]

Because pollution is so harmful to humans, animals, and plants alike, the English government knew something must be done to control this pollution. Over the past couple hundred years, many laws have been created and implemented in England in order to help regulate pollution. One of the first acts was called the Public Health Act which was put into law in 1875. This act had a section on smoke abatement; it tried to control the amount of smoke being released from factories, trains, and hearths in order to regulate air and water pollution. A last law put into place was the Clean Air Act of 1956. It was at this time smoke control areas were introduced. In these areas, only smokeless fuels could be used and burned.  This act also controlled chimney heights on hearths in hopes of reducing the amount of smoke released into the air. Another thing this act did was it prohibited the emission of dark smoke from chimneys or factories with some exceptions. In this act, smoke was considered “dark” once it reached a certain shade of dark gray. Once it got to this point, the factory would be guilty of an offence and face punishment. It was at this time that air quality standards were put into place as well. With all of these measures taken by the English government, pollution in England was slowly being controlled and reduced, yet it is still nowhere near eliminated. [9]

Although it was decades upon decades later, China went through a period of industrialization as well. During the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, a great deal of industrialization occurred in China. The rural industrialization during the 50’s-70’s was a time of hurried development and modernization of China’s immense countryside. This rural industrialization transformed thousands of villages into towns and towns into cities, creating a modern industrial nation. One line that describes this period of industrialization in China is “Leave the land and the village; enter the factory and the city.”[10] The vast countryside that once filled China was either being abandoned by people leaving the country for the city or transformed by factories being built left and right on the land.

The way in which China was industrialized was different than England. England went through industrialization over a period of fifty years while China industrialized by using “Five Year Plans”. During the five years in which these plans would occur, rapid industrialization took place. The first Five-Year Plan took place from 1953–57. During this time, a great deal of construction took place; plants and factories were built as well as equipment that would be used in heavy industry. Iron and steel industries were also being created. Because all of this new industry was being produced, there was a great increase in productive capacity. The second and greatest five year plan occurred during the time of Mao Zedong’s rule in which he proposed national industrialization; this period of industrialization was called the Maoist Great Leap Forward. The Great Leap Forward was a mass movement of rural industrialization that held the plan to transform China from a primarily agrarian economy into a modern society within a five year span. During this time of industrialization, the commune system was used. Nearly 2.6 million commune enterprises were built and put into place around China within this time period. Within these communes came the infamous backyard iron and steel furnaces. Nearly 600,000 iron and steel establishments were built in less than one year’s time. Approximately 2.4 million tons of iron and more than half a million tons of steel were produced from these backyard iron and steel furnaces during that short period of time. Along with these communes came the construction and use of factories all over China. These factories added significantly to the levels of production in China.[11]

While the rapid economic and industrial growth in China since the 50’s has helped modernize the nation, it has come with an environmental price. As China tried to recreate the Industrial Revolution that made the West rich, it developed much too quickly. China made all of the same mistakes that the Western countries did in the 19th century regarding industrialization and pollution. Many if not most of the factories built in China ran-on and burned coal as a source of fuel. When England was first industrialized, its factories ran on coal as well. And just like England’s factories, the factories in China created pollution that dirtied the air and water supply.[12] The pollution from factories in China is widespread, and it is definitely a huge problem, especially today. Industrial pollution contaminates the water, soil, and air in China. In fact, China is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and they have the highest levels of air pollution in the world; 16/20 of the world’s most polluted cities are found in China. [13] This pollution puts millions of people’s health at risk. One effect of the air pollution in China is it causes respiratory problems[14]; nearly 656,000 Chinese citizens die a year due to diseases caused by this air pollution.[15]

The pollution in the air in China does not solely come from factories created during their industrialization; it also comes from motor vehicles and burning agricultural waste, yet a significant portion of the pollution comes from coal combustion from factories and industrial use. Coal is China’s primary energy source. In fact, China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of coal. The use of this coal causes a lot of pollution. The factories that burn this coal have released over 10 million tons of coal soot and over 15 million tons of sulfur dioxide into the air, and the burning

of coal in China accounts for 12% of the carbon emissions globally.[16] It is even found that levels of pollution in the air are found to be 100 times worse than in London. With numbers like this, it is easy to see that air pollution is a huge problem in China. Yet it is not only their air that is polluted; water pollution was and still is horrible as well. Often times garbage and untreated waste are dumped right into the water, and the once clean and fresh water becomes contaminated. Less than a quarter of the main waterways in China are considered suitable for consumption; most of the water is too polluted and contaminated to drink. Because of this, many people rely on contaminated water as their source of water. This contaminated water kills nearly 96,000 people a year. And if that is not horrible enough, the marine life that once thrived in the waters of China have basically disappeared due to the contamination and pollution.[17]

There are many accounts out there that describe what it is like living in such a polluted place, and nearly all of them will tell you the same thing. When going outside, one could see the smoke rising from the factories. The factories oozed exhaust and dark smoke that was sent straight into the air. Conditions were even worse if you lived near a factory. Going outside meant one might start to cough, feel nauseous, or get a sore throat. If a person was to hang their clothes out to dry, it would be of no use; the black fallout from adjacent factories sent the once clean clothes back to the wash. In living near a factory, one basically lived in a cloud of dust and smoke which is in no way healthy.[18]

The people of China once held the idea that China would “avoid pollution simply through socialist planning”, yet they’ve come to realize they must do something about pollution, and that they cannot “promote economic development without considering the protection of the environment”.[19] While more than one hundred strict environmental laws have been put into place to help control pollution, many are ignored by government leaders who are more focused on economic growth.[20] “Environmental Protection Bureaus (EPBs)… have done little to fulfill their obligation to monitor emissions… and enforce environmental regulations that stipulate a factory or polluting entity must be improved or removed when it endangers public health”. [21] Companies do have to pay fines if they violate laws, yet the maximum fines are so small they would rather pay the fines than make drastic changes to their company and install anti-pollution measures. It is also more difficult for China to make a change in their environment, for their population is much larger than other developed countries when those countries faced severe pollution from their industrial actions.[22] So while China has put environmental protection and pollution control policies into law, these laws have not created much if any change in the amount of pollution factories are emitting.

China and England both share similarities in their industrialization, pollution, and pollution laws. While the time and the length of their industrialization differ, both countries went through a process of industrialization that developed and modernized their country. Both countries also faced widespread pollution as a result of this industrialization. What is different about these two countries is how they dealt with this pollution. While England has created laws and enforced said laws, China has not enforced their policies. As long as China does not implement their laws, the pollution in China will continue to worsen, and this pollution will continue to create damaging effects on China, their citizens, and even the Earth as a whole. And although industrialization occurred at different times and in different ways in Britain and China, the environmental devastation wrought in both cases helps to show the detrimental effects of industrialization. Hopefully these two cases will be known to other countries around the world as they begin to industrialize themselves, for it is much more damaging and difficult to clean up the mess of industrialization later than it is to do it right from the start.

 

Footnotes: 

[1] “UK air pollution: How bad is it?” BBC News. 2 April 2014. http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-26851399. Web.

[2] Edward Anthony, Continuity, Chance, and Change: The Character of the Industrial Revolution in England. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 13.

[3] Edward Anthony, Continuity, Chance, and Change: The Character of the Industrial Revolution in England. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 8-15.

[4] “Coal Fires and London Air.” The London Times,August 23, 1921.

[5] “Coal Fires and London Air.” The London Times, August 23, 1921; Edward Anthony, Continuity, Chance, and Change: The Character of the Industrial Revolution in England. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 16-17.

[6] Tamara Whited, Northern Europe: an Environmental History. (Santa Barbara: California, 2005), 112.

[7] Tamara Whited, Northern Europe: an Environmental History. (Santa Barbara: California, 2005), 112-113; “London Fog Tie-Up Lasts For 3D Day: Blanket Shows No Sign of Lifting,” New York Times, Dec 8, 1952; Eric Nagourney, “Why the Great Smog of London Was Anything but Great.” New York Times, August 12, 2003.

[8] Barnaby, Frank. “Air Pollution in the UK.” Ambio 18, 3 (1989): 200-203.

[9] Mister, Alan. “Britains Clean Air Acts.” The University of Toronto Law Journal 20, 2 (1970): 268-273).

[10] Zhang, Zhihong. “Rural industrialization in China: From backyard furnaces to township village enterprises.” East Asia 17, 3 (1999): 87.

[11] Zhang, Zhihong. “Rural industrialization in China: From backyard furnaces to township village enterprises.” East Asia 17, 3 (1999): 61-66, 71-76.

[12] “China Wakes Up To Dangers of Industrial Pollution.” The New York Times, April 6, 1980.

[13] Liu, Jianguo and Jared Diamond. “Science and Government. Revolutionizing China’s Environmental Protection.” Science 319, 5859 (Jan., 2008): 37.

[14] McElroy, Michael B. and Chris P. Nielsen. Energizing China: Reconciling Environmental Protection and Economic Growth. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998), 9-11.

[15] Humans Right Watch. My Children Have Been Poisoned- A Public Health Crisis inn Four Chinese Provinces. (New York: New York, 2011), 12.

[16] “China Wakes Up To Dangers of Industrial Pollution.” The New York Times, April 6, 1980; Humans Right Watch. My Children Have Been Poisoned- A Public Health Crisis inn Four Chinese Provinces. (New York: New York, 2011), 13.

[17] Humans Right Watch. My Children Have Been Poisoned- A Public Health Crisis inn Four Chinese Provinces. (New York: New York, 2011), 12.

[18] Fox Butterfield, “China Wakes Up To Dangers of Industrial Pollution.” The New York Times, April 6, 1980; Tillman Durdin, “Shanghai Revisited: Now a Workaday City.” The New York Times, April 19, 1971.

[19] “Chinese modify attitude on pollution threat.” The London Times, November 7, 1973.

[20] Liu, Jianguo and Jared Diamond. “Science and Government. Revolutionizing China’s Environmental Protection.” Science 319, 5859 (Jan., 2008): 37.

[21] Humans Right Watch. My Children Have Been Poisoned- A Public Health Crisis inn Four Chinese Provinces. (New York: New York, 2011), 2.

[22] Liu, Jianguo and Jared Diamond. “Science and Government. Revolutionizing China’s Environmental Protection.” Science 319, 5859 (Jan., 2008): 38.

 

Bibliography

Secondary Sources:

Anthony, Edward. Continuity, Chance, and Change: The Character of the Industrial Revolution in England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Barnaby, Frank. “Air Pollution in the UK.” Ambio 18, 3 (1989): 200-203.

David Bonavia, “Chinese modify attitude on pollution threat.” The London Times, November 7, 1973.

Eric Nagourney, “Why the Great Smog of London Was Anything but Great.” New York Times, August 12, 2003.

Humans Right Watch. My Children Have Been Poisoned- A Public Health Crisis in Four Chinese Provinces. New York: New York, 2011.

Liu, Jianguo and Jared Diamond. “Science and Government. Revolutionizing China’s Environmental Protection.” Science 319, 5859 (Jan., 2008): 37-38, doi10.1126/science.1150416. 

McElroy, Michael B. and Chris P. Nielsen. Energizing China: Reconciling Environmental Protection and Economic Growth. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998.

Mister, Alan. “Britain’s Clean Air Acts.” The University of Toronto Law Journal 20, 2 (1970): 268-273, doi: 10.2307/824870.

“UK air pollution: How bad is it?” BBC News. 2 April 2014. http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-26851399. Web.

Whited, Tamara. Northern Europe: an Environmental History. Santa Barbara: California, 2005.

Zhang, Zhihong. “Rural industrialization in China: From backyard furnaces to township village enterprises.” East Asia 17, 3 (1999): 61-87, doi: 10.1007/s12140-999-0023-y. 

 

Primary Sources:

Fox Butterfield, “China Wakes Up To Dangers of Industrial Pollution.” New York Times, April 6, 1980.

“Coal Fires and London Air.” The London Times, August 23, 1921.

“London Fog Tie-Up Lasts For 3D Day: Blanket Shows No Sign of Lifting.” New York Times, Dec 8, 1952.

Tillman Durdin, “Shanghai Revisited: Now a Workaday City.” New York Times, April 19, 1971.

 

Illustrations:

Figure 1: Cottonopolis, 1840,  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Industrial_Revolution#/media/File:Cottonopolis1.jpg.

Figure 2: The Killer Fog That Blanketed London, 60 Years Ago, 1952, http://www.history.com/news/the-killer-fog-that-blanketed-london-60-years-ago.

Figure 3: Backyard steel furnaces operating during the Great Leap Forward, 1958, http://alphahistory.com/chineserevolution/great-leap-forward/#sthash.8Gdwt67Y.dpuf.

Figure 4: A heavily polluted river in the town of Zhugao in China’s southwest Sichuan province earlier this month, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/10/world/asia/10pollute.html?_r=0.

 

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