Pollution is the process of making land, water, air or other parts of the environment dirty and not safe or suitable to use. This can be done through the introduction of a contaminant into a natural environment, but the contaminant doesn't need to be tangible. Things as simple as light, sound and temperature can be considered pollutants when introduced artificially into an environment.
Toxic pollution affects more than 200 million people worldwide, according to Pure Earth, a non-profit environmental organization. In some of the world's worst polluted places, babies are born with birth defects, children have lost 30 to 40 IQ points, and life expectancy may be as low as 45 years because of cancers and other diseases. Read on to find out more about specific types of pollution.
Land can become polluted by household garbage and by industrial waste. In 2014, Americans produced about 258 million tons of solid waste, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A little over half of the waste — 136 million tons— was gathered in landfills. Only about 34 percent was recycled or composted.
Organic material was the largest component of the garbage generated, the EPA said. Paper and paperboard accounted for more than 26 percent; food was 15 percent and yard trimmings were 13 percent. Plastics comprised about 13 percent of the solid waste, while rubber, leather and textiles made up 9.5 percent and metals 9 percent. Wood contributed to 6.2 percent of the garbage; glass was 4.4 percent and other miscellaneous materials made up about 3 percent.
Commercial or industrial waste is a significant portion of solid waste. According to the University of Utah, industries use 4 million pounds of materials in order to provide the average American family with needed products for one year. Much of it is classified as non-hazardous, such as construction material (wood, concrete, bricks, glass, etc.) and medical waste (bandages, surgical gloves, surgical instruments, discarded needles, etc.). Hazardous waste is any liquid, solid or sludge waste that contain properties that are dangerous of potentially harmful to human health or the environment. Industries generate hazardous waste from mining, petroleum refining, pesticide manufacturing and other chemical production. Households generate hazardous waste as well, including paints and solvents, motor oil, fluorescent lights, aerosol cans, and ammunition.
Water pollution happens when chemicals or dangerous foreign substances are introduced to water, including chemicals, sewage, pesticides and fertilizers from agricultural runoff, or metals like lead or mercury. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 44 percent of assessed stream miles, 64 percent of lakes and 30 percent of bay and estuarine areas are not clean enough for fishing and swimming. The EPA also states that the United State's most common contaminants are bacteria, mercury, phosphorus and nitrogen. These come from the most common sources of contaminates, that include agricultural runoff, air deposition, water diversions and channelization of streams.
Water pollution isn't just a problem for the United States. According to United Nations, 783 million people do not have access to clean water and around 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation. Adequate sanitation helps to keep sewage and other contaminants from entering the water supply.
According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 80 percent of pollution in marine environment comes from the land through sources like runoff. Water pollution can also severely affect marine life. For example, sewage causes pathogens to grow, while organic and inorganic compounds in water can change the composition of the precious resource. According to the EPA, low levels of dissolved oxygen in the water are also considered a pollutant. Dissolved oxygen is caused by the decomposition of organic materials, such as sewage introduced into the water.
Warming water can also be harmful. The artificial warming of water is called thermal pollution. It can happen when a factory or power plant that is using water to cool its operations ends up discharging hot water. This makes the water hold less oxygen, which can kill fish and wildlife. The sudden change of temperature in the body of water can also kill fish. According to the University of Georgia, it is estimated that around half of the water withdrawn from water systems in the United States each year is used for cooling electric power plants.
"In nearly all cases, 90 percent of this water is returned to its source, where it can raise the water temperature in an area immediately surrounding the water discharge pipe. Depending on water flow, the water temperature quickly returns to ambient temperatures that do not harm fish." Donn Dears, former president of TSAugust, a not for profit corporation organization focused on energy issues, told Live Science.
Nutrient pollution, also called eutrophication, is another type of water pollution. It is when nutrients, such as nitrogen, are added into bodies of water. The nutrient works like fertilizer and makes algae grow at excessive rates, according to NOAA. The algae blocks light from other plants. The plants die and their decomposition leads to less oxygen in the water. Less oxygen in the water kills aquatic animals.
The air we breathe has a very exact chemical composition; 99 percent of it is made up of nitrogen, oxygen, water vapor and inert gases. Air pollution occurs when things that aren't normally there are added to the air. A common type of air pollution happens when people release particles into the air from burning fuels. This pollution looks like soot, containing millions of tiny particles, floating in the air.
Another common type of air pollution is dangerous gases, such as sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and chemical vapors. These can take part in further chemical reactions once they are in the atmosphere, creating acid rain and smog. Other sources of air pollution can come from within buildings, such as secondhand smoke.
Finally, air pollution can take the form of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide or sulfur dioxide, which are warming the planet through the greenhouse effect. According to the EPA, the greenhouse effect is when gases absorb the infrared radiation that is released from the Earth, preventing the heat from escaping. This is a natural process that keeps our atmosphere warm. If too many gases are introduced into the atmosphere, though, more heat is trapped and this can make the planet artificially warm, according to Columbia University.
Air pollution kills more than 2 million people each year, according to a study published in the journal of Environmental Research Letters. The effects of air pollution on human health can vary widely depending on the pollutant, according to Hugh Sealy, professor and director of the environmental and occupational health track at the Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, St. George's University, St. George's, Grenada. If the pollutant is highly toxic, the effects on health can be widespread and severe. For example, the release of methyl isocyanate gas at Union Carbide plant in Bhopal in 1984 killed over 2,000 people, and over 200,000 suffered respiratory problems. An irritant (e.g. particulates less than 10 micrometers) may cause respiratory illnesses, cardiovascular disease and increases in asthma. "The very young, the old and those with vulnerable immune systems are most at risk from air pollution. The air pollutant may be carcinogenic (e.g. some volatile organic compounds) or biologically active (e.g. some viruses) or radioactive (e.g. radon). Other air pollutants like carbon dioxide have an indirect impact on human health through climate change," Sealy told Live Science.
Even though humans can't see or smell noise pollution, it still affects the environment. Noise pollution happens when the sound coming from planes, industry or other sources reaches harmful levels. Research has shown that there are direct links between noise and health, including stress-related illnesses, high blood pressure, speech interference, hearing loss. For example, a study bythe WHO Noise Environmental Burden on Disease working group found that noise pollution may contribute to hundreds of thousands of deaths per year by increasing the rates of coronary heart disease. Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA can regulate machine and plane noise.
Underwater noise pollution coming from ships has been shown to upset whales' navigation systems and kill other species that depend on the natural underwater world. Noise also makes wild species communicate louder, which can shorten their lifespan.
Most people can't imagine living without the modern convenience of electric lights. For the natural world, though, lights have changed the way that days and nights work. Some consequences of light pollution are:
- Some birds sing at unnatural hours in the presence of artificial light.
- Scientists have determined that long artificial days can affect migration schedules, as they allow for longer feeding times.
- Streetlights can confuse newly hatched sea turtles that rely on starlight reflecting off the waves to guide them from the beach to the ocean. They often head in the wrong direction.
- Light pollution, called sky glow, also makes it difficult for astronomers, both professional and amateur, to properly see the stars.
- Plant's flowering and developmental patterns can be entirely disrupted by artificial light.
- According to a study by the American Geophysical Union, light pollution could also be making smog worse by destroying nitrate radicals that helps the dispersion of smog.
Turning on so many lights may not be necessary. Research published by International Journal of Science and Research estimates that over-illumination wastes about 2 million barrels of oil per day and lighting is responsible for one-fourth of all energy consumption worldwide.
Other pollution facts:
- Americans generate 30 billion foam cups, 220 million tires, and 1.8 billion disposable diapers every year, according to the Green Schools Alliance.
- According to the WHO, ambient air pollution contributes to 6.7 percent of all deaths worldwide.
- The Mississippi River drains the lands of nearly 40 percent of the continental United Sates. It also carries an estimated 1.5 million metric tons of nitrogen pollution into the Gulf of Mexico each year, resulting in a dead zone each summer about the size of New Jersey.
- Pollution in China can change weather patterns in the United States. It takes just five days for the jet stream to carry heavy air pollution from China to the United States, where it stops clouds from producing rain and snow.
- About 7 million premature deaths annually linked to air pollution, according to WHO. That is one in eight deaths worldwide.
Environmental pollution refers to the introduction of harmful pollutants into the environment. These pollutants contaminates the environment. It has a hazardous effect on the natural world and on the activities of living beings.
The major types of environmental pollution are air pollution, water pollution, noise pollution, thermal pollution, soil pollution and light pollution.
Deforestation and hazardous gaseous emissions also leads to environmental pollution. During the last 10 years, the world has witnessed severe rise in environmental pollution.
We all live on planet earth, which is the only planet known to have an environment, where air and water are two basic things that sustain life. Without air and water the earth would be like the other planets – no man, no animals, no plants. The biosphere in which living beings have their sustenance has oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, argon and water vapor. All these are well balanced to ensure and help a healthy growth of life in the animal world. This balance does not only help the life-cycles of animals and plants, but it also creates the perennial sources of minerals and energies without which the human civilization of to-day could not be built. It is for this balance that the human life and other forms of existence have flourished on earth for so many thousands of years.
Also read: Short paragraph on Pollution
But man, as the most intelligent animal, never stopped being inquisitive, nor was he content with the bounties of nature. His quest for knowledge and search for security succeeded in exploring newer and wider avenues of mysteries that remained baffling so long. Man’s excursions into the darkest regions of mysteries laid foundations for the stupendous civilization, for the conquests of men had ensured their domination in their world and gave them a key to control all the forces in nature.
With the dawn of the age of science and technology, there has been huge growth and development of human potentials. And, it is here that man first began losing control and became prisoner of his own creations.
Also read: Pollution: Different Types of Pollution
Sources and Causes
The sources and causes of environmental pollution includes the following:
- Industrial activities: The industries all over the world that brought prosperity and affluence, made inroads in the biosphere and disturbed the ecological balances. The pall of smoke, the swirling gases, industrial effluents and the fall-out of scientific experiments became constant health hazards, polluting and contaminating both air and water. The improper disposal of industrial wastes are the sources of soil and water pollution. Chemical waste resulting from industry can pollute lakes, rivers and seas and soil too as well as releasing fumes.
- Dumping solid waste: Household and commercial waste pollutes the environment when not disposed of properly.
- Vehicles: The smoke emitted by vehicles using petrol and diesel and the cooking coal also pollutes the environment. The multiplication of vehicles, emitting black smoke that, being free and unfettered, spreads out and mixes with the air we breathe. The harmful smoke of these vehicles causes air pollution. Further, the sounds produced by these vehicles produces causes noise-pollution.
- Rapid urbanization and industrialization: The urbanization and the rapid growth of industrialization are causing through environmental pollution the greatest harm to the plant life, which in turn causing harm to the animal kingdom and the human lives.
- Population overgrowth: Due to the increase in population, particularly in developing countries, there has been surge in demand for basic food, occupation and shelter. The world has witnessed massive deforestation to expand absorb the growing population and their demands.
- Combustion of fossil fuels: The combustion of fossil fuels pollutes the air, the soil and the water with noxious gases such as CO2 and CO.
- Agricultural waste: Fertilizers and pesticides used in agriculture are key causes of environmental pollution.
Also read: Sources of Water, Air and Soil Pollution
Environmental Pollution can have devastating effects on sea life, on crops and on human health. It affects all plant, human and animal life in a negative way. Almost all of our gains in the fields of industrial progress, science and technology had so far been realized at the cost of our health. Even our flora and fauna were found to be threatened with extinction.
All this really leaves us wondering if all our achievements and industrial civilization really help us climb the peaks of prosperity or simply take us down the blind alleys of adversity. It is not only in India, but all over the world – even in Europe and U.S.A. – that the question is being raised whether all is well with our industrial growth and progress in the field of science and technology. Many crusaders against environmental pollution are vehemently protesting against the indiscriminate violations committed daily in the name of development.
The environmental pollution is not caused by the fall-out from nuclear tests or industries alone. The smoke left behind the automobiles and other vehicular traffic, the increasing use of synthetic detergents, nitrogen fertilizers and insecticides contaminate both air and water.
- The water we drink the vegetables are all contaminated to-day. As a result of this contamination our world is afflicted with a quite a number of incurable diseases.
- Environmental pollution affects water sources which mean that there is less fresh water available for drinking, washing, cooking and irrigating crops.
- Nothing in this world is immune, no life is safe and the future of this world is bleak.
- The factories are mostly built in populated areas and the smoke-emitting vehicles ply through the congested areas. Besides causing immense disturbances, there are increasing case of pulmonary tuberculosis and thrombosis and various sorts of brain and heart complications.
- Air-pollution may cause severe lungs-diseases, asthma, brain-disorder diseases, etc.
- Soil-pollution may have negative effect on farm output ratio. It can also contaminate the ground water.
- Noise-pollution have negative effects on hearing or auditory sense organs. It can also cause deafness, tiredness, and mental losses.
- The heat generated by industries and vehicles causes thermal pollution by raising the environmental temperature of the nearby areas.
- Many scientists believe that we are living in an era of mass extinction, due to human made environmental pollution.
The birth of mills and factories is the result of the growth of industry in this machine-predominated age. As long as they will be there, they must emit smoke, pollute the air and hasten our end by slow-poisoning.
The worst industrial environment tragedy occurred at Bhopal on December 3, 1984 as a result of toxic and poisonous leakage of methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas from a multi-national Union Carbide pesticides manufacturing plant. Over 2000 people including woman and children were killed, and hundreds were severely hurt.
What then is the remedy? A lot of pollution derives from human activity. As a result, it is we humans who will be able to stop pollution. But, there surely cannot be any radical solution, for the existing factories cannot be bodily lifted to a place far from the populated zone. However, the following attempts can be made to solve the problem of environmental pollution.
- The Government can at least see that future factories are set up at a distant place, an industrial complex far away from the township.
- Researcher may find out how to avoid harmful smoke from running vehicles.
- Deforestation should be stopped and Forestry should be developed.
- Discharge of Factory wastes in rivers should be banned so as to make the river-water free from pollution.
- Recycle the sewage or in all events it can be disposed of in such a way as to prevent it from polluting the environment.
- Reducing the amount that we buy, reusing and repairing items wherever possible, and recycling as much as we can will all help to reduce the amount of waste dumped in the environment. When we do need to throw away waste we should do so responsibly.
- Organic farming could be one solution for reducing environmental pollution levels.
- Using fewer plastics.
- Disposing of litter and chemicals responsibly.
- Burning fewer fossil fuels.
- The UN Conference on Human Environment was convened to study the profound changes in the relationship between man and his environment in the wake of modern scientific and technological developments.
- The World Health Organization also set up an international network for the monitoring and study of air pollution on a global scale and for devising possible remedies.
We can very well notice the abnormal behaviour of the seasons – the cycle developing clogs in its wheels; and the worried experts fear that the disturbed balance in the biosphere has assumed such serious proportion that very soon our world would be uninhabitable like Hiroshima of 1945. But it is heartening to find the entire world aware of the menace. Some of the advanced countries have already taken some measures to meet it. If we fail to restore the ecological balance right now, it would be too late tomorrow.
Updated with input article from ‘Laura’.
Category: Blog, EnvironmentTagged With: Environment, Pollution