What is Pollution?
Pollution, more popularly known as environmental pollution, is the addition of any kind of material or any kind of energy to the environment at a rate faster than it can be dissipated or made innocuous. The significant forms of pollution are water pollution, air pollution, and land pollution. Scientists after research are now also concerned regarding some other kinds of pollution such as noise pollution, light pollution, and plastic pollution.
Pollution is the process of making air, water, land, or other parts of the environment unhealthy and unsuitable for the humans in the long run. This is done through the introduction of a contaminant into a natural environment. Substances as simple as sound, light and heat can be considered pollutants when they are forcefully introduced into a specific environment in a certain way.
Toxic and calamitous pollution affects over 200 million people worldwide. In some of the world’s most affected areas in this regard, babies are born with birth defects and thus require special attention, children have seemed to lost 35 to 45 IQ points on average, and life expectancy may be as low as 44 years due to the spread of cancers and other malignant diseases.
Environmental pollution has been a part of our lives for not decades but centuries, although it only started to be significant and gained importance following the industrial revolution in the midst of the 19th century. When the natural environment cannot disperse an element without being detrimental to itself, pollution occurs. The substances involved are not natural and the detrimental process can range from just a couple of days to hundreds of thousands of years (in case that the pollutants are of radioactive nature).
Pollution is not a newly discovered phenomenon. As a matter of fact, it is fairly much older than most people realize. We can rightfully say that the first use of wood-burning fire can be regarded as the first step in the era of air pollution. Roman smelters caused lead pollution and it can be traced all across Europe. Yet all this early pollution had limited effects on the environment and was not a seen as a major issue at the time. However, as humans progressed from being nomads to modern settled societies, pollution in its most fatal form began and increased in magnitude exponentially. With time new kinds of them were giving birth to, ultimately becoming an actual problem for the environment of the planet Earth and all its living inhabitants.
Pollution has always been an issue that needed solving but it was not until after World War II, that there was a drastic change in the kind and magnitude of pollution, only for the worst. Manufacturing and usage of synthetic materials such as plastics and pesticides like (DDT) started in industries. These materials are toxic and not biodegradable. Cancers, mental and physical birth defects, among other adverse health issues, are now being observed more than ever. Different species of plants and animals are becoming extinct at an alarming rate. The risk of industrial accidents is very high and if happens, the cleaning up of menacing waste dumps and the difficulty in displacing these chemicals in a safe and proper manner hint that land, water, and air pollution will be a continuous problem for the generations to follow which is very unfortunate.
Household garbage along with industrial waste pollutes land as we know it. Every year solid waste weighing millions of tons is produced and only a fraction of this waste is ever recycled or composted
The largest component of the waste generated is organic material. Paper and paperboard makes about more than 26.5%; food 14% and yard trimmings 14%. Plastics accounted for about 14% of the solid waste, while leather, textiles, and rubber made up 8.5% and metals 8%. Wood contributed to 7.2%; glass was 3.4% and other miscellaneous materials made up about 3.5%.
When chemicals or hazardous foreign substances such as sewage, pesticides and fertilizers from agricultural runoff, or metals like lead or mercury, are introduced to water, water pollution occurs. About 64% of lakes, 44% of observed streams, and 30% of the bay and estuarine areas are not clean enough neither for swimming or for fishing in the United States of America. Bacteria, mercury, phosphorous and nitrogen are said to be the most common contaminants. They originate from the most common sources of contaminants, including agricultural runoff, deposition of air, diversions for water to face and channelization of streams.
Water pollution is a problem faced by the whole world. According to a study, 783 million people around the world do not have an access to clean water. Moreover, around 2.5 billion people around the world do not have an access to proper sanitation. This necessary proper sanitation helps keep the sewage and other contaminants from entering into the drinkable/clean water supply.
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, pathogens grow and mutate due to sewage, while inorganic ; organic compounds in water can change the composition of the precious resource. Low levels of dissolved oxygen in the water are also considered a pollutant. The reduction in the level of dissolved oxygen is caused by the decomposition of organic materials, such as sewage introduced into the water.
Adding heat to water can also be harmful in the long run. Thermal pollution is the artificial warming of water at a certain area. Discharging of hot water by a factory or power plant that is using water to cool its components and machinery can cause thermal pollution. The water holds less oxygen due to this, which can be fatal to marine life and wildlife. The sudden change of temperature in the body of water can also be fatal to fish. 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, as stated by the University of Georgia.
When nutrients like nitrogen, are added into a specific body of water, the nutrient works like a fertilizer and makes algae grow rapidly at excessive rates which in turn blocks light from other plants. This ultimately kills the plants and their decomposition leads to less oxygen in the water. This kind of pollution is known as Nutrient Pollution.
The chemical composition of the air we breathe is constant and the chemicals are mixed in certain proportions; nitrogen, oxygen, water vapors and inert gases make up 99% of it. Each component has a specific percentage in the making of air. Air pollution occurs when alien substances are added to the air that degrade the composition and quality of air. A common type of air pollution is when fuel is burned and different particles are released into the air.
Some gases are dangerous which pollute the environment, such as nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and chemical vapors. These take part in further chemical reactions with other chemicals once they are in the atmosphere, creating acid rain, smog and other harmful effects. Acid rain and smog affects our day to day life and causes corrosion of metallic structures and provokes discomfort in the eyes.
The phenomenon when gases absorb and reflect back the infrared radiation that is released from the Earth, preventing the heat from escaping, is called the greenhouse effect. The gases that cause this effect are called greenhouse gases, namely, carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide. These gases are warming the planet through greenhouse effect and thus, are causing air pollution. This natural process keeps our atmosphere warm and is slowly but ultimately increasing the overall average temperature of the planet earth. More the number of such gases more is the warming factor.
According to a study, air pollution kills more than 2.5 million people each year. The pollutant determines the effects of air pollution on the human health. The effects on health can be widespread and severe if the pollutant is highly toxic, the effects on health can be widespread and severe. For example, over 2,000 people and over 200,000 suffered respiratory problems due to the release of methyl isocyanate gas at Union Carbide plant in Bhopal in 1984.
Although noise pollution can’t be seen or smelled by the human beings, it still affects the environment. When the sound coming from various sources, be it, aircrafts, ships, industrial areas reach harmful levels, that is called noise pollution. Research has shown that noise and health have direct links and noise can cause mental illness including mental retardation, speech interference, high blood pressure, low concentration span and hearing loss. For example, it was found by a study that hundreds of thousands of deaths per year may be caused by noise pollution due to the increased rate of coronary heart disease.
Whales’ navigation systems are disrupted by the underwater noise pollution coming from ships. Noise pollution is also said to kill other species that depend on the natural underwater world. Wild species are made to communicate louder, which can cause their lifespan to shorten.
Life without electric lights cannot be imagined by most people. But these lights have changed the way that days and nights work, for the natural world. Some irrefutable consequences of light pollution are:
• Birds start singing at unnatural hours in the presence of artificial light.
• Migration schedules are affected by long artificial days, as they enhance the feeding times and increase their duration.
• Newly hatched sea turtles that rely on starlight reflecting off the waves to guide them from where they were hatched to the ocean can be confused by the streetlights. They often head in the wrong direction.
• Light pollution, makes it difficult for both professional and amateur astronomers, to properly see the stars due to the sky glow.
• Light of this sort can disrupt plant’s flowering and developmental patterns.
• Smog could be made worse by destroying nitrate radicals that help in the dispersion of smog, due to light pollution.
• Over-illumination by turning on unnecessary lights wastes about 2 million barrels of oil per day and generally it is responsible for one-fourth of all energy consumption worldwide.
Causes of Environmental Pollution
• Car, trucks, and vehicles of almost all sorts have been majorly contributing to environmental pollution and this is and has been our major issue for almost ten decades now. The problem is that we were not able to realize this until the problem had been established into significant proportions, at which point it was too late.
• The excessive burning of coal as a fuel, along with vehicles burning fossil fuels, can be regarded as the main reason behind the production of smog. The combustion of fossil fuels combined with sunlight and heat gives us smog. This resulted in a toxic gas which now surrounds our once pure, clean and unaltered planet.
• All sorts of vehicles on the planet as well as unreformed power plants and other industrial facilities produce an apparently unharmful gas, namely, carbon dioxide. An exponentially growing population of humans and cutting down of forests has aggravated this problem so nature is no longer able to defend and the levels of carbon dioxide are on the rise.
• Water pollution is one of the most major issues. Wastes are dumped into rivers, lakes, ponds, and streams. These sources of water are fed into major crops and food is hence contaminated with harmful chemicals, ultimately causing serious health issues.
• Radiation plays a key role in causing pollution as well. Primarily, radiation from the sun is reaching earth due to the depletion of ozone layer which would otherwise protect us from these radiations. The sun is a necessity for life itself, but survival on this planet has only been made possible even after its proximity to the sun by the natural shielding against solar radiation provided by the ozone layer and the magnetic fields. As the ozone layer around the planet thinned out, ultraviolet radiation rose significantly, which caused an increase in the cases of skin cancers and other forms of cancer in all countries, killing large amount of people every year.
• Other forms of radiations are a problem. The radiations from the sun are not the only radiations we are exposed to. Electromagnetic radiation emitting through our cell phones is also a menace. In the earlier days, high tension wires which carry huge amounts of electricity to cities was the major concern regarding such type of radiation. Now, as cell phones, laptops, tablets and other wireless devices, we even carry sources of this radiation with us.
Effects of Environmental Pollution
• The above-mentioned polluting gases also named greenhouse gases, have adverse effects on the climate. These gases form a layer around the Earth which hold heat in, causing the overall temperature of the Earth to increase. This rise in the temperature of the planet is gradual rather than being immediate. Hence, to a lay man, it is not noticeable. However, even an increment of a few degrees Celsius causes irrefutable changes in the weather.
• Ironically, even with deforestation on the rise in the world; the increased amount of carbon dioxide emissions present in the environment causes the plants and many trees to produce more pollen than they ever naturally did. This has lead to cause uninhibited allergies across the globe, affecting and degrading the health of billions of people around the world.
• Radioactive power plants are being considered to replace coal burning power plants due to the former’s high efficiency and latter’s excessive carbon monoxide emissions. This definitely would lower the gas emissions but then we will have to deal with radioactive waste which is far more fatal in nature than carbon monoxide. Various cancers are caused and entire ecosystems are destroyed.
• Temperature has marginally increased worldwide over the years. Methane gas released from melting ice caps is further polluting the protective layer of the atmosphere and methane is also a greenhouse gas. This is causing weather issues around the planet that require immediate attention.
• Being realistic, we are on a downhill snowball ride to eternal doom. There are somethings, however, that can be done. Let us take a look at some of the methods devised after years of research to control environmental pollution.
Methods to Control Environmental Pollution
There is a dire need of counteractive measure to keep the environmental pollution in check. Following are some of the methods to counter environmental pollution and eradicate its effects from our day to day life: –
• Usage of public transport should be encouraged more and more. Work should be done on making public transport cheap and convenient in the third world countries to keep the environmental pollution in check.
• The gasoline used in your cars should be unleaded.
• A properly maintained car, kept in good running condition avoids smoke emissions.
• Sharing a ride to get to places reduces harmful emissions.
• Choose to walk or ride a bicycle whenever possible instead of using your cars. This eco-friendly practice, will not only reduce emissions but will also keep you in good shape and fit.
• Introduction of more ecologically friendly power technologies should take place as soon as possible so that they can be replaced by radioactive power plants and also coal power plants. The waste from both these damages Earth in irrefutable ways.
• Deriving power from solar energy is a fantastic solution. All sorts of power could be derived from our sun now that solar radiation is at a climactic peak, using solar panel systems. These range from plain and simple home systems to larger scale systems that can power entire local communities and cities.
• Wind power is also a viable option. These windmills are stationed 100ft above the ground and at this height the wind force is considerable and is able to rotate the wind turbines which in turn generate energy, and in this harmless way electricity can be produced
• As major manufacturers of electronic devices and computing machines realized the obvious potential of such devices for huge electromagnetic radiation emissions directly into the eyes and brains of users, implementation of hardware protocols started to minimize risks and reduce electromagnetic radiation production monumentally.
• Smoking should be avoided or at least not done around the “No Smoking” sign wherever found.
• Do not use open fires in residential areas to dispose of wastes, let the proper authorities do it.
• Reduce, reuse and recycle; the 3 Rs of solid waste management should be adopted. Materials like glass, metals, paper and plastic can and should be reclaimed and recycled through a proper procedure This keeps in check the problem of proper waste management. Special bins stating recycle-able items should be separated from the normal bins and awareness should be spread into people.
• Green scrap from your kitchen and brown leaves in the yard should be composted. This will not only reduce waste but also improve the yard and garden soil.
• Connection with the nature should be re-established. Green means of power should be encouraged and properly use this sort of power which is supplied abundantly and freely by the means of wind, and the sun. Use the bare minimum of your heavy-duty electric appliances. Open windows and enjoy fresh air rather than using the air conditioner too often without the dire need.
• Local foods and goods available at the local market should be encouraged. Due to this transporting food and goods prepared with genetically modified organisms, which uses fuel from conventional energy sources, will be minimized.
• Usage of biodegradable materials should be encouraged instead of plastics which are doing more harm than good to the environment due to their toxicity.
• Personal green space should be created. More trees should be planted and planting of vegetables and fruits at your own place should be encouraged. They collectively clean the air, beautify your surroundings and most importantly, provide oxygen. Value your garden. Plant more trees and put indoor plants in your homes. They clean the air, provide oxygen and beautify your surroundings.
• A proper waste disposal system should be devised especially for the toxic wastes.
• Your pets and their respective wastes should be well taken care of.
• Keep your community’s water clean by being careful not to throw anything or dispose of anything through water that would ultimately cause pollution.
• Loud and unwanted sounds should be avoided to minimize noise pollution and being considerate for the fellow human beings.
• Education to the population should be provided against littering in public and such campaigns should be encouraged.
• Fuel with lower Sulphur content should be used by industries.
• Air emissions should be monitored regularly and measures must be taken to ensure compliance with the demanded emission standards.
• Applicable government regulations on pollution control should be strictly followed by the industries.
• Far flung and isolated places should be where organic wastes are dumped.
• GMOs should be utterly avoided at all costs as they are bad for the environment since they require enormous amounts of pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. These GMO altered foods can be health risk and they negatively impact the livelihood of the farmers.