Environmental pollution is currently the biggest challenge facing the word today.
In the United States 40% of rivers and 46% of lakes are too polluted for fishing, swimming, and aquatic life. Not surprising though when 1.2 trillion gallons of untreated storm water, industrial waste, and untreated sewage are being discharge annually into American waters.
One-third of the topsoil in the world is already degraded, and with the current rate of soil degradation caused be improper agricultural and industrial practices, and deforestation, most of the world’s topsoil could be gone within the next 60 years.
The Great Smog in 1952 killed 8000 people in London. This event was caused by a period of cold weather combined with windless conditions that formed a dense layer of airborne pollutants, mostly from coal plants, over the city.
There are many sources of pollution and each one has its own effect on the environment and living organisms. This article will discuss the causes and effects of the different kinds of pollution.
The causes of pollution are not just limited to fossil fuels and carbons emissions. There are many other types of pollution including chemical pollution into bodies of water and soil through improper disposal practices and agricultural activities, and noise and light pollution created by cities and urbanization as a result of population growth.
1. Air Pollution
There are two types of air pollutants, primary and secondary. Primary pollutants are emitted directly from their source, while secondary pollutants are formed when primary pollutants react in the atmosphere.
The burning of fossil fuels for transportation and electricity produces both primary and secondary pollutants and is one of the biggest sources of air pollution.
The fumes from car exhausts contain dangerous gases and particulates including hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, and carbon monoxide. These gases rise into the atmosphere and react with other atmospheric gases creating even more toxic gases.
According to The Earth Institute, the heavy use of fertilizer for agriculture is a major contributor of fine-particulate air pollution, with most of Europe, Russia, China, and the United States being affected. The level of pollution caused by agricultural activities is thought to outweigh all other sources of fine-particulate air pollution in these countries.
Ammonia is the primary air pollutant that comes from agricultural activities. Ammonia enters the air as a gas from concentrated livestock waste and fields that are over fertilized.
This gaseous ammonia then combines with other pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and sulfates created by vehicles and industrial processes, to create aerosols. Aerosols are tiny particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs and cause heart and pulmonary disease.
Other agricultural air pollutants include pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. All of which also contribute to water pollution.
2. Water Pollution
Nutrient pollution is caused by wastewater, sewage, and fertilizers. The high levels of nutrients in these sources end up in bodies of water and promote algae and weed growth, which can make the water undrinkable and depleted oxygen causing aquatic organisms to die.
Pesticides and herbicides applied to crops and residential areas concentrate in the soil and are carried to the groundwater by rainwater and runoff. For these reasons anytime someone drills a well for water it must be checked for pollutants.
Industrial waste is one of the main causes of water pollution, by creating primary and secondary pollutants including sulphur, lead and mercury, nitrates and phosphates, and oil spills.
In developing countries around 70% of their solid waste is dumped directly into the ocean or sea. This causes serious problems including the harming and killing of sea creatures, which ultimately affects humans.
3. Land & Soil Pollution
Land pollution is the destruction of land as a result of human’s activities and the misuse of land resources. This occurs when humans apply chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides to the soil, dispose of waste improperly, and irresponsibly exploit minerals through mining.
Soil is also polluted through leaking underground septic tanks, sewage systems, the leaching of harmful substances from landfill, and direct discharge of waste water by industrial plants into rivers and oceans.
Rain and flooding can bring pollutants from other already polluted lands to soil at other locations.
Over-farming and over-grazing by agricultural activities causes the soil to lose its nutrient value and structure causing soil degradation, another type of soil pollution.
Landfills can leach harmful substances into the soil and water ways and create very bad smells, and breeding grounds for rodents that transmit diseases.
4. Noise & Light Pollution
Noise is considered an environmental pollutant caused by household sources, social events, commercial and industrial activities, and transportation.
Light pollution is caused by the prolonged and excessive use of artificial lights at night that can cause health problems in humans and disrupt natural cycles, including wildlife activities. Sources of light pollution include electronic billboards, night sports grounds, street and car lights, city parks, public places, airports, and residential areas.
The effects of pollution can be seen every day, all around you. Pollution is destroying ecosystems and drinking water, and wreaking havoc on human and environmental health.
1. Effects of Air Pollution
High levels of air pollution can cause an increased risk of heart attack, wheezing, coughing, and breathing problems, and irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat. Air pollution can also cause worsening of existing heart problems, asthma, and other lung complications.
Like humans, animals can suffer from a number of health problems due to air pollution, including birth defects, reproductive failure, and diseases.
Air pollution causes a number of environmental effects in addition to the effects on humans and animals.
Acid rain contains high levels of nitric and sulfuric acids that are created by oxides and sulfur oxides released into the air by the burning of fossil fuels. Acid rain damages trees and acidifies soils and water bodies, making the water too acidic for fish and other aquatic life.
Nitrogen oxides released into the air by the burning of fossil fuels also contribute to the nitrogen responsible for toxic algae blooms.
The release of man-made compounds including hydrochlorofluorocarbons, chlorofluorocarbons, and halons formerly used as coolants, foaming agents, pesticides, solvents, aerosol propellants, and fire-extinguishers are depleting the ozone. The ozone layer in the stratosphere forms a protective layer that reflects harmful ultraviolet rays back into space that would otherwise destroy animal and plant life.
2. Effects of Water Pollution
Water pollution is a serious threat to humans, animals, and aquatic life.
The effects of water pollution depend on which chemicals are being dumped where. Bodies of water that are near urbanized areas tend to be heavily polluted by dumbing of garbage and chemicals, both legally and illegally, by industrial plants, health centers, and individuals.
By far the biggest consequence of water pollution is the death of aquatic creatures, which can disrupt the entire food chain. Pollutants such as cadmium, mercury, and lead are eaten by tiny aquatic organisms that are then eaten by fish and shell fish, becoming more concentrated with each step up the food chain and causing serious problems in humans and wildlife.
Nutrient pollution can cause toxic algal blooms in drinking water sources that create toxins that kill fish and other aquatic animals. Direct exposure to this toxic alga causes serious health problems in humans including neurological effects, respiratory problems, stomach and liver illness, and rashes.
A consequential problem is created when disinfectants used to treat drinking water reach water polluted with toxic algae, they react creating dioxins. Dioxins are extremely harmful chemical compounds that have been linked with reproductive and development problems, and even cancer.
Nitrates, caused by fertilizers, also contaminate drinking water and according to the Environmental Protection Agency, babies who consume water that is high in nitrates can become seriously ill with blue-baby syndrome, which causes shortness of breath and blue-tinted skin, and can lead to death if not treated early.
3. Effects of Land & Soil Pollution
Land and soil pollution has substantial consequences for humans, animals, microorganisms and aquatic life. Contaminated land and soil can cause various problems on the skin, respiratory problems, and even different kinds of cancers.
These toxic substances come into contact with the human body directly through eating fruits and vegetables that have been grown in polluted soils, being consumed through drinking water that has been contaminated, direct contact with the skin, and breathing in air polluted with particles and dust.
Deforestation is the biggest concern when it comes to land degradation and soil erosion. Clear cutting of vegetation and tree cover creates harsh conditions that destroy ecosystems and habitats.
Deforestation also creates an imbalance in atmospheric conditions, reducing the amount of carbon that is naturally taken out of the atmosphere. This is a serious problem considering that most pollution created by people is carbon based.
4. Effects of Noise & Light Pollution
Noise pollution can cause stress, anxiety, headaches, irritability, hearing loss, and sleep loss resulting in decreased productivity.
Oil drills, submarines, and other vessels on and in the ocean can cause excessive noise that has resulted in the injury or death of marine animals, especially whales.
Too much light causes eye strain and stress, harming our eyes and decreasing our quality of life. Light pollution also causes a decrease in the hormone melatonin that helps us to fall asleep, resulting in restlessness and fatigue.
Many mammals, insects, birds, and reptiles are photoperiodic meaning their movement, mating, growth and development, and eating cycles are regulated by natural light patterns. Light pollution can interfere with these natural behaviors and cycles, causing a decrease in wildlife populations.
Pollution needs to be dramatically reduced because it is destroying the environment we live in, contaminating our food and water, causing diseases and cancers in humans and wildlife, and destroying the air we breathe and the atmosphere that protects us from harmful ultra-violet radiation.
It is the responsibility of every living person to protect the environment, and with the population ever increasing, pollution problems are only going to get worse unless we do something about it.
Protecting the environment is a long and daunting task, requiring continuous planning, governmental policies, and public and industrial participation. However the result of ignoring the problem will be catastrophic and life as we know it will begin to end.
By decreasing waste, implementing recycling policies, banning dangerous agricultural chemicals, and developing safe renewable energy we can significantly reduce the amount of pollution going into the environment annually and increase our quality of living.
Everyone is entitled to clean air to breathe, water to drink, and public lands to enjoy. If you have any ideas on how to reduce pollution, please drop a comment and share your thoughts.
Featured Image Credit: Paul Pival @ Flickr