What is Environmental Pollution?
Pollution is the contamination of the environment by introduction of contaminants that can cause damage to environment and harm or discomfort to humans or other living species. It is the addition of another form of any substance or form of energy to the environment at a rate faster than the environment can accommodate it by dispersion, breakdown, recycling, or storage in some harmless form.
Environmental pollution is one the greatest challenges that the world is facing today. It began since industrial revolution, increasing day by day and causing irreparable damage to Mother Earth. Environmental pollution has its own causes, effects and solutions. Looking into these will help you identify the causes and what steps you can take to mitigate those effects. Broadly, environmental pollution consists of six basic types of pollution, i.e. air, water, land, soil, noise, and light.
When people think of environmental pollution, most focus on fossil fuel and carbon emissions, but there are different contributing factors. Chemical pollution in bodies of water contributes to illnesses. Electromagnetic pollution has effects on human health but is uncommonly considered in present times despite the fact we essentially expose ourselves to it on a daily basis. Taking a look at causes and effects of environmental pollution will pull any mind on a rapid downward spiral. Solutions are in the works and, if we work together across the world, there is hope remaining, at least for the time being.
The environment will continue to deteriorate until pollution practices are abandoned.
~ B. F. Skinner
Causes of Environmental Pollution
- Pollution from cars, trucks, and other vehicles is and has been our major environmental pollution issue for almost a century now. The problem is we did not realize this until the problem had manifested to monumental proportions.
- Fossil fuel emissions from power plants which burn coal as fuel contributed heavily, along with vehicles burning fossil fuels, to the production of smog. Smog is the result of fossil fuel combustion combined with sunlight and heat. The result is a toxic gas which now surrounds our once pristine planet. This is known as “ozone smog” and means we have more problems down here than we do in the sky.
- Carbon dioxide is another product from all of the vehicles on the planet as well as unreformed power plants and other industrial facilities. A continually growing population of humans and clear cutting of forests has exacerbated this problem so natural defenses are no longer present and carbon dioxide levels are on the rise.
- Water pollution is a major issue. Many industries dump wastes into rivers, lakes, ponds, and streams in an attempt to hide wastes from EPA inspectors. These water sources feed major crops and food becomes contaminated with a variety of chemicals and bacteria, causing rampant health problems.
- Radiation comes into play as well. This is an exceedingly nasty pollution issue and requires extensive description. Primarily, there is radiation from the sun. As the natural ozone layer around the Earth has become depleted. The sun is wonderful, but the only reason we are able to survive on this planet so close to the sun is due to the fact of natural shielding against solar radiation. As the protective ozone layer around the planet has become thinner, ultraviolet radiation has risen significantly, causing increases in skin cancers and other types of cancer in all countries, killing millions of people every year.
- More radiation is a problem. The sun shining brightly on a naked planet is not the only source of radiation we are exposed to. Electromagnetic radiation is another insidious culprit. Once upon a time, the major concern around this type of radiation was due to high tension wires which carry huge amounts of electricity to cities. Now, we even carry sources of this radiation with us as cell phones, laptops, tablets and other wireless devices.
Effects of Environmental Pollution
- The polluting gases mentioned above have an interesting effect on climate. Essentially, these gases form a veil around the planet which holds heat in, increasing the overall temperature of the planet. The rise in planetary temperature, or global warming, is not immediately noticeable. However, even a rise of a few degrees Centigrade causes catastrophic changes in weather. This is happening now.
- Pollen has increased. It is ironic, but even with fewer trees in the world; the increase of carbon dioxide emissions induces plants such as ragweed and many trees to produce more pollen than ever before. This has resulted in rampant allergies across the world, affecting the health of billions of people.
- One of the solutions to tamp out carbon monoxide emissions from coal burning power plants was and still is to use radioactive power plants. While this does cut down on gas emissions significantly, there is radioactive waste which causes various cancers to bloom in major cities and small towns all around while destroying ecosystems entirely.
- Global temperature has risen significantly over the years. The protective atmosphere is further being polluted by methane gas released from melting icecaps. This is causing rampant weather issues around the planet.
This all seems like a fairly bleak outlook for the planet and all the creatures on it. It is, in fact, a load of dark and very real truth. For much of it, there is little turning back. Being realistic, though solutions are in the works to combat global warming, the hope is dim. Radiation does not go away quickly either, especially in a technological age requiring more power, more gas, and intensified depletion of protective gases around the planet. We are on a significant downhill snowball ride to hell. There are things we can do. Let us take a look at some of the solutions which are currently being implemented to reduce pollution.
Solutions to Environmental Pollution
- Gas emission pollution is being mitigated in a variety of ways with car emission control, electric and hybrid vehicles and public transportation systems. Not all major cities have successful implementation and decent public transportation in place, but the world is working on this issue constantly and we have managed to reduce emissions profoundly over the last decade. There is much catching up to do.
- The cost of radioactive power plants is becoming apparent and the days of coal power plants are nearly dead. The radiation is a serious issue. Radioactive leakage from power plants and nuclear testing have already contaminated oceanic life to such a degree that it will take hundreds of years to return to normal. More radiation solutions are in the works with various ecologically friendly power technologies being built every day.
- Solar power is a fantastic solution. Now that solar radiation is at a climactic peak, we can reap power from the sun using solar panel systems. These range from home systems to larger scale systems powering entire communities and cities.
- Wind power is coming into play. This may not seem like much at first, but when you get about 100 feet off the ground, there is a great deal of wind up there. By building wind turbines to harvest natural wind energy, electricity is produced. Wind turbine power and solar power are both powerful forces against fossil fuel power and radioactive power. The one problem here is power companies. They want to stay with radioactive power plants because they actually can’t be removed. It has become the crusades of many individuals and small corporations to make the switch and there are plenty of people following this as populations cry out for help.
- Electromagnetic radiation (ER) reduction. Once major manufacturers of computers and electronic devices realized the blatant potential for huge ER emissions directly into the eyes and brains of users, they started to implement hardware protocols to minimize risks and reduce ER production significantly. Newer devices are in the lead to knock this problem out and, fortunately, this is working.
Also, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is well aware of all leaks and tricks industries are using to dump wastes. This agency now has extremely strict protocols and testing procedures implemented against such facilities so populations are not affected. Additionally, the EPA is measuring air pollution and implementing regulatory procedures for vehicle emissions. They also monitor pollen issues and, with the help of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), they implement solutions to reduce pollen in the air.
Dropping pollen counts is a major focus for EPA and CDC activities. Asthma and other allergic conditions are flooding medical care facilities and pharmaceutical companies with serious public health problems. The response has been swift and various methods to control emissions and reduce pollen counts are in the works. Children and elderly people are at the highest risk for environmental pollution related health problems. The good news is we are directly on the horizon to cut down the causes and risks while providing practical health solutions for the general public throughout the world.
Photo by: Pixabay
What is Air Pollution?
Pollution is now a common place term, that our ears are attuned to. We hear about the various forms of pollution and read about it through the mass media. Air pollution is one such form that refers to the contamination of the air, irrespective of indoors or outside. A physical, biological or chemical alteration to the air in the atmosphere can be termed as pollution. It occurs when any harmful gases, dust, smoke enters into the atmosphere and makes it difficult for plants, animals and humans to survive as the air becomes dirty.
Air pollution can further be classified into two sections- Visible air pollution and invisible air pollution. Another way of looking at Air pollution could be any substance that holds the potential to hinder the atmosphere or the well being of the living beings surviving in it. The sustainment of all things living is due to a combination of gases that collectively form the atmosphere; the imbalance caused by the increase or decrease of the percentage of these gases can be harmful for survival.
Read here more about 40 facts of air pollution.
The Ozone layer considered crucial for the existence of the ecosystems on the planet is depleting due to increased pollution. Global warming, a direct result of the increased imbalance of gases in the atmosphere has come to be known as the biggest threat and challenge that the contemporary world has to overcome in a bid for survival.
Types of Pollutants
In order to understand the causes of Air pollution, several divisions can be made. Primarily air pollutants can be caused by primary sources or secondary sources. The pollutants that are a direct result of the process can be called primary pollutants. A classic example of a primary pollutant would be the sulfur-dioxide emitted from factories
Secondary pollutants are the ones that are caused by the inter mingling and reactions of primary pollutants. Smog created by the interactions of several primary pollutants is known to be as secondary pollutant.
Causes of Air pollution
1. Burning of Fossil Fuels: Sulfur dioxide emitted from the combustion of fossil fuels like coal, petroleum and other factory combustibles is one the major cause of air pollution. Pollution emitting from vehicles including trucks, jeeps, cars, trains, airplanes cause immense amount of pollution. We rely on them to fulfill our daily basic needs of transportation. But, there overuse is killing our environment as dangerous gases are polluting the environment. Carbon Monooxide caused by improper or incomplete combustion and generally emitted from vehicles is another major pollutant along with Nitrogen Oxides, that is produced from both natural and man made processes.
2. Agricultural activities: Ammonia is a very common by product from agriculture related activities and is one of the most hazardous gases in the atmosphere. Use of insecticides, pesticides and fertilizers in agricultural activities has grown quite a lot. They emit harmful chemicals into the air and can also cause water pollution.
3. Exhaust from factories and industries: Manufacturing industries release large amount of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, organic compounds, and chemicals into the air thereby depleting the quality of air. Manufacturing industries can be found at every corner of the earth and there is no area that has not been affected by it. Petroleum refineries also release hydrocarbons and various other chemicals that pollute the air and also cause land pollution.
4. Mining operations: Mining is a process wherein minerals below the earth are extracted using large equipments. During the process dust and chemicals are released in the air causing massive air pollution. This is one of the reason which is responsible for the deteriorating health conditions of workers and nearby residents.
5. Indoor air pollution: Household cleaning products, painting supplies emit toxic chemicals in the air and cause air pollution. Have you ever noticed that once you paint walls of your house, it creates some sort of smell which makes it literally impossible for you to breathe.
Suspended particulate matter popular by its acronym SPM, is another cause of pollution. Referring to the particles afloat in the air, SPM is usually caused by dust, combustion etc.
Effects of Air pollution
1. Respiratory and heart problems: The effects of Air pollution are alarming. They are known to create several respiratory and heart conditions along with Cancer, among other threats to the body. Several millions are known to have died due to direct or indirect effects of Air pollution. Children in areas exposed to air pollutants are said to commonly suffer from pneumonia and asthma.
2. Global warming: Another direct effect is the immediate alterations that the world is witnessing due to Global warming. With increased temperatures world wide, increase in sea levels and melting of ice from colder regions and icebergs, displacement and loss of habitat have already signaled an impending disaster if actions for preservation and normalization aren’t undertaken soon.
3. Acid Rain: Harmful gases like nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides are released into the atmosphere during the burning of fossil fuels. When it rains, the water droplets combines with these air pollutants, becomes acidic and then falls on the ground in the form of acid rain. Acid rain can cause great damage to human, animals and crops.
4. Eutrophication: Eutrophication is a condition where high amount of nitrogen present in some pollutants gets developed on sea’s surface and turns itself into algae and and adversely affect fish, plants and animal species. The green colored algae that is present on lakes and ponds is due to presence of this chemical only.
5. Effect on Wildlife: Just like humans, animals also face some devastating affects of air pollution. Toxic chemicals present in the air can force wildlife species to move to new place and change their habitat. The toxic pollutants deposit over the surface of the water and can also affect sea animals.
6. Depletion of Ozone layer: Ozone exists in earth’s stratosphere and is responsible for protecting humans from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. Earth’s ozone layer is depleting due to the presence of chlorofluorocarbons, hydro chlorofluorocarbons in the atmosphere. As ozone layer will go thin, it will emit harmful rays back on earth and can cause skin and eye related problems. UV rays also have the capability to affect crops.
When you try to study the sources of Air pollution, you enlist a series of activities and interactions that create these pollutants. There are two types of sources that we will take a look at: Natural sources and Man-made sources.
Natural sources of pollution include dust carried by the wind from locations with very little or no green cover, gases released from the body processes of living beings (Carbon dioxide from humans during respiration, Methane from cattle during digestion, Oxygen from plants during Photosynthesis). Smoke from the combustion of various inflammable objects, volcanic eruptions etc along with the emission of polluted gases also make it to the list of Natural sources of Pollution.
While looking at the man-made contributions towards air pollution, smoke again features as a prominent component. The smoke emitted from various forms of combustion like in bio mass, factories, vehicles, furnaces etc. Waste used to create landfills generate methane, that is harmful in several ways. The reactions of certain gases and chemicals also form harmful fumes that can be dangerous to the well being of living creatures.
Solutions for Air Pollution
1. Use public mode of transportation: Encourage people to use more and more public modes of transportation to reduce pollution. Also, try to make use of car pooling. If you and your colleagues come from the same locality and have same timings you can explore this option to save energy and money.
2. Conserve energy: Switch off fans and lights when you are going out. Large amount of fossil fuels are burnt to produce electricity. You can save the environment from degradation by reducing the amount of fossil fuels to be burned.
3. Understand the concept of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle: Do not throw away items that are of no use to you. In-fact reuse them for some other purpose. For e.g. you can use old jars to store cereals or pulses.
4. Emphasis on clean energy resources:Clean energy technologies like solar, wind and geothermal are on high these days. Governments of various countries have been providing grants to consumers who are interested in installing solar panels for their home. This will go a long way to curb air pollution.
5. Use energy efficient devices: CFL lights consume less electricity as against their counterparts. They live longer, consume less electricity, lower electricity bills and also help you to reduce pollution by consuming less energy.
Several attempts are being made world wide on a personal, industrial and governmental levels to curb the intensity at which Air Pollution is rising and regain a balance as far as the proportions of the foundation gases are concerned. This is a direct attempt at slacking Global warming. We are seeing a series of innovations and experiments aimed at alternate and unconventional options to reduce pollutants. Air Pollution is one of the larger mirrors of man’s follies, and a challenge we need to overcome to see a tomorrow.
Image credit: dsleeter_2000
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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