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 Pollution
- Water Pollution
- Air Pollution
- Noise 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% was recycled or composted. 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 contains properties that are dangerous or potentially harmful to human health or the environment. Industries generate hazardous waste from mining, petroleum refining, pesticide manufacturing, and other chemical production.
Water pollution happens when chemicals or dangerous foreign substances are introduced to water, including chemicals, sewage, pesticides, fertilizers from agricultural runoff, or metals like lead or mercury. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 44% of assessed stream miles, 64% of lakes, and 30% of the 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 contaminants, which include agricultural runoff, air deposition, water diversions, and channelization of streams.
According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 80% of pollution in the 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 is caused by the decomposition of organic materials.
The air we breathe has a very exact chemical composition; 99% 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. 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.
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.
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, and hearing loss. For example, a study by the 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.
Mrs. Sarita Almeida
School Principal at Rahul Education, Mother Mary’s English High School