What is Pollution?
Pollution is the introduction of harmful materials into the environment. These harmful materials are called pollutants. Pollutants can be natural, such as volcanic ash. They can also be created by human activity, such as trash or runoff produced by factories. Pollutants damage the quality of air, water, and land.
Many things that are useful to people produce pollution. Cars spew pollutants from their exhaust pipes. Burning coal to create electricity pollutes the air. Industries and homes generate garbage and sewage that can pollute the land and water. Pesticides’ chemical poisons used to kill weeds and insects—seep into waterways and harm wildlife.
All living things from one-celled microbes to blue whales depend on Earth’s supply of air and water. When these resources are polluted, all forms of life are threatened.
Pollution is a global problem. Although urban areas are usually more polluted than the countryside, pollution can spread to remote places where no people live. For example, pesticides and other chemicals have been found in the Antarctic ice sheet.
In the middle of the northern Pacific Ocean, a huge collection of microscopic plastic particles forms what is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
Air and water currents carry pollution. Ocean currents and migrating fish carry marine pollutants far and wide. Winds can pick up radioactive material accidentally released from a nuclear reactor and scatter it around the world. Smoke from a factory in one country drifts into another country.
Causes of Pollution
1. The Burning of Fossil Fuels
Sulfur dioxide, which is produced by burning fossil fuels like coal, petroleum for power generation in power plants, and other combustibles in the plant, is a major cause of pollution.
Billions of vehicles on the road are powered by gasoline and diesel engines that burn petroleum to release energy. Petroleum is made up of hydrocarbons and engines don’t burn them cleanly.
As a result, pollutants such as PM, nitrogen oxide, and NO2 (collectively referred to as NOx), carbon monoxide, organic compounds, and lead are emitted from vehicles such as trucks, jeeps, cars, trains, and airplanes, causing high levels of pollution. These modes of transport are part of our basic daily needs, so we rely heavily on them.
But overuse of them kills our environment as dangerous gases pollute the atmosphere. Carbon monoxide, caused by improper or incomplete combustion and generally emitted by vehicles, is another major pollutant besides nitrogen oxides, produced from both natural and man-made processes.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), exposure to outdoor air pollution accounts for 0.6 to 1.4 percent of the disease burden and 4.2 million deaths annually.
2. Agricultural Activities
Ammonia is a very common by-product of agricultural activities and one of the most dangerous gases in the atmosphere. The use of insecticides, pesticides, and fertilizers in agricultural activities has increased significantly. They release harmful chemicals into the air and can also cause water pollution.
Farmers also set fire to the field and old crops to keep them clean for the next sowing. Burning in clean fields is said to cause pollution by releasing harmful gases into the air.
3. Waste in Landfills
Landfills are areas of land where waste is deposited or buried. This deposited or buried waste produces methane. Methane is an important greenhouse gas that is highly flammable and very dangerous.
E-waste is another serious problem that involves many unscientific dismantling such as chemical washout, burning of wires, and others.
4. Exhaust from Factories and Industries
The manufacturing industry releases a large amount of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, organic compounds, and chemicals into the air, which affects air quality.
Manufacturing can be found in every corner of the world and there is no area that is not affected by it. Petroleum refineries also release hydrocarbons and various other chemicals that pollute the air and cause land pollution.
5. Mining Operations
Mining is a process of extracting minerals underground using large equipment. During the process, dust and chemicals are released into the air, resulting in massive air pollution.
This is one of the reasons responsible for the deteriorating health conditions of workers and residents in the area.
6. Indoor Air Pollution
Household cleaning supplies and painting supplies emit toxic chemicals into the air and cause air pollution. Have you ever noticed that painting the walls of your house creates an odor that literally makes it impossible for you to breathe?
Particulate matter, known by the acronym SPM, is another cause of pollution. Regarding the particulate matter floating in the air, SPM is usually caused by dust, combustion, etc.
According to the WHO, around seven million premature deaths are caused each year by the combined effects of air pollution in the environment (outdoors) and in the home.
7. Natural Events
There are certain natural events such as volcanoes, forest fires, and dust storms that originate from nature and cause pollution.
Types of Pollution
Explore the definition and causes of each type of pollution.
1. Air Pollution
In some cities, the air is dangerous to breathe. Why? Well, air pollution of course. Air pollution is when noxious gases and chemicals get suspended in the air. Think about the smog covering some areas of California and New York.
Dirt, grime, exhaust fumes, and other aerosols go into the air. These pollutants can go up in the atmosphere and infect our clouds creating acid rain, or they can just hang out like smog does and make it harder for people to breathe. For more information read Air pollution.
2. Water Pollution
Humans need water to survive. That is a fact. However, trash and chemicals can get thrown into the ocean and lakes. This is called water pollution. Not only can they affect fish and other marine life, when pollutants get into the water, but they also have a devastating effect on the water cycle.
Natural causes of water pollution include algae blooms and volcanos. However, humans also cause water pollution through trash and wastewater from factories.
3. Land Pollution
Land pollution is another one of the big three pollution types affecting the human population. Land pollution happens when the soil gets contaminated by fertilizers or chemicals being dumped. The pollution in the land can seep into the groundwater or run into lakes and streams creating a vicious pollution cycle.
4. Radioactive Pollution
When you think of radioactive pollution, you might think of Chernobyl or Fukushima. Both of these nuclear power plants used fission of radioactive materials, uranium, and plutonium, to create electricity, and both failed. Their failure led to toxic chemicals and radiation being leaked out into the environment, which is radioactive pollution.
5. Noise Pollution
Have you ever needed to wear earphones for loud noises? If so, you were experiencing noise pollution. Noise pollution is caused by loud noises that can hurt the human ears.
Types of noise pollution can include explosions, jet engines, and even concerts (if you are close to the speakers). Noise pollution is dangerous because it can cause hearing loss.
6. Light Pollution
Have you ever noticed that in a big city with a lot of lights, it is impossible to see the stars and galaxies? Light pollution, using electric lights to light up the sky, is the cause. While lights are great for helping us to see at night, too many lights cause light pollution blocking out the night sky.
Light pollution can also be harmful to animals. For example, the lights of big cities can confuse migrating birds.
7. Thermal Pollution
While most pollution types are straightforward, thermal pollution is a bit tricky. Many times, nuclear power plants and factories use water to cool things. However, if they put that warmed up water back into the environment, it wreaks havoc on the fish and wildlife because it has less oxygen.
This is called thermal pollution. Thermal pollution can be caused by natural forces too like soil erosion giving water more sunlight.
How to prevent and control pollution?
Pollution prevention (P2) is any practice that reduces, eliminates, or prevents pollution at its source. P2, also known as “source reduction,” is the ounce-of-prevention approach to waste management. Reducing the amount of pollution produced means less waste to control, treat, or dispose of.
Follow these Tips Every Day to Reduce Pollution:
- Conserve energy – at home, at work, everywhere.
- Look for the ENERGY STAR label when buying a home or office equipment.
- Carpool, use public transportation, bike, or walk whenever possible.
Follow gasoline refueling instructions for efficient vapor recovery, being careful not to spill fuel and always tighten your gas cap securely.
- Consider purchasing portable gasoline containers labeled “spill-proof,” where available.
- Keep car, boat, and other engines properly tuned.
- Be sure your tires are properly inflated.
- Use environmentally safe paints and cleaning products whenever possible.
- Mulch or compost leaves and yard waste.
- Consider using gas logs instead of wood.
On Days when High Ozone Levels are Expected, take these Extra Steps to Reduce Pollution:
- Choose a cleaner commute – share a ride to work or use public transportation.
- Combine errands and reduce trips. Walk to errands when possible.
- Avoid excessive idling of your automobile.
- Refuel your car in the evening when its cooler.
- Conserve electricity and set air conditioners no lower than 78 degrees.
- Defer lawn and gardening chores that use gasoline-powered equipment, or wait until evening.
On Days when High Particle Levels are Expected, take these Extra Steps to Reduce Pollution:
- Reduce the number of trips you take in your car.
- Reduce or eliminate fireplace and wood stove use.
- Avoid burning leaves, trash, and other materials.
- Avoid using gas-powered lawn and garden equipment.