Even if we are heading toward a greener future, the human society still suffers today due to the increased level of pollution of the air and environment produced by almost all the countries in the world.
What is Pollution?
Pollution represents the release of contaminants into the air, water and soil, which harms the environment and our health.
The harmful gases and substances released into the environment are causing in some cases, changes in the natural habitat that are affecting the local flora and fauna.
Pollution appears in many forms such as: chemical substances, energy, heat or light, and even noise.
The substances that pollute are called pollutants and they are either foreign substances or energies, or even naturally occurring contaminants.
Pollution is often classified as point source or nonpoint source, which means that the first type of pollution (point source) can be identified, monitored and controlled, while the other type of pollution (nonpoint source) can be identified, but they difficult to control.
Types of Pollution
Pollution appears in many forms such as: air pollution, soil contamination, water pollution, radioactive contamination, littering, thermal pollution, noise pollution, visual pollution, light pollution and plastic pollution.
All these types of pollution are listed below along with the contaminant specific to them.
Causes of Pollution
The pollution of the air is represented by the release of harmful chemicals and particulates into the atmosphere that are affecting the human health and the environment.
Air pollution is caused by some sectors of the industry that are releasing (due to their activity) large amounts of chemical substances into the atmosphere every day, by the power plants and the engines that burn fossil fuels, by the stoves that are burning fossil fuels for heating (during the winter), and by the daily human activities (cooking, driving etc.).
The most common pollutants that are causing air pollution include carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2) and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).
Particulate matter (PM) or simply particulates, are represented by the very fine dust (microscopic solid or liquid matter) that is suspended in the Earth’s atmosphere and is considered the deadliest form of air pollution because can penetrate very deep into our lungs and blood streams without being filtered, and can cause permanent DNA mutations, heart attacks or even premature death.
All these toxic gases are released every day into the atmosphere by the industry, by the engines of the cars that burn fossil fuels and by our activities, and can produce in some areas acid rains.
The continuous release of harmful gases into the atmosphere leads to global warming that slowly produces the change of the climate conditions here on planet Earth.
Soil contamination occurs when harmful chemical substances are released or spilled on the soil or underground.
Once the soil gets contaminated with unwanted chemicals, the life of plants and even the habitat of some animals and birds might be seriously affected.
The soil is usually contaminated by the following substances: hydrocarbons, herbicides, pesticides, heavy metals, MTBE (Methyl tert-butyl ether) and chlorinated hydrocarbons.
The pollution of the water occurs when wastewater (produced by industrial and commercial activity) is discharged intentionally or by mistake in natural water sources.
Actually, any kind of wastewater (from sewage, containing chemical contaminants, urban and agricultural runoff that can contain chemical fertilizers and pesticides, etc.) that is discharged in any source of natural water leads to water pollution.
Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for shale oil and gas, can contaminate drinking water under certain conditions (when the fluids used in the fracking process are reaching the water table leading to the contamination of the water in the area.
This type of pollution has first appeared in the 20th century due to the research done in the nuclear field that has led to the construction of nuclear power stations for power generation, and the research and manufacture of nuclear weapons.
Nuclear waste (radioactive waste) is produced by nuclear power plants or by the factories that use radioactive material in the production process.
Radioactive contamination occurs when nuclear waste is not disposed properly or when a nuclear power station suffers a major malfunction that leads to a nuclear accident (Chernobyl disaster in 1986, Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011 etc.)
Occurs when people fail to dispose their garbage properly.
Litter consists of waste objects such as plastic bottles, aluminum cans, cardboard boxes, paper, plastic bags, etc. that are thrown to the ground and left there by people that don’t respect the environment.
Takes place when the temperature is changed in the natural water bodies due to human activity.
Power plants and industrial manufacturers use water in the cooling process and the heated water that results is returned to the natural environment and affects the ecosystem by decreasing the oxygen supply in the water source.
Is produced by the industrial and commercial activity and by the transportation system.
People and animals that live close to: a factory, a commercial center, a railroad, a highway, an airport etc. could suffer due to noise pollution.
Noise pollution could even cause the death of marine life (whales and other species) when they are exposed to the very loud sound produced by military sonars.
Visual pollution changes the natural environment in a negative manner disturbing this way the visual area of people.
Open storages of trash, space debris, a large number of billboards, telephone towers, a large number of electric wires, a large number of vehicles or buildings in a small place, all these create overcrowding that leads to visual pollution.
Photopollution or light pollution refers to artificial light that is excessive, misdirected and obtrusive.
Light pollution usually occurs in urban areas due to the increased number of street light poles, billboards, commercials, and also to the different events that take place during the night etc.
Plastic pollution refers to the accumulation of plastic products into the environment, which negatively affects wildlife, the habitat of different birds and animals, and even the humans that actually cause this type of pollution.
Due to the fact that plastics degrade very slowly, the accumulation of plastic waste can compromise lands, waterways and even the oceans.
Uneducated people that have no respect for keeping the nature clean are usually the ones that cause this type of pollution with negative impact on the environment.
What are the Effects of Pollution?
The different types of pollution are affecting the environment and the human life differently.
Air pollution leads to the accumulation of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere such as carbon dioxide (CO2), water vapours, methane (CH4), nitrous oxide and CFCs, which creates the greenhouse effect and leads to global warming and climate change.
The release of toxic gases into the atmosphere such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide leads to the apparition of acid rains.
The intensive use of coal for heating during the winter, the increased number of cars on the road due to cold weather, and the lack of wind, leads to the apparition of smog, which restricts the sunlight from reaching the surface of the Earth, and this way, the photosynthesis process made by the green plants is seriously affected.
The human health is very affected by air pollution that can cause cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, chest pain, throat inflammation, asthma, and in some cases even lung cancer.
The land and the natural sources of water are very affected by the man-made pollution because when the soil is contaminated with different waste substances or by the constant use of insecticides and pesticides, it becomes unusable for agriculture or for wildlife, and when a water contamination occurs (an oil spill can seriously affect the marine life, and a wastewater spill can compromise an entire source of water).
What can we do to reduce Pollution?
The only solution available today to stop or at least to reduce pollution here on planet Earth is represented by the slow transition toward a greener future.
The most polluting energy sources represented by fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas must be slowly replaced by cleaner energy sources such as solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, biomass, wave and so on.
To reduce air pollution we need to replace the vehicles that use diesel and gasoline based engines with electric vehicles with zero emissions.
Of course, that the transition toward a massive use of the electric vehicles in the world will take at least one decade, but the signs of the transition can be already seen all over the world, even if Donald Trump won the presidency in the U.S. and plans to revive the coal sector in the country while ignoring the signs of climate change.
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