Pollution all around us have done a lot to the environment. No good move is it to pollute our environment so badly. Due to the environmental pollution we have made, has now started paying off. The sudden changes in the climate and those unidentified diseases seem to be astonishing. This is not the time to regret, it is the time to act. Here, now we are discussing about what is environmental pollution and its causes with detailed explanation of the after effects of it, one by one.
The environment is everything that surrounds and nourishes us; the atmosphere, the source of our food, shelter and all that was created for our benefit; Even the microorganisms. The addition of harmful substances to the environment causes environmental pollution. The environment consists of air, water, soil, flora and fauna. The harmful substances may be of any matter-solid, liquid or gas.
We have heard of many types of pollution- air, water, soil, noise, thermal, nuclear, radiation etc. we know that increased human activity and necessity is a primary cause for this. In this article let us discuss some of the processes that occur as the environment is contaminated.
Read more about Different types of Pollution and their causes
The effects of environmental pollution are so drastic and the surprising fact is that, the effects are so well versed to us. Let’s see what some common phrases one hears regularly mean
- Global Warming/ Climate Change
- Greenhouse Effect
- Acid Rain.
- Effect Of Plastics On The Soil /Water
- Oil Spills
- Indoor Air Pollution
- Ozone Layer depletion
Have you seen a glass house or a greenhouse? It is a specially created environment for growing plants; in places where the outdoor temperature is not suitable for certain plants. Sunlight enters the greenhouse through the glass or plastic and heats the air inside; the outer covering does not allow the heat to escape quickly.
Similarly greenhouse gases in the atmosphere also trap the heat and radiation that should be released, and heat up the atmosphere. Studies have shown that up to 5.6 degrees Celsius increase is possible into the late 2000s if the Greenhouse Effect continues.
The main greenhouse gas is Carbon dioxide – most of the carbon dioxide is produced by the burning of fossil fuels and from the emissions from vehicles. Other greenhouse gases are ozone and water vapour and solid pollutants in the atmosphere. Chlorofluorocarbons, methane and nitrous oxide also trap heat and radiation.
Increase in the emission of greenhouse gases has caused the earth‘s atmosphere to heat up. This is happening most in the layer closest to the earth i.e. the troposphere. Usually when the Sun’s rays reach the Earth’s surface, the excess radiation is reflected from the surface back into space. Gaseous and solid pollutants in the atmosphere trap this radiation, without allowing it to escape and as a result warm up the Earth.
The hottest years have been recorded by NASA since the year 2000. Higher than normal temperatures have caused
- Quicker melting of the glaciers at the poles
- Increase in the sea water levels by several metres, have an effect on coastal lands all over the world. Seas slowly encroach on the beaches and these will slowly disappear causing continents to shrink.
- Because heating up of the surface of the oceans release a large amount of energy, mild storms turn into major ones. The number and intensities of hurricanes, and cyclones have increased all around the world. The amount of damage and loss of life caused by these have become regular news.
- Heat waves are occurring in the entire world, again taking a great toll of life.
- Heavy rainfall causing severe flooding and contrastingly severe droughts are evidence of climate change.
- Changes in ocean temperatures cause damage to many important coral reefs and aquatic habitats which are vital to the various deep currents and survival of many ocean species.
- Increased temperatures are conducive to spread of infectious disease epidemics and respiratory diseases.
Various gases are released from industries as by-products of burning fossil fuels, manufacturing and processing chemicals and plastics. Sulphur dioxides and nitrous oxide particularly react with oxygen and water vapour forming sulphuric and nitric acid. When it rains or snows, the acid droplets in the air mix with it and fall on the earth. This is called Acid Rain or Acid deposition
Acid rain has pH approximately between 4 – 4.5. It causes acidity of the land or the water bodies it falls on. In higher quantities, there are changes in the ecosystems connected to them. Also as winds can carry air pollutants to faraway places from the source of pollution, acid rain does not have to affect the place where the pollutants were released. It can precipitate anywhere.
- When material such as fertilizers especially those containing nitrogen and phosphorus are flushed into water from farms, they create a nutrient rich environment in the water. This is called nutrient enrichment. This promotes the growth of plants.
- Algae also benefit greatly from this nutrient rich atmosphere. When they flourish and bloom they use up most of the Oxygen in the water body leaving very little for the remaining life forms. This leads to death of fish and other organisms which cannot swim away to safety.
- Algae blooms prevent the penetration of sunlight into the water which affects the photosynthesis of plants further deplete the oxygen levels.
- Ultimately the water becomes unfit to support any form of life.
- There are certain toxins also released from some algae which travel up the food chain and affect higher life forms adversely.
Crude oil is transported all over the world from it place of production. These are mostly carried in large oil carriers over oceans and seas. Damage to the vessels from natural wear and tear or by accident cause Oil spills. They can also occur at the place of production at drilling or refining sites. Oil spills causes great danger to aquatic and marine life forms. These are isolated incidents but large scale polluting factors. In addition to being vast, it is very expensive to clean and take a long time to do so. Even birds and mammals in the area affected when the oil coats their fur or feathers. It leads to wide spread destruction.
Smog used to refer to a mixture of smoke and fog. But in recent times it is much more than this. Sunlight acting on nitrous oxide and Volatile Organic Compounds, both of which are air pollutants, produce Ozone gas which stays close to the ground. VOC s are by products of Heavy industries, exhaust fumes from vehicles, several chemicals found in plastics, paints. Because of the involvement of sunlight in the reaction this kind of smog is called Phytochemical Smog.
Smog is usually seen in
- Cities with high traffic
- Warm days with very light wind
- In places which are surrounded by mountains on every side as there is lesser air circulation
Ozone increases the occurrence of respiratory diseases like asthma, emphysema and makes breathing difficult. It also irritates the eyes.
Effect of Plastics on the Soil /Water
Plastic is a substance we find in every aspect of our life. It is cheap, easy to make and reasonably durable depending on the way it is manufactured. But at the same time it is not biodegradable meaning it will not break down into its individual components. Because of its massive production it is found everywhere. Though a certain percentage of plastic is brought in for recycling a large amount still find its way into the landfills, oceans, beaches etc.
Plastic is ingested by animals and birds, not being able to digest it, it causes blockages and death. In the ground it blocks root development, leaches toxic chemicals into the soil leading to poisoning of the ground water.
In oceans, discarded plastic nets are fatal for sea creatures that get entangled in them. Several chemicals that are carcinogenic are released in the long term and consumed by algae plankton and enter into the food chain ultimately reaching man.
Indoor Air Pollution
Some studies indicate to indoor air being of lesser quality than outside air. Many people spend most of their time inside their offices or homes than outside. Sources of pollutants inside a home include
- Non circulation of air; mechanical heating and cooling, inadequate ventilation and poorly maintained air conditioners
- Chemicals released from cleaning materials in the washrooms and kitchen
- Kitchen and toilet fumes
- Dust Mites on furnishings and carpets that thrive in warm humid atmospheres
- Mould found in damp places on walls with poorly constructed plumbing or water leakage
- Household insects and their droppings and remains.
- House hold pets
- Tobacco smoke causes damage to active and passive smokers
- Carbon monoxide from indoor furnaces and chimneys, gas stoves etc.
- Emissions from paints and their solvents, air fresheners, sprays, insecticides and repellents, disinfectants, glues etc.
- Asbestos found in building materials
- Lead from paint
Ozone layer depletion
The ozone layer is a part of our atmosphere. Its main purpose is to filter the sunlight passing through it and block the harmful Ultra-Violet rays from reaching the earth. These UV rays are known to be carcinogenic affecting the skin and eyes.
Man-made Chloro-fluoro-carbons and other halogens are responsible for the thinning out and destruction of Ozone layer in some places. The CFCs were used in aerosols and refrigerants .Now the production of these has been banned in various parts of the world.
Increased UV radiation has caused a spurt in skin cancers, cataracts, damaged plant life and altered plankton levels in the oceans.
Doesn’t it sound heart breaking to know the effects of environmental pollution? Should feel so…what have man have done to this beautiful planet? Alas, what are we doing to rectify it? We are exploiting the remaining good things to push ourselves into deep trouble.
As we understand the different mechanisms by which the environment is altered by the advent of pollution we will also be able to plan how this precious tenacious environment can be protected. How much of it can be restored depends on the collective conscious of the citizens of the world. It all starts with an individual choice to reduce one’s carbon foot print. A drop in the ocean is not much. But many drops together make an ocean.