We live in a world that is different than our parents and grandparents lived in. The earth is becoming more polluted every day, and without the proper measures, could become even worse. Thankfully, it is something that everyone could do something about. Let's take a closer look at how pollution is directly affecting us so that we can take all the necessary steps to prevent it and save the world we live in.
The first thing you should know is what pollution is. By definition, it means that land, water, or air is too contaminated and is not suitable to be used. There are many different kinds of pollution, including pollution of air, light, plastic, noise, soil, water, and even our visual space. Each type of pollution affects us differently.
The air that we breathe has a particular chemical composition. Ninety-nine percent of our air is made from nitrogen, oxygen, water vapor, and inert gases. So, when things that aren't normally in this mix are added, it is air pollution.
One common type of pollution occurs when people release particles from burning fuels into the air. You can see that it looks like soot, but it is really millions of tiny particles that are free-floating through the air.
Sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and other dangerous gases and chemical vapors that get released into the air also contribute to air pollution. Once these are released into the atmosphere, they can create more chemical reactions, such as acid rain and smog.
Finally, greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide, are another form of air pollution. These gases absorb infrared radiation that has been released from the Earth, and they may prevent heat from escaping the atmosphere.
- National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences: Air pollution
- National Park Service: Where does air pollution come from?
- Leonardo Academy: Air pollution
Yes, light can be a pollutant! Light pollution occurs when there is inappropriate or excessive use of artificial light. There are many different components of light pollution, including glare, which is excessive brightness that can cause visual discomfort; skyglow, which is brightening of the night sky over inhabited areas; light trespass, which is defined as when light is falling where it is not intended or needed; and clutter, which is bright, confusing, and excessive groupings of light sources. Light pollution comes from the exterior lights on a building, interior lights, advertising signs, commercial properties, factories, streetlights, and even from illuminated sporting venues.
- International Dark-Sky Association: Light pollution
- Dark Skies Awareness: Light Pollution: What is it and why is it important to know?
- Globe at Night: What is light pollution?
Plastic pollution is a major problem both on land and in the sea because animals can get caught in the plastic or ingest it. They have ingested things such as cigarette lighters, plastic bags, and even bottle caps. Plastic holds no nutritional content, and since it is indigestible, it poses a real threat to these animals.
Plastics can concentrate pollutants up to a million times in the surrounding seawater. These contaminants can then be delivered to the species ingesting them, causing health problems. Drainage systems can also become clogged with plastics, causing flooding.
- Plastic Pollution Coalition: Getting started living plastic free
- Coastal Care: When the mermaids cry: The great plastic tide
- Our World in Data: Plastic pollution
Noise pollution is defined as exposure to elevated sound levels that could potentially cause problems in humans or other living organisms. However, because many of us are exposed to loud noises on a daily basis, we may not even notice how damaging the noise actually is to our health. If you are exposed for eight or more hours a day to a constant noise that is 85dB or louder, you are at risk.
Some examples of noise pollution include street traffic, construction sounds, air traffic, loud music, and even household sounds. Nose pollution may contribute to hypertension, hearing loss, sleep disturbances, and even dementia.
- United States Environmental Protection Agency: Clean Air Act Title IV: Noise pollution
- Everything Connects: Noise pollution
Soil contamination occurs when man-made chemicals are found in soil. This is usually the result of industrial activity, agricultural chemicals spilling, or improper disposal of waste. Many of the common chemicals include petroleum, hydrocarbons, polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, solvents, pesticides, lead, and other heavy metals.
Contaminated soil can be dangerous to use for planting crops and can even cause health problems just by exposure. In some cases, direct contact with the soil can trigger health problems and the vapors can be hazardous as well. Additionally, the runoff can contaminate water, so it has a way of starting an endless cycle.
- Soil Science Society of America: Soil contaminants
- Environmental Pollution Centers: What is soil contamination?
Radioactive contamination occurs when radioactive substances are deposited where their presence is considered to be unwanted or undesirable, either through industrial accidents or mining of naturally radioactive sources.
A person can be externally contaminated when radioactive material comes into contact with their skin or clothing. They are internally contaminated when the material is breathed in or swallowed or absorbed through open wounds.
The environment can become contaminant when radioactive material is spread about, such as into the air or soil or simply by not being confined properly. Radioactive substances have been known to cause many health problems, including cancers.
- Stanford University: Radioactive contamination of the atmosphere and marine environment
- World Health Organization: Environmental radiation
Thermal pollution is the degradation of water quality by any process that is known to change the ambient water temperature. This is common when water is used as a coolant by power plants and other industrial manufacturers. The water is then returned to the environment at a much higher temperature, and the change in temperature causes decreases in the oxygen supply. This will affect the ecosystem’s composition. Fish and other organisms can die because of the serious change in temperature. This is then known as thermal shock.
- Conservation Institute: What you need to know about thermal pollution and its causes
- United States Forest Service: Thermal pollution in rivers: Will adding gravel help to cool them down?
Visual pollution can become a problem when it gets overwhelming for those living in an urban environment. It is often caused by overcrowding, over-use of signage, or urban structures and vehicles that demand attention while blocking or eliminating views of nature. City planning can help to reduce this type of pollution.
- University of Michigan: The automobile and the environment in American history
Water pollution is easily the most widespread and potentially dangerous of all the forms of pollution. It is dangerous, as we rely on water so much for drinking and watering crops. Arsenic, copper, and other dangerous chemicals from farms and factories have been found in drinking water supplies.
Our drinkable water supply is limited, so we must do whatever we can to protect it. We need to be able to have safe drinking water for our children and future generations.
- National Resources Defense Council: Water pollution: Everything you need to know
- New Jersey Institute of Technology: Understanding the sources of water pollution
Causes of Pollution
There are many different causes of pollution, but one thing rings true in every situation. If people simply cared more for their planet and its environment, we would all be a lot better off.
Throwing our trash instead of recycling it is a huge contributing factor when it comes to pollution. Using harsh chemicals is another way that our world is becoming polluted. Burning certain fuels can also contribute to the problem. Driving vehicles that emit harsh fumes can pose a problem because of this.
Costs of Pollution
Pollution may cost us our lives in the end, because we only have one planet to live on. The cost of pollution is high, as without putting an end to it, our water supplies may become too contaminated to use. We may not have soil safe enough to use to grow foods. Our livestock may no longer be able to graze on the lands. Our air may no longer be safe to breathe. The cost of pollution is unaffordable, and therefore, we must do what we can to prevent it.
- University of Hawaii: Costs of pollution
- Columbia University: The human and financial cost of pollution
Health Effects of Pollution
Pollution can cause many health effects. Those of us who come in contact with contaminated air can go on to have breathing problems, such as asthma, COPD, or even lung cancer. Those who have been exposed to radioactive pollution can also end up with cancer later on in life.
People who have been exposed to pollution can suffer from heart or lung diseases and even die as a result. It is linked to developmental problems, susceptibility to infections, low infant birth weight, and even shortness of breath. In the end, pollution can lead to premature death.
- American Lung Association: The terrible ten: Air pollution’s top ten health risks
- Environmental Defense Fund: Health impacts of pollution
- Girls Health: Health effects of air pollution
There are many solutions that could help to stop pollution. Throw your trash away or recycle what you can. Get your children involved and clean up your local park. It will give them a clean place to play, and they will feel great about helping to protect the world they love. You can do the same thing if you live close to the beach. Avoid driving everywhere and emitting fumes into the air. Take a walk. It's good for your health and the environment. To learn what else you can do, visit the resources below.
- New Hampshire Department of Environmental Sciences: What can I do to help reduce air pollution?
- Idaho Department of Environmental Quality: How your community can prevent pollution
Are you still interested in learning more about what you can do for the environment? The Indiana Department of Environmental Management offers suggestions for what you can do on their site: What you can do to reduce or stop nonpoint source pollution. Another good source of information is USAID if you are interested in what is being used to reduce pollution around the globe: Teen girls develop mobile app to measure pollution in Ukrainian city.