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Pollution: Causes and Impact
Environmental pollution is a serious threat that jeopardizes both plant and animal survival on the planet. Water and atmospheric pollution become more of a danger each passing year as the population explodes and the resources of the planet become more difficult to access. Emerging societies are also demanding the same types of luxuries and materials that the Western world has convinced them that are the symbols of civilized society. This demand is also increasing the need for more production and as a consequence is causing more environmental pressure.
As time passes, water resources not only become smaller but reap the tragedy sown by industrialization. Similarly, the air available for the human population has increasing contamination that menaces the lives of children and threatens to damage the plant life that makes all life on this planet possible. In spite of the damage that has been done to the water supplies and the air, there is still much that can be done. But before taking action it is essential to understand the fundamental causes of pollution and what effects it is having on the environment.
There are two main causes of pollution for which categories have been created to help separate and track what is causing the adverse effects on the environment. Non-point pollution is not caused by a specific location such as a company or a ship and it is therefore difficult to identify its point of origin.
Nonpoint source pollution is caused by such activities as agriculture, forestry, and urban development. The diffuse nature of nonpoint sources makes their direct measurement exceedingly difficult. Therefore, measuring nonpoint source pollution entails analyses of multiple types of data, including water quality conditions, land use, climate, and soil type. (Stephenson)
On the other hand, point source pollution is easily identifiable as a pipe from a factory or a tanker spilling oil. The reason these categories are important is that tackling the issue of pollution relies on understanding not just the harm they inflict but where that harm is coming from as well. Clearly, point source pollution is relatively easy controlled as compared to non-point pollution. This is not to say that point source pollution isn't harmful or isn't a serious problem because it is. But, since non-point pollution is so difficult to track to its source, it is important to focus primarily on this type of pollution and its effects on the environment, so that one can see the larger effects that it has on the interconnected plant and vegetation matrices.
What is the Pollution in the Water
There are different types of pollution in the water that come from very different sources. Organic pollution can come from sewage, silt, grass clippings or leaves. However, it may seem that these organic substances are not necessarily pollutants but that is simply not the case. When organic materials are introduced into the water supplies, the results can be disastrous up and down the food chain. For example, soil runoff can clog the water and reduce the light penetration in the water necessary for the health of certain plants. Since many animals rely on the availability of vegetation to survive, the absence of that vegetation can also destroy the populations connected to it.
Other types of organic materials such as the nutrients called nitrates and phosphates that are used in farming, can actually accelerate the growth of certain algae and aquatic plants which may seem like it is beneficial. However, as these organisms go through their natural life cycle they die and begin to decompose which uses up dissolved oxygen supplies that fish require. If the populations become too dense, the decomposition of the organisms use up an inordinate amount of dissolved oxygen in the water which subsequently impacts the fish population. As the numbers of fish are diminished, a number of other consequences to the surrounding environment take place causing serious consequences.
But the effects of pollution are not simply limited to the water that one can see. Some may assume that ground water supplies are somehow protected from the attack of sewage, toxins and chemicals. In actuality, the ground water supplies covered by rock and sand are extremely vulnerable to contamination and perhaps even more than those water supplies that are visible.
Because it is underground and slow moving, groundwater stores pollutants far longer than, say, rivers or air do. Hence, the very characteristic that makes aquifers ideal reservoirs of freshwater -- their ability to accumulate and retain liquid for longer periods of time -- enables them to become long-term sinks for contaminants. (Sampat 28)
Clearly, water supplies above ground are not just being contaminated, but even the resources that are in relatively protected areas under the ground are in danger from contamination from pollution as well.
Organic pollution in the water is often the result of unintended consequences from human behavior. For example, the parasites that cats carry in their body called toxoplasma are often of little consequence to the health of the feline, but introducing those same parasites into oceanic life can cause significant problems. It was a little understood problem in prior years but scientists now understand that cat parasites easily make it to the aquatic life forms that are completely alien to the organism. When cat owners throw the litter with fecal matter into the garbage, the litter is deposited in local landfills. Rain water run off carries the parasites along designated runoff channels and into larger bodies of water that find their way into new hosts. "Sea otters off the California coast have been found to have toxoplasma infections." (Eliot 2) Many experts indicate that the feline parasite may be responsible for the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of sea otters but there is still much that is unknown about the pathology of the toxoplasma on sea otters.
Still, as bad as organic pollution is for the environment, inorganic pollution such as chemicals, heavy metals, plastics and other man made materials can be even worse. Inorganic pollutants not only contaminate water and prevent its use in watering crops or hydrating livestock, the contaminants can actually cause serious developmental problems to the organisms that live in the water. Frogs, fish and other marine animals are often deformed or mutated as a consequence of inorganic pollutants such as jet fuel or weed killers. Plastics can choke animals or prevent them from being able to swim properly. The presence of all types of inorganic pollutants upsets the delicate balance that must be maintained for properly maintaining the ecosystem.
One inorganic pollutant that is threatening an entire generation of children is mercury contamination and the culprit for its introduction into this vulnerable population is the energy industry. Millions of fish in the waters in and around the United States are contaminated with mercury which has serious physiological impacts on the people that eat the fish, not to mention the serious negative consequences on the environment as a whole. It is true that trace amounts of mercury are naturally present in some species of fish; however, the levels being recorded in fish caught today are simply unsafe. These high mercury levels have prompted health officials to warn that "it is unsafe to eat freshwater fish in most of New York, and all of Connecticut [and] 38 other states from Wisconsin to Florida." (Griscom 34) But mercury contamination is not a problem easily solved. Much of the toxic substance is being deposited in the water is a by-product of producing energy that an insistent public will not do without.
What is the Pollution in the Air
Atmospheric pollution, like water pollution is a serious threat to each person living on the planet. Two of the biggest contributors to air pollution are so-called greenhouse gasses and the introduction of toxic gasses. Greenhouse gasses are naturally occurring and man made gasses that serve as an insulator for the planet. These gasses help keep the Earth warmer than it ordinarily would be and consist primarily of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorocarbons. Toxic gasses are any number of gasses that are generally man made and consist of many harmful substances such as sulfur dioxide, nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide. The net result of the air pollution is twofold. The earth is increasing in temperature and the air that people breathe is becoming more toxic than ever.
It is acknowledged by most environmental scientists that the earth is warming up though there is still some controversy over the significance of that fact. The earth is increasing in temperature as a result of the increased amounts of greenhouse gasses which don't show many signs of decline. In fact, "World carbon dioxide levels are estimated to grow 75 to 150% in the next century" (Choi 34). The increases of carbon dioxide as well as other greenhouse gasses will most likely increase the temperature of the planet dramatically. As the temperature changes, major ecological systems will begin to be impacted which could send a ripple throughout the…[continue]
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