Social Issues / Industrial Pollution
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Autor: anton 25 November 2010
Words: 2332 | Pages: 10
"Pollution affects two essential aspects of our planet: air and water. Although their pollutants are emitted in different ways, they both harm all living organisms. Air pollution is predominately emitted through the exhaust of motor vehicles and the combustion of fossil fuels, whereas water pollution is the result of industrial waste and environmental accidents. Our society knows that pollution is harmful and a serious problem for Earth but generally people donâ€™t care. Nevertheless everybody needs to contribute to prevention and pay attention to government control in the amount of material large industries can emit into the air and/or water. Industry gives off a good share of the waste that is polluting our planet, but itâ€™s every person is contributes as well. Government involvement is key to regulating toxins, building waste systems and protecting air and waters.
Carbon Monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas and is the most abundant and widely distributed air pollutant. â€œEven though vast quantities of carbon monoxide enter the atmosphere each year (147 million tons in the US alone) the majority of the emissions are due to natural causes instead of anthropogenic, human causes. It is because of this that carbon monoxide is viewed as the least danger to living beings. The largest natural cause of CO is the oxidation of methane in the atmosphere. Methane, CH4, is produced on the surface of earth by the decay of organic matter.â€ (Harrison, 1990)
A smaller natural cause is the growth and decay of chlorophyll which is the green pigment in the leaves of plants. Eighty percent of the carbon monoxide that is emitted by humans is by transportation. Because automobiles are the largest source of CO pollution, the highest concentration of this gas is in highly populated/urban areas. The next greatest anthropogenic source is agricultural burning, which accounts for another twelve percent. â€œIt has been shown that exposure to high concentrations of carbon monoxide can harm living organisms, but the current concentration in our atmosphere is still low enough so that plants and humans are both at minimal risk.â€ (Harrison, 1990)
Hydrocarbons are the second largest category of air pollutants by mass, but they are by far the largest group of pollutants when considering their effect. There are thousands of different hydrocarbon compounds that are comprised solely of hydrogen and carbon. They can be found in a gaseous, liquid or solid states at room temperature. â€œMost hydrocarbons are emitted by the bacterial decomposition of organic material. Methane, CH4, which was mentioned in the formation of carbon monoxide, is the simplest of the hydrocarbons. Petroleum is a complicated mixture of several simple hydrocarbons showing again transportation by motor vehicles is the leading cause of this category being emitted into the air. Their evaporation during the refining of petroleum is also important.â€ (Hirschhorn, 1991) Unlike the previous categories, the hydrocarbons are relatively harmless in their released state. It is in the atmosphere that they undergo chemical reactions and become hazardous.
Societal Effects from of Air Pollution
People are mostly oblivious to the effects of air pollution. They know itâ€™s out there and it is a problem but excepting skin cancer, there have been very few deaths with a direct link to air pollution. It is probably because of this that people arenâ€™t as concerned with air pollution as they should be. Air pollution has always been around, and has actually been on a decline since the 1960â€™s (when coal was the major source of energy.) It is relatively easy to decrease the amount of pollutants we emit considering each year new laws arise that crack down on the amount of certain substances that can be released into the air, but the harm has already been done, and next to impossible to fix. The ozone layer is the part of the atmosphere that keeps ultraviolet rays from penetrating humans and plants. But because of all the air pollution, various chemicals are slowly destroying the ozone layer. Each year the concentration of the ozone decreases by approximately two percent and the ozone layer over the South Pole is already fifty percent of its natural concentration. â€œOzone depleters (the majority of which are chlorofluorocarbons or CFCâ€™s) react with ultraviolet radiation and break down into their component atoms, especially chlorine, bromine and fluoride. These component atoms then go on to steal an oxygen atom from the ozone layer (opposite to the reaction which forms O3), thereby destroying the ozone layer. This loss of protection from UV rays can result in an increase of human skin cancer, damage to various parts of the eyes as well as causing a breakdown of the immune system.â€ (Hirschhorn, 1991) With health being such a major issue in our society today, people have become scared by this "outbreak" of cancer. People know that the ozone layer is slowing depleting and that there is a health risk involved with being in the sun for extended periods of time. But very few people know that there is a connection between this breakdown of the ozone layer and air pollution. Instead of trying to control pollution emissions they just cut back on their time outdoors, or wear more sunscreen. Ultraviolet rays can also cause major environmental problems. These rays enter the atmosphere and can kill small aquatic organisms, such as plankton. When these small life forms decompose they release carbon dioxide, CO2, another gas which can cause the ozone layer to break down, thus resulting in a continuos cycle.
What can we do?
Although air pollution has relatively few immediate effects on humans at the present time it is important that we try to reduce the amount of pollutants we emit into the air. As discussed before the biggest cause of air pollution is use of transportation, followed by the combustion of fossil fuels. In the past thirty years many new standards have been passed in the United States which resulted in a dramatic reduction in the gases emitted by automobiles. But even with these new laws air pollution is still on the increase. It is mostly due to the fact that there are more automobiles on the road today. Cars may be more efficient but there are too many of them, which in many ways dimishes their efficiency. One solution to this problem is encouraging people to carpool which would reduce the number of cars on the road and in turn reduce the amount of pollutants. Another solution is to make more laws enforcing more efficient cars. However this would cost car manufactures more money, resulting in more expensive cars which people wouldnâ€™t want to buy. So the best solution to reducing the amount of pollutants emitted by automobiles is by encouraging people to carpool.
The combustion of fossil fuels is the other leading cause of air pollution. Although the amount of pollutants these factories emit has reduced since the 1950â€™s they still release a large quantity of dangerous gases. More standards can be enforced to reduce the emissions of these factories. Nevertheless, as long as we rely on fossil fuels for energy these factories will have to emit some sort of gas. At the moment, nuclear energy appears to be the wave of the future and this type of energy releases a lot less pollutants into the air than the combustion of oil and coal. Although air pollution presents no immediate danger it is important that we try to control the pollutants we emit. Most of the harm has already been done and there are no known ways to fix these problems. It is for this reason that we try our best to help the situation as most as possible.
â€œSeveral different kinds of waste are oxygen consumers. There is a certain concentration of oxygen needed in the worldâ€™s oceans to support life. However, when waste is present in the water that is easily broken down by the presence of oxygen, and this lowers the oxygen levels necessary to sustain the "natural biota" for that water. Radioactive materials escape from ore processing, nuclear power plants and use of nuclear weapons. Just as radioactivity has harmful effects on humans these effects translate to aquatic life and invade water supplies around the world if not properly contained.â€ (Singer, 1970)
Toxic metals are made up of heavy metals, light metals, and trace metals. Heavy metals have five times the density of water, whereas light metals have less. . Heavy metals are made up of seven basic elements that are found frequently in the Earth in aquatic and terrestrial environments. Trace metals display natural compounds of metal. The latter carry more contaminants than the heavy metals because of their great effects on living organisms. They are transmitted through direct use of mining in ores, in the burning of fossil fuels. The trace elements end up in water systems through atmospheric rain, agricultural run-off, mining wastes and domestic sewage. One the key factors of metal pollution is that they cannot biologically or chemically breakdown in nature. This stability also lets them be carried long distances through air and water. Mercury has shown to be a good example of how contamination of trace metals has severe effects and will be discussed in the next section on effects on society. â€œSynthetic organic pesticides are compounds that include insecticides, fungicides, and other pests that inhibit human conduct. There are chlorophenoxy acids, organophosphates, carbamates and chlorinated hydrocarbons. Discussing chlorinated hydrocarbons, the most dominant of these pollutants, is necessary because of their persistence or staying power. They resist breakdown for approximately two years before they disappear.â€ (Singer, 1970) Because of the great length of time that is these hydrocarbons can invade areas of the environment they were not meant for and spread into soils, runoffs and water environments. Their toxic effects on living organisms pervade fatty membranes around nerves and disrupt the movement of ions between the fiber.
Societal Effects from Water Pollution
Societyâ€™s main concern with water pollution has mostly been realized through our own concern for their drinking water. Contaminants of all kind have been studied for their possible harm on humans, and subsequent discoveries led to seeing the effects on other life in water. Water as a carrier of pathogenic organisms that can put health at risk was the primary reason for pollution control. More recently pollution was personalized when Americans saw pictures of seals and other sea life drowning in oil slick from spills, with drastic consequences. â€œWater birds can often be so covered in oil slick that they can no longer fly and feathers lose their insulation properties in cool water temperatures. Many surrounding plant life on the shoreline are also coated and vegetation rates decrease. Photosynthesis of plants is also affected below the water, where light intensity is decreased by 90%, two meters below the surface because of oil "flushing". Long-term affects, although still being studied, are based on the chemical messaging that is adversely effected by oil compounds in the water. Similarly they also might be involved and enter in the marine food chain.â€ (Seager, 1976) These facts helped increase awareness, inform the public and change policy on oil tanker practices.
In this same manner, DDT, decades after its discoverer Paul Mueller won the Nobel Prize for chemistry because of its insecticidal properties, was shown causing severe damage in water life systems. Nevertheless an abundance of pesticides of all kinds are still used in many areas and often are hard to contain in specific areas. â€œAs for metals, Mercury has wrought the largest scare to humans as its toxic effects from our actions have had repercussions. Mercury is used is three major ways by human processing electrical apparatus, chlor-alkali industry, and paint. Humans are exposed to mercury through production of other elements, the burning of coal, and the accelerated weathering of rocks and soils. Although there are different compounds of mercury effecting different aspects of body processes, there are also central breakdowns. Toxic action occurs through the binding of sulfur molecules in enzymes and cell walls that inhibit normal activity and depending on amount paralyzes or kills. All damage in permanent. Humans' greatest risk is through food poisoning. This was shown in the "Minamata disease" where 44 people died and more were paralyzed because of eating contaminated shellfish and other fish.â€ (Seager, 1976) Because of the biological amplification of mercury in aquatic life and in humans, the methyl mercury wastes from a shoreline plastics factory increased the mercury amount in the fish in great amounts.
What Can We Do?
Water main purposes for human beings are for recreation and aesthetics, public water supply, aquatic life, agriculture, and industry. Any substance that prevents these normal uses of water can be seen as a pollutant. Because of this great lengths need to be taken to protect and restore our Earthâ€™s water content. In many respects pollution control is a Government Issue. In the United States the Clean Water Act in 1972 is now celebrating its 25th anniversary showing exactly what has been accomplished in pollution prevention and water restoration. â€œEconomically, clean water is important in the Americaâ€™s tourism, agriculture, and commerce. The number of people helped by wastewater treatment plants has doubled by 750 million people. In fact, the Clinton administration has invested 10 billion dollars that will go to continuing the efforts of this act. US policy to help anti-pollution campaigns have been and continue to be successful because if financial capabilities of the country.â€
(Moriarty, 1983) Unfortunately the same efforts for sanitation and prevention is not seen equally around the world. Water- borne diseases regularly monitored in the US are rampant all over. The World Health Organization would argues that globally one billion people still lack safe drinking water and more than two billion do not have adequate disposal facilities. Basic sanitation is lacking in many developing countries which causes not only a health risk, but an increasingly polluted environment."
Buchanan, M. (n.d.). Pollution and society. Retrieved March 5, 2006, from University of Michigan Web site: http://www.umich.edu/~gs265/society/pollution.htm.
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