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Environmental pollution, problems and control measures – Overview
A. Introduction and definition of environmental pollution – We know that, a living organism cannot live by itself. Organisms interact among themselves. Hence, all organisms, such as plants, animals and human beings, as well as the physical surroundings with whom we interact, form a part of our environment. All these constituents of the environment are dependent upon each other. Thus, they maintain a balance in nature. As we are the only organisms try to modify the environment to fulfill our needs; it is our responsibility to take necessary steps to control the environmental imbalances.
The environmental imbalance gives rise to various environmental problems. Some of the environmental problems are pollution, soil erosion leading to floods, salt deserts and sea recedes, desertification, landslides, change of river directions, extinction of species, and vulnerable ecosystem in place of more complex and stable ecosystems, depletion of natural resources, waste accumulation, deforestation, thinning of ozone layer and global warming. The environmental problems are visualized in terms of pollution, growth in population, development, industrialization, unplanned urbanization etc. Rapid migration and increase in population in the urban areas has also lead to traffic congestion, water shortages, solid waste, and air, water and noise pollution are common noticeable problems in almost all the urban areas since last few years.
Environmental pollution is defined as the undesirable change in physical, chemical and biological characteristics of our air, land and water. As a result of over-population, rapid industrializations, and other human activities like agriculture and deforestation etc., earth became loaded with diverse pollutants that were released as by-products. Pollutants are generally grouped under two classes:
(a) Biodegradable pollutants – Biodegradable pollutants are broken down by the activity of micro-organisms and enter into the biogeochemical cycles. Examples of such pollutants are domestic waste products, urine and faucal matter, sewage, agricultural residue, paper, wood and cloth etc.
(b) Non- Biodegradable pollutants – Non-biodegradable pollutants are stronger chemical bondage, do not break down into simpler and harmless products. These include various insecticides and other pesticides, mercury, lead, arsenic, aluminum, plastics, radioactive waste etc.
B. Classification of Environmental Pollution – Pollution can be broadly classified according to the components of environment that are polluted. Major of these are: Air pollution, Water pollution, Soil pollution (land degradation) and Noise pollution. Details of these types of pollutions are discussed below with their prevention measures.
(1) Air Pollution: Air is mainly a mixture of various gases such as oxygen, carbon dioxide, nitrogen. These are present in a particular ratio. Whenever there is any imbalance in the ratio of these gases, air pollution is caused. The sources of air pollution can be grouped as under PDS_AIR_POLLUTION_0
(i) Natural; such as, forest fires, ash from smoking volcanoes, dust storm and decay of organic matters.
(ii) Man-made due to population explosion, deforestation, urbanization and industrializations.
Certain activities of human beings release several pollutants in air, such as carbon monoxide (CO), sulfur dioxide (SO2), hydrocarbons (HC), oxides of nitrogen (NOx), lead, arsenic, asbestos, radioactive matter, and dust. The major threat comes from burning of fossil fuels, such as coal and petroleum products. Thermal power plants, automobiles and industries are major sources of air pollution as well. Due to progress in atomic energy sector, there has been an increase in radioactivity in the atmosphere. Mining activity adds to air pollution in the form of particulate matter. Progress in agriculture due to use of fertilizers and pesticides has also contributed towards air pollution. Indiscriminate cutting of trees and clearing of forests has led to increase in the amount of carbon dioxide in atmosphere. Global warming is a consequence of green house effect caused by increased level of carbon dioxide (CO2). Ozone (O3) depletion has resulted in UV radiation striking our earth.
The gaseous composition of unpolluted air
Parts per million (vol)
Harmful Effects of air pollution –
(a) It affects respiratory system of living organisms and causes bronchitis, asthma, lung cancer, pneumonia etc. Carbon monoxide (CO) emitted from motor vehicles and cigarette smoke affects the central nervous system.
(b) Due to depletion of ozone layer, UV radiation reaches the earth. UV radiation causes skin cancer, damage to eyes and immune system.
(c) Acid rain is also a result of air pollution. This is caused by presence of oxides of nitrogen and sulfur in the air. These oxides dissolve in rain water to form nitric acid and sulfuric acid respectively. Various monuments, buildings, and statues are damaged due to corrosion by acid present in the rain. The soil also becomes acidic. The cumulative effect is the gradual degradation of soil and a decline in forest and agricultural productivity.
(d) The green house gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) trap the heat radiated from earth. This leads to an increase in earth’s temperature.
(e) Some toxic metals and pesticides also cause air pollution.
[For more refer Industrial Dust, Air Pollution and Related Occupational Diseases ]
(2) Water Pollution: Water is one of the prime necessities of life. With increasing number of people depend on this resource; water has become a scarce commodity. Pollution makes even the limited available water unfit for use. Water is said to be polluted when there is any physical, biological or chemical change in water quality that adversely affects living organisms or makes water unsuitable for use. Sources of water pollution are mainly factories, power plants, coal mines and oil wells situated either close to water source or away from sources. They discharge pollutants directly or indirectly into the water sources like river, lakes, water streams etc. The harmful effects of water pollution are:
(a) Human beings become victims of various water borne diseases, such as typhoid, cholera, dysentery, hepatitis, jaundice, etc.
(b) The presence of acids/alkalies in water destroys the microorganisms, thereby hindering the self-purification process in the rivers or water bodies. Agriculture is affected badly due to polluted water. Marine eco-systems are affected adversely.
(c) The sewage waste promotes growth of phytoplankton in water bodies; causing reduction of dissolved oxygen.
(d) Poisonous industrial wastes present in water bodies affect the fish population and deprives us of one of our sources of food. It also kills other animals living in fresh water.
(e) The quality of underground water is also affected due to toxicity and pollutant content of surface water.
(2.1) Water pollution by industries and its effects – Industrial_WaterPollutionA change in the chemical, physical, biological, and radiological quality of water that is injurious to its uses. The term “water pollution” generally refers to human-induced changes to water quality. Thus, the discharge of toxic chemicals from industries or the release of human or livestock waste into a nearby water body is considered pollution.
The contamination of ground water of water bodies like rivers, lakes, wetlands, estuaries, and oceans can threaten the health of humans and aquatic life. Sources of water pollution may be divided into two categories. (i) Point-source pollution, in which contaminants are discharged from a discrete location. Sewage outfalls and oil spills are examples of point-source pollution. (ii) Non-point-source or diffuse pollution, referring to all of the other discharges that deliver contaminants to water bodies. Acid rain and unconfined runoff from agricultural or urban areas falls under this category.
The principal contaminants of water include toxic chemicals, nutrients, biodegradable organics, and bacterial & viral pathogens. Water pollution can affect human health when pollutants enter the body either via skin exposure or through the direct consumption of contaminated drinking water and contaminated food. Prime pollutants, including DDT and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), persist in the natural environment and bioaccumulation occurs in the tissues of aquatic organisms. These prolonged and persistent organic pollutants are transferred up the food chain and they can reach levels of concern in fish species that are eaten by humans. Moreover, bacteria and viral pathogens can pose a public health risk for those who drink contaminated water or eat raw shellfish from polluted water bodies.
Contaminants have a significant impact on aquatic ecosystems. Enrichment of water bodies with nutrients (principally nitrogen and phosphorus) can result in the growth of algae and other aquatic plants that shade or clog streams. If wastewater containing biodegradable organic matter is discharged into a stream with inadequate dissolved oxygen, the water downstream of the point of discharge will become anaerobic and will be turbid and dark. Settleable solids will be deposited on the streambed, and anaerobic decomposition will occur. Over the reach of stream where the dissolved-oxygen concentration is zero, a zone of putrefaction will occur with the production of hydrogen sulfide (H2S), ammonia (NH3), and other odorous gases. Because many fish species require a minimum of 4–5 mg of dissolved oxygen per liter of water, they will be unable to survive in this portion of the stream.
Direct exposures to toxic chemicals are also a health concern for individual aquatic plants and animals. Chemicals such as pesticides are frequently transported to lakes and rivers via runoff, and they can have harmful effects on aquatic life. Toxic chemicals have been shown to reduce the growth, survival, reproductive output, and disease resistance of exposed organisms. These effects can have important consequences for the viability of aquatic populations and communities.
Wastewater discharges are most commonly controlled through effluent standards and discharge permits. Under this system, discharge permits are issued with limits on the quantity and quality of effluents. Water-quality standards are sets of qualitative and quantitative criteria designed to maintain or enhance the quality of receiving waters. Criteria can be developed and implemented to protect aquatic life against acute and chronic effects and to safeguard humans against deleterious health effects, including cancer.
[ For more refer ‘Water Conservation – Need-of-the-day for our very survival‘ ]
(3) Soil pollution (Land degradation): Land pollution is due to
(i) Deforestation and
(ii) Dumping of solid wastes.
Deforestation increases soil erosion; thus valuable agricultural land is lost. Solid wastes from household and industries also pollute land and enhance land degradation. Solid wastes include things from household waste and of industrial wastes. They include ash, glass, peelings of fruit and vegetables, paper, clothes, plastics, rubber, leather, brick, sand, metal, waste from cattle shed, night soil and cow dung. Chemicals discharged into air, such as compounds of sulfur and lead, eventually come to soil and pollute it. The heaps of solid waste destroy the natural beauty and surroundings become dirty. Pigs, dogs, rats, flies, mosquitoes visit the dumped waste and foul smell comes from the waste. The waste may block the flow of water in the drain, which then becomes the breeding place for mosquitoes. Mosquitoes are carriers of parasites of malaria and dengue. Consumption of polluted water causes many diseases, such as cholera, diarrhea and dysentery.
[ For more refer Solid Waste Disposal -A Burning Problem To Be Resolved To Save Environment ]
(4) Noise pollution : health_effects_of_noiseHigh level noise is a disturbance to the human environment. Because of urbanization, noise in all areas in a city has increased considerably. One of the most pervasive sources of noise in our environment today is those associated with transportation. People reside adjacent to highways, are subjected to high level of noise produced by trucks and vehicles pass on the highways. Prolonged exposure to high level of noise is very much harmful to the health of mankind.
In industry and in mines the main sources of noise pollution are blasting, movement of heavy earth moving machines, drilling, crusher and coal handling plants etc. The critical value for the development of hearing problems is at 80 decibels.
Chronic exposure to noise may cause noise-induced hearing loss. High noise levels can contribute to cardiovascular effects. Moreover, noise can be a causal factor in workplace accidents.
C. Fundamentals of prevention and control of air pollution:
As mentioned above, air pollutants can be gaseous or particulate matters. Different techniques for controlling these pollutants are discussed below:
a. Methods of controlling gaseous pollutants –
1. Combustion – This technique is used when the pollutants are in the form of organic gases or vapors. During flame combustion or catalytic process, these organic pollutants are converted into water vapor and relatively less harmful products, such as CO2.
2. Absorption – In this technique, the gaseous effluents are passed through scrubbers or absorbers. These contain a suitable liquid absorbent, which removes or modifies one or more of the pollutants present in the gaseous effluents.
3. Adsorption – The gaseous effluents are passed through porous solid adsorbents kept in suitable containers. The organic and inorganic constituents of the effluent gases are trapped at the interface of the solid adsorbent by physical adsorbent.
b. Methods to control particulate emissions –
1. Mechanical devices generally work on the basis of the following: dustbagfilter
(i) Gravity: In this process, the particles settle down by gravitational force.
(ii) Sudden change in direction of the gas flow. This causes the particles to separate out due to greater momentum.
2. Fabric Filters: The gases containing dust are passed through a porous medium. These porous media may be woven or filled fabrics. The particles present in the gas are trapped and collected in the filters. The gases freed from the particles are discharged.
3. Wet Scrubbers: Wet scrubbers are used in chemical, mining and metallurgical industries to trap SO2, NH3, metal fumes, etc.
4. Electrostatic Precipitators: When a gas or an air stream containing aerosols in the form of dust, fumes or mist, is passed between two electrodes, then, the aerosol particles get precipitated on the electrode. dustelectrostaticprecipitator
c. Other practices in controlling air pollution – Apart from the above, following practices also help in controlling air pollution.
(i) Use of better designed equipment and smokeless fuels, hearths in industries and at home.
(ii) Automobiles should be properly maintained and adhere to recent emission-control standards.
(iii) More trees should be planted along road side and houses.
(iv) Renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar energy, ocean currents, should fulfill energy needs.
(v) Tall chimneys should be installed for vertical dispersion of pollutants.
d. General air pollution control devices / equipments for industries – The commonly used equipments / process for control of dust in various industries are (a) Mechanical dust collectors in the form of dust cyclones; (b) Electrostatic precipitators – both dry and wet system; (c) particulate scrubbers; (d) Water sprayer at dust generation points; (e) proper ventilation system and (f) various monitoring devices to know the concentration of dust in general body of air.
The common equipments / process used for control of toxic / flue gases are the (a) process of desulphurisation; (b) process of denitrification; (c) Gas conditioning etc. and (d) various monitoring devices to know the efficacy of the systems used.
e. Steps, in general, to be taken for reduction of air pollution – To change our behavior in order to reduce AIR POLLUTION at home as well as on the road, few following small steps taken by us would lead to clean our Environment.
1. Avoid using chemical pesticides or fertilizers in your yard and garden. Many fertilizers are a source of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. Try organic products instead.
2. Compost your yard waste instead of burning it. Outdoor burning is not advisable, as it pollutes air. Breathing this smoke is bad for you, your family and your neighbors. Plus, you can use the compost in your garden.
3. If you use a wood stove or fireplace to heat your home, it would be better to consider switching to another form of heat which does not generate smoke. It is always better to use sweater or warm clothing than using fireplace.
4. Be energy efficient. Most traditional sources of energy burn fossil fuels, causing air pollution. Keep your home well-maintained with weather-stripping, storm windows, and insulation. Lowering your thermostat can also help – and for every two degrees Fahrenheit you lower it, you save about two percent on your heating bill.
5. Plant trees and encourage other to plant trees as well. Trees absorb and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and filter out air pollution. During warmer days, trees provide cool air, unnecessary use of energy on air conditioning is avoided, hence the air pollution.
6. Try to stop smoking; at home, at office or at outside. Tobacco smoking not only deteriorates self’s health, it affects others health too.
On the Road:
7. Keep your vehicle well maintained. A poorly maintained engine both creates more air pollution and uses more fuel. Replace oil and air filters regularly, and keep your tires properly inflated.
8. Drive less. Walking, bicycling, riding the bus, or working from home can save you money as well as reducing air pollution.
9. Don’t idle your vehicle. If you stop for more than 30 seconds, except in traffic, turn off your engine.
10. Don’t buy more car than you need. Four-wheel drive, all-wheel drive, engine size, vehicle weight, and tire size all affect the amount of fuel your vehicle uses. The more fuel it uses the more air pollution it causes.
D. Water pollution prevention and control:
Water is a key resource for our quality of life. It also provides natural habitats and eco-systems for plant and animal species. Access to clean water for drinking and sanitary purposes is a precondition for human health and well-being. Clean unpolluted water is essential for our ecosystems. Plants and animals in lakes, rivers and seas react to changes in their environment caused by changes in chemical water quality and physical disturbance of their habitat.
Water pollution is a human-induced change in the chemical, physical, biological, and radiological quality of water that is injurious to its existing, intended, or potential uses such as boating, waterskiing, swimming, the consumption of fish, and the health of aquatic organisms and ecosystems. Thus, the discharge of toxic chemicals from a pipe or the release of livestock waste into a nearby water body is considered pollution. The contamination of ground water, rivers, lakes, wetlands, estuaries, and oceans can threaten the health of humans and aquatic life.
Contaminants have a significant impact on aquatic ecosystems. for example, enrichment of water bodies with nutrients (principally nitro
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