Pollution is the process of introducing harmful contaminants to the environment, damaging the Earth and its natural resources. While some pollution is naturally produced, the majority comes from anthropogenic (human-made) sources. The three major types of pollution with the greatest effects on the environment are land pollution, air pollution, and water pollution.1 Land pollution refers to the deterioration of Earth’s land surfaces above and below ground level2. Water pollution is the introduction of harmful chemicals or dangerous foreign substances to bodies of water3. Air pollution is the release of hazardous chemicals and compounds into the air.4
Land pollution is a consequence of:
- Deforestation (Destroying forests not only results in animal habitats being destroyed, but it also results in the creation of loose soil. Because of this, tree roots no longer keep the soil in place causing the soil to pollute other areas)
- Mining (Unwanted rocks and other minerals that are brought up from the deep caves that are not used, often release noxious gasses when exposed to water and air. Coal fires that occur in mines are also exceedingly harmful to the environment as they can burn for centuries. Although they contribute to pollution, strip mines also contribute to erosion.)
- Landfills/waste (Landfills have always been a prevalent issue as the burning of trash in order to create energy releases millions of tons of methane and carbon dioxide into the air.)
- Industry (Most countries sign agreements in order to limit their industrial pollution output but, some of those nations violate their agreements in order to get increased industrial output. Industrial projects predominantly contribute to air pollution although, some factories have waste runoffs that lead directly into the ocean)
Water pollution is attributable to:
- Sewage and wastewater (close to 900 billion gallons of untreated sewage water is released back into lakes, oceans, etc.)
- Oil pollution (In addition to oil spills caused by ships, about one million tons of oil is leaked from cars, trucks, and other forms of transportation)
- Agricultural use (Raining leads to massive amounts of animal waste, pesticides and fertilizer all get washed into nearby rivers and other bodies of water)
(Did you know: The agricultural sector uses about 70% of the world’s water supplies)5
Out of the main three pollution issues, air pollution is the most injurious to humans. Air pollution is primarily caused by
- the production of noxious gasses (carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur oxides) by public transportation and power plants
- the emission of ozone by cars, power plants, industrial boilers, and refineries
- fuel oils and natural gas that heat homes
- Particulate matter (composed of sulfates, nitrates, carbon, and mineral dust) is produced by fossil fuel combustion, cigarette smoke, and burning organic matter6
There are numerous other sources of pollution like light and sound pollution; however, these sources are not nearly as destructive and are considered minor disruptions.7
Each form of pollution can have detrimental effects on the environment and the health of humans or wildlife.
Land pollution also has drastic effects on both humans and the environment. The overuse of chemical fertilizers and soil erosion triggered by running water damages the upper layer of the topsoil, leading to the loss of fertile land for agriculture, forest cover, and patches for grazing. Harmful substances from industrial mining, farming, and factories end up in the groundwater system through a process called leaching and affect the health of plants, animals, and humans. With an increase in land pollution and waste, landfill sizes enlarge and produce methane, contributing directly to the greenhouse effect and speeding up global warming.8
Water pollution has been shown to have extensive effects on both human health and the environment, sickening almost 1 billion people a year and threatening marine ecosystems. Waterborne pathogens in the form of bacteria and viruses originate from human and animal waste and are a major cause of illnesses in contaminated drinking water, including cholera, giardia, and typhoid. Water pollution can often cause an algal bloom (rapid increase in nutrients leading to an influx of algae) in a marine environment which stimulates plant and animal growth. This causes the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water to decrease and creates “dead zones” (areas that are devoid of life). Neurotoxins that are produced in these algal blooms drastically affect marine wildlife. Heavy metals and dangerous chemicals infiltrate waterways and make their way up the food chain in ecosystems, reaching big fish such as tuna that humans ingest into their bodies. Marine debris such as plastic bags or soda cans that makes their way to the sea can also strangle or suffocate animals.9
The two most prevalent types of air pollution are smog (ground-level ozone produced by fossil fuels reacting with sunlight) and soot (particulate matter). Smog irritates the eyes, throat, and damages the lungs; it has even worse effects for people with allergies or asthma. In addition to smog, soot’s tiny airborne particles can penetrate the lungs and bloodstream, worsening diseases and leading to heart attacks. A report by Harvard’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health demonstrated that COVID-19 mortality rates were greater in areas with higher levels of soot pollution.
Also, an increase in carbon dioxide and methane through fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes such as oil drilling contributes directly to global warming through the greenhouse effect. Another class of greenhouse gasses, found in air conditioners and refrigerators, called HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons) had a much higher heat-absorbing capacity than carbon dioxide, but greener alternatives have been discovered.10 CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), used in aerosol sprays and refrigeration, also destroy parts of the ozone layer.
Although the Earth is constantly affected by pollution, there are ways that individuals can have an impact and help reduce pollution. This includes:
- using eco-friendly transportation by driving an electric/hybrid car or a bicycle (this will reduce harmful emissions from waste products)
- disposing of waste responsibly and adopting the 3 R’s of waste management – reduce, reuse, and recycle
- minimizing the use of gas, water, and electricity at home and using renewable sources of energy such as wind or solar power
- planting more trees (they provide more oxygen and clean the air) and minimize the use of pesticides
- most importantly spreading awareness to our community about the negative effects of pollution and how they can have an impact in saving the Earth11
1Bradford, A. (2018) “Pollution Facts and Types of Pollution.” LiveScience, https://www.livescience.com/22728-pollution-facts.html.
2Texas Disposal Systems. (2020) “Land Pollution: Causes, Effects, and Prevention.” Texas Disposal Systems, https://www.texasdisposal.com/blog/land-pollution/.
3Denchak, M. (2018) “Water Pollution: Everything You Need to Know.” NRDC, https://www.nrdc.org/stories/water-pollution-everything-you-need-know.
4National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. “Air Pollution and Your Health.” NIEHS, https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/air-pollution/index.cfm.
5National Geographic Society. “Air Pollution.” National Geographic Society, 9 Oct. 2012, https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/air-pollution/.
7“The Main Causes of Land Pollution.” 5 Dec. 2020, Greentumble, https://greentumble.com/the-main-causes-of-land-pollution/#:~:text=Land%20 pollution%20is%20a%20 major,urbanization%20and%20construction%20%5B8%5D.
8Mackenzie, J and Turrentine, J. (2021) “Air Pollution: Everything You Need to Know.” NRDC, https://www.nrdc.org/stories/air-pollution-everything-you-need-know
9Denchak, M. (2018) “Water Pollution: Everything You Need to Know.” NRDC, https://www.nrdc.org/stories/water-pollution-everything-you-need-know.
10Conserve Energy Future. “What is Land Pollution.” Conserve Energy Future, https://www.conserve-energy-future.com/causes-effects-solutions-of-land-pollution.php
11Barbour, I. “Ways to Prevent and Reduce Air, Water, and Land Pollution.” Soapboxie, https://soapboxie.com/social-issues/reduce-pollutionPollution