Air And Water Pollution
Definition: Pollution is the introduction of contaminants into an environment that causes instability, disorder, harm or discomfort to the ecosystem i.e. physical systems or living organisms. Pollution can take the form of chemical substances, or energy, such as noise, heat, or light energy. Pollutants, the elements of pollution, can be foreign substances or energies, or naturally occurring; when naturally occurring, they are considered contaminants when they exceed natural levels. Pollution is often classed as point source or non point source pollution.
Air pollution is the introduction of chemicals, particulate matter, or biological materials that cause harm or discomfort to humans or other living organisms, or damages the natural environment, into the atmosphere.
The atmosphere is a complex, dynamic natural gaseous system that is essential to support life on planet Earth. Stratospheric ozone depletion due to air pollution has long been recognized as a threat to human health as well as to the Earth's ecosystems.
Causes of Air Pollution
The substances which contaminate the air are called air pollutants. Sometimes, such substances may come from natural sources like smoke and dust arising from forest fires or volcanic eruptions. Pollutants are also added to the atmosphere by human activities. The sources of air pollutants are factories, power plants, automobile exhausts and burning of firewood and dung cakes.
Vehicles produce high levels of pollutants like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides and smoke. Carbon monoxide is produced from incomplete burning of fuels such as petrol and diesel. It is a poisonous gas. It reduces the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood. There is thick fog-like layer in the atmosphere, especially during winters. This is smog which is made up of smoke and fog. Smoke may contain oxides of nitrogen which combine with other air pollutants and fog to form smog. The smog causes breathing difficulties such as asthma, cough and wheezing in children. Many industries are also responsible for causing air pollution. Petroleum refineries are a major source of gaseous pollutants like sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. Sulphur dioxide is produced by combustion of fuels like coal in power plants. It can cause respiratory problems, including permanent lung damage.
Other kinds of pollutants are chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) which are used in refrigerators, air conditioners and aerosol sprays. CFCs damage the ozone layer of the atmosphere.
In addition to the above mentioned gases, automobiles which burn diesel and petrol also produce tiny particles which remain suspended in air for long periods. They reduce visibility. When inhaled, they cause diseases. Such particles are also produced during industrial processes like steel making and mining. Power plants give out tiny ash particles which also pollute the atmosphere.
Case Study: The Taj Mahal
Over the past 2 decades, India’s most famous tourist attraction, Taj Mahal located in Agra, has become a matter of concern. Experts have warned that pollutants in air are discolouring its white marble. So, it is not only living organisms that get affected by polluted air but non-living things like buildings, monuments and statues also get affected. The industries located in and around Agra like rubber processing, automobile, chemicals and especially the Mathura oil refinery, have been responsible for producing pollutants like sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. These gases react with the water vapour present in the atmosphere to form sulphuric acid and nitric acid. The acids drop down with rain, making the rain acidic. This is called acid rain. Acid rain corrodes the marble of the monument. The phenomenon is also called “Marble cancer”. Suspended particulate matter, such as the soot particles emitted by Mathura oil refinery, has contributed towards yellowing of the marble.
We know that the sun’s rays warm the earth’s surface. A part of the radiation that falls on the earth is absorbed by it and a part is reflected back into space. A part of the reflected radiation is trapped by the atmosphere. The trapped radiations further warm the earth. The trapped heat warms the green house. The trapping of radiations by the earth’s atmosphere is similar. That is why it is called the greenhouse effect. Without this process, life would not have been possible on the earth. But now it threatens life. CO2 is one of the gases responsible for this effect.
CO2 is continuously being released because of human activities. On the other hand, area under forests is decreasing. Plants utilize CO2 from the atmosphere for photosynthesis, thereby decreasing the amount of CO2 in the air. Deforestation leads to an increase in the amount of CO2 in the air because the number of trees which consume CO2 is reduced. Human activities, thus, contribute to the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere. CO2 traps heat and does not allow it to escape into space. As a result, the average temperature of the earth’s atmosphere is gradually increasing. This is called global warming.
Water pollution is the contamination of water bodies such as lakes, rivers, oceans, and groundwater caused by human activities, which can be harmful to organisms and plants that live in these water bodies. It occurs when pollutants are discharged directly into water bodies without treating it first.
Causes of Water Pollution
There are many causes for water pollution but two general categories exist: direct and indirect contaminant sources. Direct sources include effluent outfalls from factories, refineries, waste treatment plants etc. that emits fluids of varying quality directly into urban water supplies. In the United States and other countries, these practices are regulated, although this doesn't mean that pollutants can't be found in these waters.
Indirect sources include contaminants that enter the water supply from soils/groundwater systems and from the atmosphere via rain water. Soils and groundwaters contain the residue of human agricultural practices (fertilizers, pesticides, etc.) and improperly disposed of industrial wastes. Atmospheric contaminants are also derived from human practices (such as gaseous emissions from automobiles, factories and even bakeries).
Contaminants can be broadly classified into organic, inorganic, radioactive and acid/base.
Effects of Water Pollution
The effects of water pollution are varied. They include poisonous drinking water, poisonous food animals (due to these organisms having bioaccumulated toxins from the environment over their life spans), unbalanced river and lake ecosystems that can no longer support full biological diversity, deforestation from acid rain, and many other effects. These effects are, of course, specific to the various contaminants.
Corrective Actions Required
Science provides many practical solutions to minimizing the present level at which pollutants are introduced into the environment and for remediating (cleaning up) past problems. All of these solutions come with some cost (both societal and monetary). In our everyday lives, a great deal can be done to minimize pollution if we take care to recycle materials whose production creates pollution and if we act responsibly with household chemicals and their disposal. Additionally, there are choices we make each day that also can affect the quantity of pollutants our actions will introduce into the environment.
Heavily packaged foods, for instance, contain boxes, cartons, bottles etc. made with polluting dyes, many of which are released from groundwater at municipal land fills. Whether we choose to drive to the corner store rather than walk or ride a bicycle will determine how much we personally contribute to acid and hydrocarbon emissions to the atmosphere (and ultimately to global fresh water supplies).
Potable Water & Purification of Water
Water which is suitable for drinking is called potable water. Various physical and chemical processes in the sewage treatment plants help to clean water before discharging it into water bodies. Similarly, municipal bodies treat the water before supplying it to households.
Water can be made safe for drinking:
• Water is filtered. This is a physical method of removing impurities. A popular household filter is a candle type filter.
• Many households use boiling as a method for obtaining safe drinking water. Boiling kills the germs present in the water.
• Chlorination is a commonly used chemical method for purifying water. It is done by adding chlorine tablets or bleaching powder to the water.