Have you ever walked past an old car and been engulfed by black smoke? This is a type of pollution. Cars spew pollutants from their exhaust pipes, burning coal to create electricity pollutes the air, while industries and homes generate garbage and sewage that can pollute the land and water. Pesticides, which are a form of chemical poison used to kill weeds and insects —seep into waterways and harm wildlife. These are just some of the sources of pollution, which cause 40% of deaths worldwide! Today we shall cover the various types of pollution and their impacts on humans, ecosystems, and the environment. 

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Pollution Pollution

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Table of contents

    What is Pollution?

    Pollution is mainly associated with gaseous by-products and chemical waste but should Also be considered in a broader sense.

    Pollution is any change to an environmental variable away from the norm.

    This can be chemical substances (such as gaseous by-products, agricultural waste, metal particulates) or other forms of environmental change (such as noise, temperature increases, light intensities. Plants and animals are often specifically adapted to their environmental surroundings, so even small changes to their habitat can have severe implications for entire ecosystems.

    • Point source nutrient pollution refers to pollution that can be attributed to a certain point and is easily quantifiable.

    • Non-point source nutrient pollution concerns pollution from a general area, making it more difficult to pinpoint where it originates.

    Types of Pollution

    Here are the types we are going to cover today, these are:

    1. Air pollution
    2. Water pollution
    3. Soil pollution
    4. Light pollution
    5. Plastic pollution
    6. Noise pollution

    Air Pollution

    Air pollution involves the release of gaseous molecules and particulates that alter the composition of the atmosphere. Air pollution is can be directly harmful to humans, plants, and animals, but also indirectly by contributing to the greenhouse effect.

    The greenhouse effect involves greenhouse gases reflecting infrared radiation re-emitted from the Earth's surface.

    Causes of Air Pollution

    Here are the causes of air pollution:

    • Polluting gases: dangerous gaseous by-products can be released from the burning of fossil fuels, industrial processes, and the decomposition of waste. These gases include carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and sulphur dioxide.
    • Particulates: small particulates can be released as by-products from industrial processes and from vehicles. These include soot, metal particulates, smoke, and aerosols.

    When soot is visible in the air it often means carbon monoxide is present to. Carbon monoxide is a very dangerous gas that causes respiratory problems

    Effects of Air Pollution

    Here are the resulting effects of air pollution:

    • Humans: nitrogen and sulphur oxides cause acid rain and erode limestone buildings. Small particulates can cause respiratory problems, genetic mutations, and cardiovascular diseases.
    • Environment: carbon dioxide will contribute to the greenhouse effect and cause global warming, while acid rain from nitrogen and sulphur oxides will pollute waterways. Athatls which have a strong absorbing effect will also contribute to warming.
    • Ecosystems: acid rain damages ecosystems, while consequences of global warming like melting ice sheets, forest fires, and migration to cooler regions reduce habitats and shift ecosystem dynamics.

    Examples of ecosystem dynamics are predator-prey relationships, competition, and symbioses.

    Water Pollution

    Water pollution concerns the runoff or diffusion of chemicals or wastes into oceans, rivers, and other watercourses. Pollution of water is very dangerous because aquatic ecosystems require certain conditions and will be affected by small changes in chemical concentrations.

    Causes of Water Pollution

    Let's have a look at the causes of water pollution:

    • Agricultural runoff: Agricultural practices have intensified in the last century, along with using nitrogen and phosphorus fertilisers. Overuse of these fertilisers can lead to an excess of nutrients in the soils, which then leach into nearby waterways when it rains.
    • Urban waste: industrial discharge and chemicals used in gardening may run off in coastal areas, while littering near oceans and waterbodies is a problem.
    • Waste treatment: Sewage treatment plants and septic tanks are often designed to remove dangerous and poisonous particulates rather than nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus, so nutrient-rich water will often be discharged. Poorly managed waste can release all types of contaminants too.
    • Acid rain: by-products from fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes like nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide cause acid rain, which can pour into oceans and other bodies of water.

    Leaching involves the runoff of the contents of soils into nearby watercourses.

    Agricultural fertilisers contain nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. When these nutrients leach into nearby waters they can cause the rapid overgrowth of algae and eutrophication.

    Effects of Water Pollution

    Here are some of the alarming effects of water pollution:

    • Humans: Declining aquatic ecosystems will negatively affect the livelihoods of people working in coastal areas, while toxins released from the breakdown of algal blooms will dirty drinking water.
    • Ecosystems: leaching nutrients from over-fertilised soils and urban waste can cause eutrophication of nearby waters, which leads to anoxia. Poisonous toxins from algal blooms will harm fish assemblages, and invasive species will be better adapted to high-nutrient environments and drive out the original species, which may lead to a loss in ecosystem functionality.
    • Environment: acid rain will devastate landscapes, while atmospheric deposition of carbon dioxide will cause ocean acidification.

    Eutrophication is the suffocation of oxygen in water. This can occur by an influx of nutrients causing producer populations to increase rapidly and from 'algal blooms'. These algal blooms will block sunlight from penetrating to the depths and decomposition of the algae (by aerobic bacteria) will suck up any oxygen available.

    Anoxia simply means the absence of oxygen. Aerobic organisms will be unable to survive in these conditions.

    Ocean acidification occurs when carbon dioxide diffuses into the ocean and reacts with carbonates. This will reduce the carbonate availability for calcifying organisms like coral polyps, sea urchins, and foraminifera. These species often provide services for ecosystems, this could be as a food resource or structural integrity in the case of corals.

    Soil Pollution

    Soil pollution is the contamination of soils by the addition of chemicals or physical disruption. This type of pollution is a huge concern in agriculture, as pollution of soils can cause infertility and inhibit crop growth.

    Causes of Soil Pollution

    So what are the causes of soil pollution?

    • Agrochemicals: the overuse of artificial agrochemicals like fertilisers and pesticides can make soils infertile and affect nearby aquatic ecosystems.
    • Physical disturbances: intensive agricultural practices disturb soils and make them more vulnerable to contaminating chemicals.
    • Industrial discharge: inconsiderate disposal of industrial waste can contaminate soils with poisonous chemicals like hydrocarbons, solvents, and metal particulates. Leaching from landfills is a major threat to soil health.

    Percolation of contaminated waters is the process by which chemicals pollute soils.

    Effects of Soil Pollution

    Here are the effects of soil pollution:

    • Humans: agricultural industries are heavily impacted by soil pollution. Polluted soils will become unhealthy and sometimes even infertile, meaning crop growth and yield is limited. Polluted soils can contaminate grazing pastures and poison livestock. These impacts threaten global food security and the livelihoods of many agricultural workers.
    • Environment: polluted soils will be unable to support as large producer populations as non-polluted ones, so less carbon dioxide will be taken up by photosynthesis and more will stay in the atmosphere and contribute to the greenhouse effect.
    • Ecosystems: the leaching of polluted soils will cause eutrophication of nearby watercourses and consequent anoxia. This will have ramifications for the entire aquatic ecosystem and can cause drinking water to be tarnished by toxins released from the breakdown of algal blooms.

    Other Types of Pollution

    Let's go over some other types of pollution which can be just as problematic for humans and the environment.

    Noise Pollution

    Noise pollution is the increase in amount of noise in an area away from the norm. This can stem from a variety of things and can be extremely annoying for people and stressful for animals. Booming speakers, revving vehicles, and heavy machinery all make huge amounts of noise. Elderly people will be particularly susceptible to ear damage and headaches, while nearby civilians may struggle with sleep. Ecosystems can be affected by noise as well; a consistent new source of noise can force certain species to migrate to quieter regions.

    Light Pollution

    Light pollution involves any abnormal brightening of the sky by artificial lighting. Additional light is a problem in highly developed cities and can have polluting effects on the whole planet. Light pollution can cause eye damage to humans and some animals may become confused by changing light intensities in the sky. Ecosystems near large cities may struggle to distinguish between daylight and night, while some birds depend on the moon and star constellations for migration, which will be impaired by more light.

    Heat pollution

    Heat pollution coincides with air pollution, as the release of greenhouse gases (such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide) causes global temperatures to rise. Increasing temperatures are leading to climate change all over the world, with many habitats being fragmented and destroyed by wildfires, rising sea levels, and melting ice sheets.

    Heat pollution can also stem from 'cooling water' from power plants being released into waters (this cooling water is much warmer than the body of water). Organisms become stressed in warmer conditions and water is unable to hold as much oxygen. In highly developed areas, waste heat from large buildings can become trapped in urban areas and create microclimates, which will impact any wildlife and human populations in this area.

    Microclimates are localised areas with climatic conditions that are different from the surrounding region.

    Pollution - Key takeaways

    • Pollution refers to a changing condition that strays away from the norm. Conditions include the composition of air, water, and soil as well as temperature, light, and noise.
    • Air pollution involves the addition of gaseous substances or particulates to the air, which can cause respiratory problems, climate change, and acid rain.
    • Water pollution concerns changes to aquatic environments. Agricultural and industrial runoff, acid rain, and atmospheric deposition threaten water quality and contaminate ecosystems.
    • Soil pollution is a massive problem for agricultural productivity and involves the contamination of soils by runoff, over-application of chemicals, and physical disturbance.
    • Noise, heat and light are other examples of pollution.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Pollution

    What is air pollution?

    The release of dangerous chemicals or particulates that change the composition of the air.

    What is soil pollution?

    The addition of polluting chemicals into the soil by runoff or infiltration.

    What is pollution?

    Pollution is the addition of unwanted chemicals, substances, or energy to the environment.

    What causes air pollution?

    Release of polluting gases like carbon dioxide, methane, sulphur dioxide, or nitrous dioxide, or the release of particulates like metals, soot, and aerosols.

    What is noise pollution?

    The increase in the amount of sound energy released into an area away from the norm.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Lead cannot be taken up by plants in acidic soils.

    Lead exposure during pregnancy can affect the unborn baby. How?

    Which of these is a reddish-brown gas with unpleasant odour?


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