What is Environmental Pollution?
The environment is made up of systems, cycles, and specialized relationships between living and non-living elements. When everything’s working the way it should be, all the living organisms within the environment, including humans, are healthy and thriving.
But when something harmful is introduced to the cycle, or part of the cycle is disrupted somehow, it can cause a chain reaction of problems right through the rest of the system. These changes can really hurt the health and well being of living organisms. One of these negative changes is pollution, which is the result of unnatural elements entering the environment. Unfortunately, humans are usually at fault.
Anything that’s harmful to the environment is pollution. Litter, car exhaust, motor oil, used tires, smoke, chemicals – all of these can have an instant or a gradual impact on the health of our earth.
But even though there’s been a lot of damage done to the environment by pollutants, that doesn’t mean it’s “game over” for Earth. There are two ways to tackle the problem. First, clean up what we can. And second, take action to prevent further pollution.
Most of the pollution on land comes from litter. People toss away garbage instead of disposing of it properly, which clogs up the land, attracts pests such as insects and rodents, and even harms the soil and the critters that live there if it contains chemicals. If garbage kills the plants in an area by covering them up, it affects the food chain, since green plants are the start of every chain. It also affects the air quality, since plants help clean the air.
Some pollutants that enter the air come from natural sources. For example, When a volcano erupts, volcanic ash blasts into the air and can remain there for years. Other natural sources of air pollution include smoke from forest fires, and dust and sand from storms.
While there are some natural sources of air pollution, the majority of air pollutants come from things we do ourselves—or things people have invented, such as the combustion engine.
Airborne pollutants make it tough to breathe and can even cause diseases like cancer. One problem is the way winds criss-cross the globe, picking up pollutants and carrying them all over the world. This is how areas far away from where the actual pollution is created can become affected, too. Air pollution is not just a local concern.
When sewage, oil, chemicals, and other pollutants enter the water cycle, it can be devastating and even deadly. Sediments that collect in the water from trash or chemicals in the water prevent fishes from filtering oxygen through their gills, and they can suffocate. When the dissolved oxygen in the water drops below a certain level (two to five parts per million gallons of water), many types of fish and aquatic animals can’t survive. Aquatic plants also are “choked” and die, disrupting the food chains.
Water Pollutants can come from various sources:
- Sewage and farm waste can introduce harmful bacteria.
- Herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers from agriculture can wash into the water.
- Beach-goers and boaters often leave their trash behind.
- Silt from construction or land clearing sites can enter the water through runoff.