How Pollution is affecting our Health

Pollution is one of the largest health and environmental problems in the world. It has become one of the more serious health issues. In the last few decades due to human industrial activities the level of pollution has risen to unimaginably high levels but recently the trends have been promising which is that pollution is decreasing but not to the extent that it needs to be. Amid the lockdown the levels are at an all time low but as we know it, as soon as the lockdown ends it will increase right back up again.

Definition

Pollution ,by definition, is the introduction of contaminants into the natural environment that cause adverse change. Pollution can take many forms such as chemical or energy, which includes sound, heat or light. Major forms of pollution are: Air pollution, littering, noise pollution, soil contamination, radioactive pollution, water pollution.

Forms of pollution

The major forms are listed below:

1) Air pollution: it’s the release of chemical substances in the environment. Common ones are- Sulfur dioxide, Carbon monoxide, CFC’s (chlorofluorocarbons), Nitrogen oxides, PM 2.5 (particulate matter) etc, produced by the industrial activities and vehicles.

2) Noise pollution: which includes roadways noise, industrial noise, aircraft noise etc.

3) Plastic pollution: involves the accumulation of plastic products and microplastics (less than 5mm size) in the environment that adversely affects wildlife, wildlife habitat, or humans.

4) Soil contamination: chemical substances causing soil to degrade faster. It includes hydrocarbons, hevay metals, pesticides etc.

5) Water pollution: by the discharge of wastewater from commercial and industrial wastes (intentionally or through spills) into surface waters; discharges of untreated domestic sewage, and chemical contaminants.

6) Radioactive pollution: from the nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons.

Pollution levels

Source-EIA 2005

Pollution is most commonly measured as Air pollution as it can be measured easily. Changes in levels of gases in the atmosphere indiacate the level of pollution. Carbon dioxide is the most prominent one. Excess of carbon dioxide leads to greenhouse effect which warms up the earth’s surface causing what we know as global warming.

Recent studies have investigated the potential for long-term rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide to cause slight but critical increase in the acidity of ocean waters, and the possible effects of this on marine ecosystems.

Cost of pollution

Source- World Bank and IHME

The industrial activities that causes pollution demand health and clean-up cost on every society. Pollution also creates a cost for the companies producing the pollution. Sometimes firms choose, or are forced by rules and regulation, to reduce the amount of pollution that they are producing which adds to the cost of manufacturing. According to a research by World Bank the global welfare losses were in the ballpark of 5 trillion USD in 2013.

Health effects

The health effects of pollution are serious- causing storkes, cancers, heart diseases, chemcial poisonings, for example heavy metal poisonings, etc.

1- Air pollution: Adverse air quality can cause respiratory disorders like COPD, asthmatic attacks, throat irritation, cancers, etc. It can also cause cardiovascular diseases.

2- Water pollution: It is said to cause approximately 14,000 deaths per day. Many diseases like stomach infections, diarrhoea, heavy metal poisonings, oil spills which can cause skin irritations etc.

3- Noise pollution: can cause irritation, high blood pressure, headaches, stress, sleep disturbances, anxiety etc.

4- Radioactive pollution: can cause cancers as well as death, which may be instant, if exposed to sufficiently high levels. It comes from the plants using radioactive material as well as their dumping land after usage.

5- Soil Contamination: Can cause infections of the digestive tract as well as pesticide poisonings, if not used properly.

6- A number of studies show that pollution has an adverse effect on the productivity of both indoor and outdoor workers.

An October 2017 study by the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health found that global pollution, specifically toxic air, water, soils and workplaces, kills nine million people annually, which is 3 times the number of deaths caused by AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined, and 15 times higher than deaths caused by wars and other forms of human violence.

Environmental effects

1) Carbon dioxide: as we all know CO2 is a major greenhouse gas which is responsible for global warming. But technically if we analyse, the maximum potential for greenhouse effect is of Water Vapours. Yes you read it right. Water vapour has the maximum potential but the amount that is present in the atmosphere is not high enough to cause significant effect.

On the other hand CO2, which is also a major contributor, before industrialization the levels were far less than what they are now. Due to our activities it has risen to such high levels where it can be said that it solely causes global warming.

It also causes acidification of the oceans which adversely affects the Marine ecosystem.

2) Biomagnification: It is described as a situation where toxic materials such as hevay metals become more concentrated as it comes up through the food chain. For example:

Heavy metal amount x–>x Prawns–> 2x Small fish–> 3x bigger fish–> 4x Humans

3) Nitrogen oxides: NO’s present in the air when comes down to the ground via rain can fertilise land which can contribute to the growth of invasive species.

4) Smog: can cause reduction in sunlight reaching plants causing decrease in photosynthesis which in turns causes decrease in Oxygen released in the environment.

Pollution control

As we have by our industrial hustle polluted our planet so much that now we need to talk about how we can control it. If pollution would’ve been in the minds of our so-called pioneers we might not have reached this far. But what’s done is done and now to mitigate it we have to take measures. There are a lot of measures that we can do but to sum it up all together we can divide it in the following categories-

a) Recycling

b) Reusing

c) Compost

d) Waste minimisation

e) Preventing

f) Mitigating

To go here in detail what these methods are is not possible here now but you should as a favour go and read about all the practices that can be done to decrease pollution.

In the end, I would like to say to save our planet and to not progress to a similar future as was seen in the movie Interstellar, we need to act now and not one or two individuals or countries, the whole world needs to participate and every individual needs to do their small part, if we want to leave Earth livable to the future generations.

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