Environmental pollution is the introduction of harmful materials caused by pollutants into the environment. Pollutants are the various impurities that have found their way into the environment due to both human activity and natural causes, thus leading to pollution. These chemical compounds are harmful to both life and the environment. The WordWeb Dictionary defines pollutants as “waste matter that contaminates the water, air or soil.”
According to environmentalists and scientists, there are various types of pollutants and are classified according to the type of pollution they cause – such as water, air, soil, noise and radioactive pollution. Other types include thermal, plastic, agricultural, and light pollution. In view of all these, this article seeks to list and explain the various types of pollutants present in the environment.
- Various Environmental Pollutants and Their Effect on Our Environment
- 1. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFC)
- 2. Lead
- 3. Methane
- 4. Carbon monoxide
- 5. Particulate matter (PM)
- 6. Nitrogen oxides
- 7. Sulfur dioxide
- 8. Plastic
- 9. Mercury
- 10. Ground-level ozone
- 11. Bad smells
- 12. Nitrates
- 13. Phosphorus
- 14. Automobiles
- 15. Loud sounds
- 16. Uranium
- 17. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
- 18. PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl)
- 19. Chemical Fertilizers
- 20. Over Dumped Landfills
- 21. Visual Pollutants
Various Environmental Pollutants and Their Effect on Our Environment
1. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFC)
These are gases that are very destructive to the protective ozone layer. CFCs are used in sprays, perfumes and other canned products, including aerosols. Since they are lighter than air, they rise to the atmosphere where the ultraviolet light frees the chlorine.
If the chlorine gets in contact with the earth’s protective ozone layer, it causes irreparable damage which leads to the entry of cosmic rays that are carcinogenic to human beings and the deterioration of marine and terrestrial plant growth.
This is a dangerous toxin found across the world, in fact, in all states. The element readily dissolves in water and upon uptake leads to devastating health problems. It negates the work of body’s enzymes, thereby slowing down the normal functioning of the body.
In addition to this, it is one of the causes of nervous breakdowns, for, in large quantities, it ends up affecting the brain.
This is a major component of natural gas, the gaseous form of fossil fuel. In itself, it is harmless to the environment. However, it is one of the greenhouse gases, and when it reacts with carbon dioxide in the presence of water vapor, it absorbs and retains most of the radiation heat from the sun. This traps excessive heat in the atmosphere contributing to global warming and climate change.
Another thing that releases methane into the atmosphere is the rearing of cattle. Yes, when cattle feed, it releases methane into the atmosphere. Now, with the increase in demand in the meat industry, the rearing of cattle has also increased considerably in recent years. Thus, with the expansion of the meat industry, the methane being added into the atmosphere also increases substantially.
Now, when this greenhouse gas is released in the atmosphere, it makes the world a relatively hotter place by trapping in the short rays of the sun. Thus, the release of methane also increases the earth’s mean temperature and causes global warming.
4. Carbon monoxide
This is one of the most lethal pollutants of the air. It is produced in various instances like cigarette smoking and whenever there is incomplete combustion. For vehicles to run, for example, the fuel in them has to undergo combustion to move the pistons that power the engine. The same applies to various machinery and fuel-powered equipment in industries.
But since the space within the engine is compacted and at times does not allow in enough oxygen for complete combustion, the fuels composed of high hydrocarbon concentrations do not fully combust, releasing carbon monoxide as a by-product.
Carbon monoxide clogs the air making it hard to breathe. It is also one of the leading causes of deaths associated with suffocation in homes where firewood is used in enclosed spaces. Carbon monoxide also plays a huge role in the formation of ground-level ozone.
5. Particulate matter (PM)
These are the very small particles suspended in the air. They can either be in solid form or liquid form in both organic and inorganic particles. They are released into the atmosphere due to incomplete combustion like the carbon particles or blown into the air by wind. Examples are pollen, dust, soot, aerosol spray, and liquid droplets, just to mention a few.
They are very tiny and can, therefore, be easily inhaled. They cause respiratory problems such as lung cancer and are even more harmful to sensitive people, especially those who suffer from asthma attacks.
6. Nitrogen oxides
There are many types of nitrogen oxides, most of which are harmful to the environment. These include nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide, nitrogen monoxide, and nitrogen pentoxide. The formation of these oxides happens in the atmosphere where nitrogen readily combines with oxygen at high temperatures.
Nitrogen dioxide has an irritating odor that also contaminates the air. Like sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide combines with oxygen and water to form acid rain in the form of nitric acid, thus leading to premature death, health complications, and corrosion of roofs.
7. Sulfur dioxide
This is the main ingredient of acid rain, which results in the corrosion of roofs and various health complications. The acid rain, weak sulfuric acid, is formed when there is the oxidation of this compound. The process takes place when sulfur dioxide reacts with oxygen and other chemical oxides, and together with the rainwater, it becomes acid rain.
This is one of the most common environmental pollutants and bears one of the greatest impacts. The abundance of plastics in the world even led to the coining of the term “plastic pollution.”
Plastic is used almost everywhere; to hold and package things such as foods, drinks, chemicals, and is also used as a raw material for making various products. More than 60% of all products are made using plastic.
To make matters worse, almost all single-use items are made of plastics, which end up being thrown away after use. These plastics end up filling landfills, waterways, oceans, rivers and streams, thus contaminating drinking water and water for domestic use.
These same plastics find a way into game parks and marine habitats harming wildlife and marine animals that confuse them for food.
This element is released into the environment due to mining activities, poor disposal of certain items that are either made of mercury or had mercury in them. Batteries are the main source of mercury, which is why it is essential to dispose of them carefully.
Mercury should be handled with care since it can readily change its state. This makes the element hard to detect and, thus, hazardous. Inhalation of mercury can cause death.
10. Ground-level ozone
This is one of the constituents of the well-known ozone, but the difference is that it forms just above the earth’s surface. It is a highly irritating and colorless gas produced when there is a photochemical reaction between volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides in the presence of sunlight.
Hence, it is referred to as a secondary pollutant. Exposure to ozone is associated with premature death, asthma, and respiratory problems in humans. It also decreases the yield of some crops and can destroy synthetic, textile, and cotton materials, and accelerates the corrosion of some coating/paints.
11. Bad smells
Odors are an irritation to human life and animals and lead to the pollution of the environment.
Nitrates are a complex form of nitrogen and oxygen elements. The compound is associated with nitrate pollution, which causes water contamination from excessive amounts of nitrates washed out from food and animal waste as well as inorganic fertilizers.
Like nitrates, phosphorus is associate with nutrient pollution that leads to eutrophication and harmful algal bloom.
Motor vehicles are also pollutants considering the multiple pollutants they release into the environment. Without automobiles, some pollutants such as soot, nitrogen oxides, and hydrocarbons can be considerably cut back from the environment.
But due to the use of fossil fuels in automobiles, there will always be the continuous release of carbon compounds and particulate matter into the atmosphere leading to air pollution. The hooting, alarms, and high rev sounds are also noise pollutants.
15. Loud sounds
Loud sound is a pollutant because it contributes to noise or sound pollution. The sources of the pollutant include vehicles, planes, clubs, and loudspeaker radio systems. The music that is played in clubs is so loud that concentration is impossible a distance away from the place.
Loud sounds cause temporary or permanent hearing impairments, and can also interfere with both the behaviors of humans and animals such as sleep, mating, movement and breeding.
This metal is associated with radioactive pollution because it is highly radioactive. Exposure for humans can cause various cancers, premature aging, premature death, fertility problems, and interfere with normal brain functions.
17. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
These are compounds that can easily become gas or vapor. They are mostly released from the burning of gasoline, wood, natural gas, and coal. Other sources of VOCs include thinners and paints, cigarettes, solvents, wood preservatives, air fresheners, furnishings, copy machines and printers, cleaners, pesticides, and disinfectants. VOCs react with nitrogen oxides in the atmosphere to form ground-level ozone and smog.
18. PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl)
This is an organic chlorine compound that was at one point extensively used as coolant fluids and dielectric in electrical gadgets, in heat transfer fluids, and carbonless copy paper.
It was banned in the US in 1979 but is still in use. PCBs are very dangerous pollutants since the chemicals are cancer-causing and can adversely affect the life of fish and wild animals.
19. Chemical Fertilizers
With the increase in population, the demand for raw materials has increased manifolds. In fact, it can be said that the demand has almost become double in the span of only a few years. So, in order to keep up with the market demands, the supplies have to be adequate too.
It is this chain of increased demands and supplies that has given rise to the chemical fertilizers. These fertilizers, when used in the right amount, increase the fertility of the soil. However, when used in excess, these fertilizers mess up the pH balance of the soil. This causes soil pollution.
In fact, the chemicals in the fertilizers can even render the soil infertile. Besides that, these chemicals can either percolate into the underground water table and poison the water or, it might even be a part of the runoffs. When these chemicals get mixed with the water in the lakes or ponds, it also causes water pollution.
This results in the disturbance of the ecological balance of the waterbodies. The use of such toxic water over a prolonged time can be really harmful to human health.
20. Over Dumped Landfills
One of the major contributors to almost all sorts of pollution is the over dumped landfills. With the exponential increase in population, the amount of wastes being produced each day has also increased exponentially.
It goes without saying that due to this, more and more space is required for the disposal of these wastes. As a result of this, more and more landfills are being created each day. And each of these landfills is being excessively dumped with toxic and non-toxic wastes alike.
While most of the times, the only problem caused by the non-toxic wastes is the weird smell, the toxic materials are more dangerous. These might release poisonous vapors as well as other toxic materials that might percolate into the groundwater table, thus polluting the groundwater.
21. Visual Pollutants
Visual pollution is a real problem that is to be taken into consideration. It is caused by the disturbing and dirty sights. The visual pollutants are of various kinds. It might be the open dumping grounds, unnecessary dumping of materials on the roads, dumping of hazardous wastes in improper landfills.
Open and overflowing public dustbins could also be included in the list. It is a very disturbing type of pollution, although not much attention is paid to it.