Types of Pollution

Types of Pollution

The majority of pollution in the modern world comes from the transportation sector, power generation, and the industrial sector. However, pollution isn't always the result of human activity; some of the world's most dangerous pollution results from natural activity, such as volcanic eruptions and wildfires. 

That being said, overall, human activity leads to a tremendous amount of pollution, including greenhouse gas emissions. Most importantly, decades of human disruption to the natural carbon cycle by increased fossil fuel combustion has exacerbated climate change. Air pollution, water pollution, land pollution, light pollution and increased emissions from greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, are having a massive impact on the environment. 

In order to help you better understand what pollution is and how it affects the environment, we’re going to discuss the different types of pollution that influence our planet. In particular, we’ll go over air pollution, water pollution, land pollution, and light pollution explaining what each is, what it’s caused by, and how it affects our environment.

What is pollution?

It's important to understand that pollution doesn't always involve the release of substances or the production of energy that is inherently "bad."

Light, for example, is essential for plant growth. Most animals, including humans, depend on light for navigating the world and regulating their circadian rhythms. However, light can become pollution when it interrupts the natural cycle of day and night and interrupts the behavior of both humans and the other species we share a home with. 

Sound is another example. While it helps us get around and communicate with each other, when sound is so loud and repetitive that it overwhelms the senses or causes damage to the ears, it can become noise pollution.

Similarly, life on Earth would not exist without carbon dioxide. But the excess of carbon dioxide generated by human activity and the burning of fossil fuels is disrupting the climate in catastrophic ways, posing a threat to all life on Earth.

Air Pollution

Air pollution occurs when harmful substances or chemicals enter the air and alter the natural characteristics of the atmosphere, whether indoors or outdoors. It effectively lowers the quality of the air and can have negative impacts on human, animal and plant health. 

Causes of air pollution

Modern activity has made the problem of air pollution far more pervasive and persistent than ever before. The burning of fossil fuels and a range of industrial activities contribute to air pollution in big ways. 

  • Vehicle emissions: Burning fuel to power cars, trucks, aircrafts and other modes of transportation is one of the leading causes of air pollution. Vehicles emit several types of pollutants when they burn fossil fuels, such as nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, and, of course, carbon dioxide. Nitrogen oxides impact air quality while excessive amounts of CO2 trap solar radiation (heat), causing the Earth’s temperature to increase. 

  • Ozone: In major cities around the world, an atmospheric gas called ozone is a leading cause of air pollution. Ozone is created when certain types of pollutants chemically react with sunlight or other gases. An example of this is volatile organic compounds (VOCs)  which often come from products used in construction and home maintenance (e.g., paint, air fresheners). Ozone is created when VOCs react with nitrogen oxides in the air. While some ozone can be good for the planet’s health, ozone that’s too close to the ground (ground level ozone) makes the air harmful, produces smog and impacts respiratory health.

  • Industrial activity: Many types of industrial processes involve the burning of fossil fuels and emissions of hazardous byproducts. Many electricity production, manufacturing and industrial plants play an outsized role in the increase in human-made air pollution. 

  • Natural events-related pollution: Volcanic eruptions, wildfires, and wind storms, among other natural disasters contribute to air pollution. These natural events can release harmful substances like carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere and have a major impact on surrounding areas.

Impact of air pollution

Introducing pollutants into the atmosphere and subsequently lowering the air quality can have serious health impacts. For instance, with humans, outdoor air pollution has been linked to strokes, heart disease, respiratory diseases and certain types of cancer. 

It’s estimated that approximately 2.4 billion people experience unsafe levels of household air pollution and in many cases can be fatal. In fact, it’s estimated that air pollution is associated with about seven million premature deaths on an annual basis.

Water Pollution

Water pollution takes place when harmful substances and chemicals enter water sources. It can make water unsuitable for drinking, swimming and cleaning, among other uses. This can have a particularly significant impact on disadvantaged communities that don’t have consistent access to fresh water or alternative water supplies. This can ultimately lead to health complications resulting from the consumption of contaminated water.

Causes of water pollution

  • Agricultural waste: The agriculture industry is one of the leading contributors to water pollution. Pesticides and animal waste frequently end up in rivers, streams and other bodies of water, contaminating them with harmful chemicals and bacteria. 

  • Sewage: Sewage and human waste is commonly fed back into waterways without being treated first. This can degrade the quality of the water and introduce bacteria, viruses and other toxins into bodies of water. 

  • Corroded pipes: Older water pipes that aren’t properly maintained can contaminate the water that flows through them. In particular, harmful substances such as lead can make their way into the water supply and endanger human health. 

  • Litter: Plastics contaminate the oceans. The force of wind, waves, pressure and sunlight break plastics down into microparticles that are consumed by fish and other animals up the food chain so they can eventually affect humans through consumption.

Impact of water pollution 

Fish, shellfish, birds, plants and animals that live in the water are all affected by water pollution. An additional growing concern is the appearance of algal blooms, typically caused by agricultural waste. They cover ponds, lakes and even parts of the ocean, smothering other life forms. Some of the worst impacts of this kind of water pollution occur every year in the Gulf of Mexico, with a red tide fueled by runoff from fertilized fields brought in by the Mississippi River, and seaweed blooms that can stretch as far as 5,000 miles across the mid-Atlantic.

The impact that water pollution has on animals and aquatic life carries over to humans. Fish that consume toxins can be captured and eaten by humans, who then ingest those toxins. Additionally, the presence of toxins in water can lead to restrictions in the fishing industry, which can affect the livelihoods of those reliant on fishing and have widespread economic consequences.

Land Pollution

Land pollution describes the destruction or a decline of the quality of the Earth’s surface and landscapes as a result of human activity.

Causes of land pollution

Land pollution is largely the result of human activities that harm or contaminate the land. 

  • Agricultural activities: On an industrial level, agriculture plays a significant role in land pollution. The over-cultivation of farmlands can exhaust the soil and deplete the land of nutrients; pesticides that are commonly used at the industrial level can have a negative impact on the land and the produce or crops that are harvested on it.

  • Mining: Unsustainable mining practices can negatively impact land. Holes and tunnels constructed for mining operations can compromise the integrity of the soil, while materials left behind from mining projects—known as mining tailings—can be toxic and harmful for the environment. 

  • Deforestation: Like mining operations, industry-scale deforestation can compromise soil integrity and leave behind toxic substances. Cutting down large patches of forest disrupts ecosystems, exposes them to harsh environmental conditions, and ultimately destroys natural habitat of wildlife. 

  • Garbage/Trash: Globally, large amounts of waste end up populated in landfills, which are the result of improper disposal techniques. Anything from the glass and plastics used in consumer products to vehicles and old appliances pile up and disrupt the natural landscape. Many of these waste products also contain harmful/toxic ingredients that can seep into the soil and cause harm to living beings.

Impacts of land pollution

It is never easy to remedy land pollution. In cases of accidental land contamination, such as the derailing of a train carrying hazardous chemicals, the soil may be scooped up and sent to a toxic containment facility, but can also result in widespread natural land contamination that can have an impact that lasts decades.

Light Pollution

People who were born in the 1940s and 1950s may remember a time when the sky at night looked very different from the way it looks over most of the Earth today. However, the rapid growth of modern cities has led to more artificial light, which can disrupt life for humans and animals alike.

Causes of light pollution

While all of us benefit from artificial light in our day-to-day lives, too much artificial light can present a problem for the environment. So what causes this type of pollution? 

In general, outdoor artificial light is the core cause of light pollution. However, this outdoor light becomes even more of a problem when it bounces off reflective building exteriors and windows or points directly into natural environments. Artificial lights pointing upwards or sideways are the sources that are most likely to contribute to light pollution overall.

Impacts of light pollution

Light pollution disrupts normal cycles of rest and activity for many animals. Some plants never get the signal to flower and produce seeds, impacting the species’ growth. But one of the most overlooked impacts of light pollution is its effect on human health.

Humans are hard-wired to wake up at the crack of dawn. Even when our eyes are closed, we detect the first blue rays of sunlight every morning. They act as a kind of natural alarm clock to increase the production of stress hormones that increase blood sugar levels and get us moving. Light pollution interferes with this natural alarm clock and makes it harder for us to reap the many benefits of a good night’s sleep.

Carbon technology for a healthier planet

There are many types of pollution that can impact our planet, but the good news is that we can mitigate some of these impacts by adjusting our behavior, changing policies and investing in sustainable technologies on an industrial scale. Whether that means transitioning to a sustainable beauty industry or revolutionizing the aviation industry, there is still hope to create a more sustainable future, with decreased levels of pollution. 

AIR COMPANY is doing its part in producing a greener, carbon neutral future with an innovative technology to create alcohols and fuels using carbon dioxide. By utilizing captured CO2 and repurposing it into these types of solutions, we are revolutionizing a number of industries and working to minimize the impacts of pollution on a global scale.

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