Understanding Pollution: An Introduction to History, Causes and Effects of Pollution

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Pollution is an enormous issue as old as human civilization.  As long as mankind has been around there has been pollution, and pollution has evolved with mankind; from early man building a fire in a cave which deposited soot and carbon dioxide into the air to industrialized cities pumping out smog.  It wasn’t until the 1800s that people began to understand that unsanitary living conditions and polluted water contributed to the spread of disease[i], and it wasn’t until the end of the 1800s that people began realizing that industrialization was creating new kinds of pollution from factories.[ii]  As a topic that is, literally, as old as human history pollution has many facets to it.  There are hundreds of causes, health effects and environmental effects of pollution, and dozens of types of pollution from simple littering to nuclear and radioactive fallout.  Pollution cannot be easily summarized but, to put it as simply as possible pollution is anything that makes air, water, and land unsafe for human use.[iii]  Needless to say, that is quite a broad spectrum.

Pollution 1

As mentioned previously there are many forms of pollution, and as technology advances pollution advances with it.  There are, however, several forms of pollution that are widely recognized.  These include air pollution, water pollution, and soil contamination.  There are many more, but these three will give us a starting point as I embark on a journey of discovery on pollution.  Air pollution is anything that makes the air that we breathe toxic to human health.  It includes such pollutants as carbon monoxide, which is nicknamed the silent killer[iv], greenhouse gases[v], which trap the heat from the sun on earth and play havoc with the world’s ecosystems, and the burning of fossil fuels, which gives us energy but also releases dozens of different chemicals into the air with such varied effects as causing black lung, increasing smog, and releasing carbon dioxide.[vi]

Pollution 3

Water, of which the human body is made up of 65%[vii], is arguably the most important resource on the planet, but humanity has been polluting it for centuries, if not millennia.  In 312 B.C. the sewage city of Rome, dumped into the Tiber River, which eventually forced the Romans to build their famous aqueducts just to get clean drinking water.[viii]  Water sources have been used as dumping grounds for human waste throughout history, because they are an easy way to disperse waste.  Today the situation is even worse with many factories and industries using rivers, and oceans as their dumping grounds.[ix]  It wasn’t until 1972 that the Clean Water Act was passed in the United States which sought to rein in water pollution.[x] That’s only a little over forty years ago that people began taking responsibility for clean water.  That’s a bit of a scary thought.  Some common water pollutants include fertilizers, automobile fluids, paint, pesticides, yard waste, and cigarette butts.[xi]  Not a one of those things do I want in my drinking water; what about you?

Pollution 4

Soil contamination is exactly what it sounds like: the soil from which we grow our food supply, and underground drinking water being contaminated by either solid or liquid pollutants.[xii]  Major sources of soil contamination include landfills, pesticides, industrial spills such as oil or natural gas, automobiles, and fires.[xiii]  The biggest dangers from soil pollution lie in the contaminants spreading to any food grown in the soil, and human exposure.  In your normal activities the average person ingests some soil particles every day.[xiv]  That means, that whatever chemicals, or solid contaminants are in the soil are entering your body, and may have an effect on you depending on what they are and how heavily contaminated the soil was.  For example, high levels of heavy metals such as lead and mercury can cause irreversible neurological damage in children, and no matter your age heavy metals can cause liver and kidney failure.[xv]

Pollution is not a new issue.  It is one that has been with us throughout our growth and evolution.  You could say that the history of pollution is a history of mankind, but despite that fact many people, myself included, know only a bit about pollution.  Over the next few months, I will be seeking to educate myself on the dangers, causes, and effects of pollution in our world and in our lives.  In order to change something you must first understand it, and that is what I am seeking to do:  understand pollution.  If you are interested in the your health, the environment, our world in general or just simply like to learn then I hope that what I will write will help you in some way, or at the least, provide a few minutes of enjoyment.  Follow the blog at www.understandingpollution.com, and we will embark on a journey of discovery together.


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About the Author

Dom resizeDominick Principe is a graduate of Rowan University with dual Bachelor Degrees in Elementary Education and Writing Arts.  He is a prolific reader who devours any book put before him, and feels that life is one great long book without an end.  He fills his hours constantly exploring new information, and seeking to educate himself in the ways of the world.  He puts all of that knowledge and his passion for learning to good use teaching English as a second language to students of all ages.  When his nose isn’t buried in a book, or in class teaching, then he can generally be found typing away at his computer working on some random piece of writing that he was inspired to do.


[i] “Nonpoint Source Pollution.” NOAA’s National Ocean Service Education:. U.S. Department of Commerce National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Web. 5 Dec. 2014. <http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/kits/pollution/02history.html&gt;.

[ii] “Nonpoint Source Pollution.” NOAA’s National Ocean Service Education:. U.S. Department of Commerce National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Web. 5 Dec. 2014. <http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/kits/pollution/02history.html&gt;.

[iii] “Pollution.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster. Web. 5 Dec. 2014. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pollution&gt;.

[iv] “The Silent Killer – The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide Exposure.” The Silent Killer – The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide Exposure. Web. 5 Dec. 2014. <http://www.thesilentkiller.net/&gt;.

[v] “Emissions.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 5 Dec. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/&gt;.

[vi] “The Hidden Cost of Fossil Fuels.” Union of Concerned Scientists. Web. 5 Dec. 2014. <http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/our-energy-choices/coal-and-other-fossil-fuels/the-hidden-cost-of-fossil.html#.VIHLHTGUdg8&gt;.

[vii] “The Water in You.” Water Properties: (Water Science for Schools). Web. 5 Dec. 2014. <http://water.usgs.gov/edu/propertyyou.html&gt;.

[viii] “Pollution Issues.” History. Web. 5 Dec. 2014. <http://www.pollutionissues.com/Fo-Hi/History.html&gt;.

[ix] “Pollution Issues.” History. Web. 5 Dec. 2014. <http://www.pollutionissues.com/Fo-Hi/History.html&gt;.

[x] “Pollution Issues.” History. Web. 5 Dec. 2014. <http://www.pollutionissues.com/Fo-Hi/History.html&gt;.

[xi] “Common Water Pollution Sources.” People Pages: Faculty and Staff Websites. Web. 5 Dec. 2014. <http://people.uwec.edu/piercech/hml/Common sources of water pollution.htm>.

[xii] “Soil Contamination.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 5 Dec. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/superfund/students/wastsite/soilspil.htm&gt;.

[xiii] “Sources and Impacts of Contaminants in Soils.” Cornell University. Cornell Waste Management Institute. Web. 5 Dec. 2014. <http://cwmi.css.cornell.edu/sourcesandimpacts.pdf&gt;.

[xiv] “Sources and Impacts of Contaminants in Soils.” Cornell University. Cornell Waste Management Institute. Web. 5 Dec. 2014. <http://cwmi.css.cornell.edu/sourcesandimpacts.pdf&gt;.

[xv] “The Effects of Soil Pollution on Humans.” LIVESTRONG.COM. LIVESTRONG.COM, 12 Mar. 2014. Web. 5 Dec. 2014. <http://www.livestrong.com/article/176005-the-effects-of-soil-pollution-on-humans/&gt;.

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