Understanding Pollution: What We Should Know about Methane

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Methane is a colorless, and odorless gas that is commonly used, but is dangerous to both man and the environment.[i]  It is used commonly as a source of fuel, or to power lights.[ii]  Additionally, methane is used in the manufacture of organic chemicals.[iii]  So, needless to say, methane is a well-known, and well used substance in our world today.  But, with the sweet there must be the bitter.  Methane can have severe effects on human health, and its impact on the environment cannot be ignored.  Also, the sources of methane might surprise you; they did me.

Methane 1

Since it is a naturally occurring gas methane comes from a number of sources both manmade and natural.  The main man made sources of methane include fossil fuel production and livestock farming.[iv]  Fossil fuel production creates 110 million tons of methane a year, and accounts for 1/3 of all manmade methane emissions.[v]  In fact, natural gas, which many people use to heat their homes, is mostly made up of methane.[vi]  The other big manmade source is livestock farming.  Animals like cows, sheep, and pigs fart, and fart a lot.  When they fart they release methane.[vii]  Now, you may be laughing, but understand that the methane from livestock also accounts for about 1/3 of manmade methane emissions.[viii]  That’s a lot of gas.  Moving on, let’s look at some of the natural sources.  Natural sources of methane include wetlands, termites, and the volcanoes of our world.[ix]  Every day, a termite produces 1 microgram of methane, which isn’t much, but if you add up all the methane produced by every termite on the planet you are looking at 20 million tons of methane annually.[x]  That’s a fairly large amount of methane, and a huge number of termites!  We then move onto wetlands where chemicals reactions occur naturally, and account for roughly 1/3 of all methane release worldwide.[xi]

As mentioned previously, methane is a colorless and odorless gas, or a liquid if put under pressure.[xii]  Because of this, it is very difficult to know if you are being exposed to methane, until you are already suffering from its effects.  Methane replaces oxygen in the air, and the body inhales it just like oxygen.[xiii]  This can cause an increased breathing rate, an increased heart rate, loss of coordination, and can have an effect on what emotions we experience.[xiv]  These are just the early effects of methane exposure, and if you experience them you need to leave wherever you are and find fresh air as quickly as possible.  If your exposure continues for too long you will begin to experience nausea, vomiting, the possibility of collapsing, convulsions, falling into a coma, and finally death.[xv]  Needless to say methane is no joke.  Another issue with methane is that it is highly, highly flammable.  Leaking methane gas can cover a fair distance, and if exposed to any heat source or open flame will ignite all the way back to where it is leaking.[xvi]  That’s methane in its more common gas form, but its liquid form has its own hazards.  Liquid methane is also highly flammable, and if your skin is exposed to liquid methane it will cause frostbite, and even has the potential to completely freeze your eyeballs if somehow your eyes come into contact with it.[xvii]

Methane 2

Like carbon dioxide with which it shares so many traits, methane is a greenhouse gas.[xviii]  What does that mean?  Well, it means that methane that is released into the air travels into the atmosphere, and once there it traps the heat coming from the sun.[xix]  Methane does not remain in the atmosphere for as long as other greenhouse gases, but it is much more effective at trapping the sun’s heat than other gases.  Compared to carbon dioxide, which is the gas that most people mention when talking about greenhouse gases, methane is 84% better at trapping heat from the sun in the atmosphere, and it is estimated that methane accounts for 25% of manmade global warming.[xx]  That is methane’s effect on a global scale.  Locally, as mentioned earlier, methane is highly flammable.  Methane fires can occur in mines, over landfills, and wetlands if exposed to even a single spark.[xxi]  In fact, in September of 2013, 37 families were forced to evacuate their homes due to a leak from a methane gas line, and fire companies were forced to be on standby for days, such is the danger of a methane fire.[xxii]

So, we’ve discussed some of the sources of methane, its health hazards, and its effects on the environment, but you may be asking yourself what you should take away from all of this.  I mean, methane is used by 61% of all household in the United States for heat.[xxiii]  That’s a lot of people who are not going to want to give up their heat just because they read an article that explains a little about methane.  Still, knowledge is power.  By learning about what you are using you are aware that what you do has benefits and consequences.  Ultimately, it is up to every individual to decide for themselves if the benefits out way the consequences, and vice versa.  That’s what life is.  Making well informed choices with the understanding that what you do will echo down in some way shape or form throughout history.  Should we stop using methane gas all together, and get rid of every cow, sheep, and pig farm in the world?  Probably not, but you could think twice before ordering that steak at dinner.  By being aware that a problem exists a solution can be found.


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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] “Hazardous Substance Fact Sheet: Methane.” New Jersey Health Department. New Jersey Health Department. Web. 1 Dec. 2014. <http://nj.gov/health/eoh/rtkweb/documents/fs/1202.pdf&gt;.

[ii] “Chemical Fact Sheets–Methane.” Chemical Fact Sheets–Methane. Web. 1 Dec. 2014. <http://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/eh/chemfs/fs/Methane.htm&gt;.

[iii] “Chemical Fact Sheets–Methane.” Chemical Fact Sheets–Methane. Web. 1 Dec. 2014. <http://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/eh/chemfs/fs/Methane.htm&gt;.

[iv] “What Are the Main Sources of Methane Emissions?” What’s Your Impact. Web. 1 Dec. 2014. <http://whatsyourimpact.org/greenhouse-gases/methane-sources&gt;.

[v] “What Are the Main Sources of Methane Emissions?” What’s Your Impact. Web. 1 Dec. 2014. <http://whatsyourimpact.org/greenhouse-gases/methane-sources&gt;.

[vi] “What Are the Main Sources of Methane Emissions?” What’s Your Impact. Web. 1 Dec. 2014. <http://whatsyourimpact.org/greenhouse-gases/methane-sources&gt;.

[vii] “What Are the Main Sources of Methane Emissions?” What’s Your Impact. Web. 1 Dec. 2014. <http://whatsyourimpact.org/greenhouse-gases/methane-sources&gt;.

[viii] “What Are the Main Sources of Methane Emissions?” What’s Your Impact. Web. 1 Dec. 2014. <http://whatsyourimpact.org/greenhouse-gases/methane-sources&gt;.

[ix] “What Are the Main Sources of Methane Emissions?” What’s Your Impact. Web. 1 Dec. 2014. <http://whatsyourimpact.org/greenhouse-gases/methane-sources&gt;.

[x] “GreenHouse Gas Online – Greenhouse Gas News, Research and Resources.” GreenHouse Gas Online – Greenhouse Gas News, Research and Resources. Web. 1 Dec. 2014. <http://www.ghgonline.org/methanetermite.htm&gt;.

[xi] “Methane Emission from Natural Wetlands: Interplay between Emergent Macrophytes and Soil Microbial Processes. A Mini-review.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Web. 1 Dec. 2014. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19689973&gt;.

[xii] “Hazardous Substance Fact Sheet: Methane.” New Jersey Health Department. New Jersey Health Department. Web. 1 Dec. 2014. <http://nj.gov/health/eoh/rtkweb/documents/fs/1202.pdf&gt;.

[xiii] “Common Menu Bar Links.” Methane : OSH Answers. Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. Web. 1 Dec. 2014. <http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/chemicals/chem_profiles/methane.html&gt;.

[xiv] “Common Menu Bar Links.” Methane : OSH Answers. Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. Web. 1 Dec. 2014. <http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/chemicals/chem_profiles/methane.html&gt;.

[xv] “Common Menu Bar Links.” Methane : OSH Answers. Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. Web. 1 Dec. 2014. <http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/chemicals/chem_profiles/methane.html&gt;.

[xvi] “Common Menu Bar Links.” Methane : OSH Answers. Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. Web. 1 Dec. 2014. <http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/chemicals/chem_profiles/methane.html&gt;.

[xvii] “Common Menu Bar Links.” Methane : OSH Answers. Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. Web. 1 Dec. 2014. <http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/chemicals/chem_profiles/methane.html&gt;.

[xviii] “Ocean News | Issue 7 | Climate Change.” Ocean News | Issue 7 | Climate Change. Web. 1 Dec. 2014. <http://oceanlink.info/ONews/ONews7/methane.html&gt;.

[xix] “Methane: The Other Important Greenhouse Gas.” Environmental Defense Fund. Environmental Defense Fund. Web. 1 Dec. 2014. <http://www.edf.org/climate/methane&gt;.

[xx] “Methane: The Other Important Greenhouse Gas.” Environmental Defense Fund. Environmental Defense Fund. Web. 1 Dec. 2014. <http://www.edf.org/climate/methane&gt;.

[xxi] “Methane.” Pollutant Fact Sheet. Scottish Environment Protection Agency. Web. 1 Dec. 2014. <http://apps.sepa.org.uk/spripa/Pages/SubstanceInformation.aspx?pid=65&gt;.

[xxii] “Hawthorne Methane Leak Forces Evacuation of 37 Families for Third Night.” Hawthorne Methane Leak Forces Evacuation of 37 Families for Third Night. The Daily Breeze. Web. 1 Dec. 2014. <http://www.dailybreeze.com/general-news/20130916/hawthorne-methane-leak-forces-evacuation-of-37-families-for-third-night&gt;.

[xxiii] “What Percentage of Homes in the U.S. Use Natural Gas?” FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS. U.S. Energy Information Administration. Web. 1 Dec. 2014. <http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=49&t=8&gt;.

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Understanding Pollution: Killer Cars

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One of the greatest technological marvels is also one of the greatest polluters in the world.  Chances are if you don’t use one yourself every day then you at least see them.  I am talking about automobiles.  It is estimated that automobiles account for one third of all carbon monoxide pollution, and twenty percent of all global warming.[i]  While no one can argue the benefits and convenience that automobiles have brought into are lives, in order to be responsible human beings we must know the negatives.   Pollution from automobiles occurs on three general levels.  Firstly, there are the effects on local populations.  There are then regional effects, and finally there are global effects.  Even a well maintained, and governmentally approved vehicle produces pollution, and the problems only get worse if the vehicle is having difficulties of any kind.

Killer Cars 1

The effects from automobiles begin at a local level.  The most well-known pollutant from automobiles is Carbon Monoxide.  It is an odorless, colorless and poisonous gas whose effects include the blocking of oxygen to the brain and other vital organs.[ii]  In the United States 75% of all carbon monoxide emissions is from motor vehicles.[iii]  Automobiles also release gases called nitrogen oxide, and sulfur oxide.  Studies have shown that even thirty minutes of exposure to nitrogen oxide can inflame the air passageways of a healthy adult, and is even more dangerous to those with breathing difficulties such as asthma.[iv]  Nitrogen oxide also weakens the immune system against future lung infections such as pneumonia.[v]  Sulfur oxide is even worse.  A mere five minutes of exposure can lead to a closing of the airways to the lungs in a healthy adult, and the problem is exacerbated with any elevation in breathing, such as from running or playing a game.[vi]  Cars also emit pollutants such as benzene and acetaldehyde which have been linked to 50% of ALL cancer cases.[vii]  These are only a few of the different gases and chemicals that are released every time a car’s engine starts running, and you can see how deadly even these few are.  All told it is estimated that 58,000 deaths a year occur due to the chemicals and gases released by automobiles, and that’s only in the United States.[viii]

Killer Cars 2

As the level of pollutants released by motor vehicles is so high, it should come as no surprise that there effects do not stay local but move on to coalescence into bigger issues regionally.  Some of the chemicals and particulate matter, which is solid particles mixed with liquid droplets,[ix] which can come to rest in our soil and groundwater.  Once there they have the potential to shut down the immune, respiratory, reproductive, and neurological systems of animals that come into contact with them.[x]  Another regional effect of automobiles comes from the infrastructure that supports them.  Anyone who has ever gone off-roading knows that there are certain risks to your car that you don’t have to deal with on a nice paved road.  But what are the effects that roads are having on the environment?  Just a few of the effects include vegetation removal, erosion, acidification, and direct animal death, or road kill.[xi]  Automobiles also release the chemicals, such as sulfur dioxide, that create acid rain.[xii]  The effects of acid rain are many and varied, such as eating away at manmade structures, destroying plant and animal life, damaging water supplies, and damaging humans and animals who may get stuck in the rain.[xiii]  Automobiles effects regionally are pretty bad, but things get worse.

Killer Cars 3

The global effects of automobile pollution cannot be ignored.  The greatest effect that automobiles are having globally is their contribution to accelerated climate change.  It is believed that, even as world governments move to limit climate change, emissions are set to outpace what world governments are doing to contain the damage.[xiv]  The European Union just passed legislation that will require all automobiles to not exceed a certain level of CO2 emission by 2015.[xv]  China and the United States also just made an agreement where the U.S. will help China to curb their CO2 emissions.[xvi]  The effects of climate change cannot be ignored.  They include such things as increased or decreased rainfall, depending on the region, damaging agriculture, forests, and marine and land ecosystems.[xvii]  As mentioned before, 1/3 of all carbon monoxide pollution is reported to come from automobiles.  Since CO2 is such a major contributor to climate change, it is not hard to believe that cars are having such a major impact on a global scale.

No one can argue against the convenience of having a car, and I say this as a man who loves driving his gas-guzzling Durango.  Despite that, the only way we can save the world is by understanding the consequences of our actions.  No one is saying that we need to go back to the days of the horse and buggy as our main means of transportation.  One that would be absolutely ridiculous on so many levels, and two that comes with its own forms of pollution.  Everything that we do leaves a mark on the world.  What we need to do is work to better understand the impact that our actions are creating.  Do I love driving my Durango?  Absolutely.  Do I need to drive it every day?  Not really.  Carpooling is a wonderful thing, and riding a bike is both good for the environment and for you.  You also have public transport in the bus and subway systems.  A little cardio never hurt anyone.  Everyone needs to make the conscious choice to try and make the world a better place.  Not just for future generations, but for our generation, for ourselves.


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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] “Cars, Trucks, and Air Pollution.” Union of Concerned Scientists. Union of Concerned Scientists. Web. 15 Nov. 2014. <http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_vehicles/why-clean-cars/air-pollution-and-health/cars-trucks-air-pollution.html#.VGdr6_mUdg8&gt;.

[ii] “Health.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 15 Nov. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/airquality/carbonmonoxide/health.html&gt;.

[iii] http://auto.howstuffworks.com/air-pollution-from-cars.htm

[iv] “Health.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 15 Nov. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/oaqps001/nitrogenoxides/health.html&gt;.

[v] Cars, Trucks, and Air Pollution.” Union of Concerned Scientists. Union of Concerned Scientists. Web. 15 Nov. 2014. <http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_vehicles/why-clean-cars/air-pollution-and-health/cars-trucks-air-pollution.html#.VGdr6_mUdg8&gt;.

[vi] “Health.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 15 Nov. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/air/sulfurdioxide/health.html&gt;.

[vii] “Cars, Trucks, and Air Pollution.” Union of Concerned Scientists. Union of Concerned Scientists. Web. 15 Nov. 2014. <http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_vehicles/why-clean-cars/air-pollution-and-health/cars-trucks-air-pollution.html#.VGdr6_mUdg8&gt;.

[viii] “Streetsblog USA.” MIT Study: Vehicle Emissions Cause 58,000 Premature Deaths Yearly in U.S. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Web. 18 Nov. 2014. <http://usa.streetsblog.org/2013/10/22/mit-study-vehicle-emissions-cause-58000-premature-deaths-yearly-in-u-s/&gt;.

[ix] “Basic Information.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 15 Nov. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/pm/basic.html&gt;.

[x] “About Air Toxics.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 15 Nov. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/air/toxicair/newtoxics.html&gt;.

[xi] “Evaluation Of Ecological Impacts From Highway Development.” Environmental Protection Agency. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 15 Nov. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/compliance/resources/policies/nepa/ecological-impacts-highway-development-pg.pdf&gt;.

[xii] “What Causes Acid Rain.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 15 Nov. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/acidrain/education/site_students/whatcauses.html&gt;.

[xiii] “Why Is Acid Rain Harmful.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 15 Nov. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/acidrain/education/site_students/whyharmful.html&gt;.

[xiv] “Car, Truck and Airplane Pollution Set to Drive Climate Change.” Scientific American Global RSS. Web. 15 Nov. 2014. <http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/car-truck-and-airplane-pollution-set-to-drive-climate-change/&gt;.

[xv] “Reducing CO2 Emissions from Passenger Cars.” – European Commission. European Commission. Web. 19 Nov. 2014. <http://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/transport/vehicles/cars/faq_en.htm&gt;.

[xvi] “United States to Help China Crack down on Vehicle Emissions.” | Reuters. 5 Dec. 2013. Web. 19 Nov. 2014. <http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/12/05/us-united-states-to-help-china-crack-dow-idUKBRE9B40ZW20131205&gt;.

[xvii] “Impacts & Adaptation.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 15 Nov. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/impacts-adaptation/&gt;.

Understanding Pollution: How Safe from Air Pollution Are Our Homes?

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When talking about air pollution it is important to remember that it isn’t just outside affecting the environment; it’s also in our homes.  Air travels everywhere on the planet, and it should come as no surprise that the pollutants that are in the air outside are making their way into our homes, but indoor air pollution doesn’t even refer to those pollutants.  It is concerned with the pollutants whose sources are already in our homes, and it is a very serious issue with 4.3 million deaths a year attributed to it.[i]  There are multiple health effects, and just as many sources of indoor air pollution that make it an immediate global issue.

Indoor air pollution is defined as “Indoor air pollution refers to chemical, biological and physical contamination of indoor air.”[ii]  Some of the more common pollutants found indoors are radon, carbon monoxide, respirable suspended particles (particles that are small enough to inhale), volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), formaldehyde, lead, and tobacco.[iii]  Most, but not all, of these pollutants are caused by carbon based fuels that are used to heat your homes, cook, and heat your water; even something as simple as having a fire in your fireplace.[iv]  To go over the effects of some of those pollutants:  Radon causes 20,000 cancer deaths yearly.[v]  We then move onto respirable suspended particles which have been connected to eye, nose, and throat irritation, respiratory infections and bronchitis as well as emphysema and lung cancer.[vi]  The effect of carbon monoxide is that is reduces the body’s ability to deliver oxygen to all vital organs[vii] Volatile organic chemicals have also been linked to eye, nose, and throat irritation; and also headaches, loss of coordination, nausea, damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system.[viii]  We then move onto the effects of formaldehyde.  It also causes eye, nose, and throat irritation in addition to causing headaches, runny noses, nausea and difficulty breathing, and has been labeled as a carcinogen.[ix]  Lead that is inhaled collects in the bones of the body and can affect the nervous system, kidney function, immune system, reproductive system, and the cardiovascular system.[x]  These are just some of the common pollutants and their effects, but the overall effects of indoor air pollution are not limited to just these.

indoor air pollution 2

Indoor air pollution kills millions of people every year.  As mentioned above, the death toll connected to indoor air pollution is estimated at 4.3 million a year.  It is estimated that 50% of all premature deaths of children under five years of age are attributable to indoor air pollution.[xi]  That is a terrifying statistic.  Children have no control over the world in which they live, and yet inevitably they are always the ones who seem to pay the steepest price for the many and varied problems that our world faces.  Of the 4.3 million deaths roughly 3.8 are from noncommunicable diseases such as strokes, heart diseases, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; all of which are more likely with exposure to indoor air pollution.[xii]  One of the biggest concerns is that most of the early symptoms of indoor air pollution are minor.  We all get irritated eyes, noses, and throats at least once a year.  However, the long term effects have a habit of being extremely serious, and likely fatal.  No one wants to get lung cancer, have a stroke or heart attack, or get any of the other major issues that were described in the above paragraph.  That doesn’t change the fact that people are dealing with this every day, and that if something is not done people will continue to die.

Now, you may be asking “What can I do?”  Well, there are several things.  For one, you can make sure that your house is cleaned on a regular basis.  Chemicals enter your home every day, and if you allow them to accumulate they will begin to have an effect on you.  Vacuum, mop, and sweep your floors, and don’t forget the walls.  If you spill something on a carpet, make sure you get it all up immediately.  Having a door mat is also a good idea, as when people wipe their feet most of the chemicals will, hopefully, collect on the mat.  When you’re cooking, or having a fire if you’re lucky enough to have a fire place, open a window to let in some fresh air, and all the smoke from the fire out.  One truly major thing that you can do is make your home a smoke free zone.  If you, or friends who come over, smoke do it outside.  Having to grab a cigarette outside never killed anyone, well not immediately anyway.  Another important thing to do is to have your home tested for radon, and some of the other chemicals mentioned above.  You can buy fairly inexpensive radon testing kits at most hardware stores, or you can hire a professional tester to come examine your home.[xiii]  A do-it-yourself test kit can be as low as $8, but can range up to $100.  It may cost you a bit of money, but peace of mind has no price tag.  If you’re really concerned about indoor air pollution then get an air filter to help.  Speaking from experience, you’ll be both amazed and disgusted at how nasty the filter is when you go to change it for the first time, after only a month.

indoor air pollution 1

Indoor air pollution is a serious issue that is facing the world.  Sadly, we live in a world that is full of pollutants, chemicals, and even simple building materials that have adverse effects on human health.  You can do three things about this.  Number one is, nothing.  You can live your life, and live with the consequences.  Number two is freak out, go crazy cleaning, lock yourself in your house, and not let anyone in.  That might make sure that you have control of the pollutants that enter your house, but is it really living?  Number three, is that you can do the simple things that will help make yourself safer such as some regular cleaning, or buying an air filter.  You don’t have to live your life terrified of all the different chemicals that are in your home, but you should try to contain what is in your home to some extent.


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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] “Household Air Pollution and Health.” WHO. World Health Organization. Web. 21 Nov. 2014. <http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs292/en/&gt;.

[ii] “OECD Glossary of Statistical Terms – Indoor Air Pollution Definition.” OECD Glossary of Statistical Terms – Indoor Air Pollution Definition. Web. 21 Nov. 2014. <http://stats.oecd.org/glossary/detail.asp?ID=1336&gt;.

[iii] “Common Indoor Air Pollutants: Sources And Health Impacts.” Http://www2.ca.uky.edu/. University of Kentucky. Web. 21 Nov. 2014. <http://www2.ca.uky.edu/hes/fcs/factshts/HF-LRA.161.PDF&gt;.

[iv] “Indoor Air Pollution Sources.” EHow. Demand Media, 3 Apr. 2011. Web. 2 Dec. 2014. <http://www.ehow.com/info_8158149_indoor-air-pollution-sources.html&gt;.

[v] “Common Indoor Air Pollutants: Sources And Health Impacts.” Http://www2.ca.uky.edu/. University of Kentucky. Web. 21 Nov. 2014. <http://www2.ca.uky.edu/hes/fcs/factshts/HF-LRA.161.PDF&gt;.

[vi] “Common Indoor Air Pollutants: Sources And Health Impacts.” Http://www2.ca.uky.edu/. University of Kentucky. Web. 21 Nov. 2014. <http://www2.ca.uky.edu/hes/fcs/factshts/HF-LRA.161.PDF&gt;.

[vii] “Health.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 21 Nov. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/airquality/carbonmonoxide/health.html&gt;.

[viii] “An Introduction to Indoor Air Quality: Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 21 Nov. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/iaq/voc.html&gt;.

[ix] “Formaldehyde – American Lung Association.” American Lung Association. Web. 21 Nov. 2014. <http://www.lung.org/healthy-air/home/resources/formaldehyde.html&gt;.

[x] “Lead in Air.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 21 Nov. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/oaqps001/lead/health.html&gt;.

[xi] “Household Air Pollution and Health.” WHO. World Health Organization. Web. 21 Nov. 2014. <http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs292/en/&gt;.

[xii] “Household Air Pollution and Health.” WHO. World Health Organization. Web. 21 Nov. 2014. <http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs292/en/&gt;.

[xiii] “Radon Publications: A Citizen’s Guide to Radon – The Guide to Protecting Yourself and Your Family From Radon.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 2 Dec. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/radon/pubs/citguide.html#howtotest&gt;.

Understanding Pollution: After Learning about Particulate Matter You´ll Never Think Of Breathing the Same Again

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I recently moved to China to teach English as a second language, and on my first day here I walked out of my apartment, and saw people wearing surgical masks.  I was quite confused as to why, and decided to ask someone.  I was told that many people in China wear surgical masks in order to protect themselves from air pollution, and particularly from particulate matter.  Now, I knew that pollution in China was bad; all I had to do was look out my window to see the smog that hung perpetually over the city, but I had no idea what particulate matter was, so I decided to investigate.

Particulate Matter 1

Particulate matter is the word used to describe the extremely tiny solid particles and liquid droplets that are in the air.[i]  These particles and droplets are so tiny that many thousands of them could fit on the end of the period following this sentence.[ii]  You may be thinking “why am I worried about something so small?”  Well, because they are that small they are able to pass through our noses and throats and into our lungs where they will impact both your heart and lungs as time passes.[iii]  The particles are not made up of just one type of chemical, but many hundreds of different chemicals.[iv]  The reason for that diversity is the sources of particulate matter are quite diverse themselves. There are two categories of particulate matter.  Coarse particles are those that are from manmade sources, and fine particles are naturally occurring in nature or created when particles mix in the air.[v]  They include power plant emissions, industrial manufacturing emissions, and fuel combustion from automobiles, simple fires, and wood burning stoves.[vi]  Those are the just some of the sources of coarse particles.  Fine particles, as mentioned before, occur either naturally, such as from forest fires, or are created when the particles mix in the air.

Now, I mentioned earlier that these particulate matters are small enough to enter our lungs, but what effect do they have once there?  To begin with they can simply irritate your lungs and increase the permeability, or amount of air let into and out of, your lungs.[vii]  They also cause irregular heartbeats which can lead to non-fatal heart attacks, and fatal heart attacks, and in people with heart or lung disease they can kill you.[viii]  Other effects include aggravated asthma, decreased ability of your lung’s to function, coughing, irritation of your airways, and difficulty breathing.[ix]  It is believed that if tighter guidelines were in place to regulate how much particulate matter is released into the air that 15000 lives a year would be saved, and that thousands of hospital visits by the elderly and those with already suffering from lung and heart disease could be avoided.[x]  Think about that.  15000 deaths annually, and tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in hospital costs saved every year.  I know lives and money aren’t even close to the same categories, but both have immense value.  That money could go to boosting the economy in a myriad of different ways, and those people could go on to cure cancer!  Finally, like so much else in this polluted world in which we live, particulate matter can cause a drop in your body’s ability to fight off infections, bacteria, and viruses.[xi]  I begin to understand why I see so many people here in Xi’an, China wearing surgical masks.

Particulate Matter 2

Particulate matter also has a major effect on the environment.  I remember when I was a kid visiting my grandparents in Tennessee, and my dad took my hiking in the Appalachians.  From the top of those mountains I felt like I could see forever.  As I grew older, I naturally realized that I was seeing for miles, and not forever, but that is the magic of childhood.  As it turns out one of the greatest impacts of particulate matter on the environment is that it reduces visibility.  In the eastern half of the United States on a clear day you used to be able to see up to 90 miles away, but now due to particulate matter that visibility has been reduced to between 14 and 24 miles.[xii]  That’s a 70% reduction in visibility so just imagine how much crud is in the air.  Particulate matter also increases the acidity level of lakes and rivers, and changes the nutrient balances in coastal waters and rivers.[xiii]  A truly scary thought is that particulate matter is also damaging enough to cause visible damage to stone and other manmade structures.[xiv]  Something strong enough to damage stone is going into our lungs?

Well, I set out with the goal of trying to find out why everyone I saw was wearing surgical masks, and I should say mission accomplished.  But, me being me, my mind is kind of racing right now.  I wonder why there aren’t more people talking about this, and why something so damaging to both human health, and the environment is so little known.  I didn’t grow up in the city seeing smog every day of my life.  I grew up seeing the woods and hills around my house.  I didn’t know what air pollution was until I learned about it in school, and I didn’t truly appreciate the dangers of pollution until I got to China.  Now I do, and I ask myself why we allow our beautiful world to be destroyed.  I want to be able to take any future children I have back to the top of the Appalachians and have them get that same feeling of seeing forever, but I don’t know if I’ll get the chance.  The very air that we breathe, that is essential for human life is becoming toxic to us.  That thought terrifies me.  Yes, you can buy surgical masks for when you go outside. You can even buy indoor air filters for your homes like my parents have, and you should.  Your health is important, but why does the need for these things exist?  What happened to this world that has so nurtured us for millennia?  Mankind happened, and we’re the only ones who can fix it.


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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] “Air Quality Programs.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 25 Nov. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/region07/air/quality/pmhealth.htm&gt;.

[ii] “Air Quality Programs.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 25 Nov. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/region07/air/quality/pmhealth.htm&gt;.

[iii] “Particulate Matter.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 25 Nov. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/pm/&gt;.

[iv] “Basic Information.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 25 Nov. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/pm/basic.html&gt;.

[v] “Particulate Matter.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 25 Nov. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/airscience/air-particulatematter.htm&gt;.

[vi] “Air Quality Programs.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 25 Nov. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/region07/air/quality/pmhealth.htm&gt;.

[vii] “Health Effects.” Spare the Air. Web. 25 Nov. 2014. <http://www.sparetheair.org/Stay-Informed/Air-Quality-and-Your-Health/PM-Health-Effects.aspx&gt;.

[viii] “Health.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 25 Nov. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/pm/health.html&gt;.

[ix] “Health.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 25 Nov. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/pm/health.html&gt;.

[x] “Air Quality Programs.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 25 Nov. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/region07/air/quality/pmhealth.htm&gt;.

[xi] “Health Effects.” Spare the Air. Web. 25 Nov. 2014. <http://www.sparetheair.org/Stay-Informed/Air-Quality-and-Your-Health/PM-Health-Effects.aspx&gt;.

[xii] “Air Quality Programs.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 25 Nov. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/region07/air/quality/pmhealth.htm&gt;.

[xiii] “Particulate Matter.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 25 Nov. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/airscience/air-particulatematter.htm&gt;.

[xiv] “Particulate Matter.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 25 Nov. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/airscience/air-particulatematter.htm&gt;.

Understanding Pollution: The Truth about the Air We Breathe

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Every second of every day you are doing something so absolutely crucial that you normally don’t even think about it: Breathing.  The average adult takes 12-16 breaths per minute every minute every day 365 days a year.[i]  That equals out to between 6,307,200-8,415,184 breaths every year.  You would assume that because clean breathable air is so vital to human existence that it would be protected, and that a thing such as air pollution would not exist.  Sadly, this is not the case. Because the fact that breathing is so essential to human existence, air pollution is one of the most dangerous types of pollution out there.  Air pollution is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “Release into the atmosphere of gases, finely divided solids, or finely dispersed liquid aerosols at rates that exceed the capacity of the atmosphere to dissipate them or to dispose of them through incorporation into the Biosphere.”[ii] Air pollution is not confined to only one area of the world, nor is it confined to a single type of pollutant.  There are legions of different pollutants that all cause some level of damage to the air that we so nonchalantly inhale every day.

air pollution 1

Every time that you breathe out you are releasing a gas called CO2, which is then used by plant life in order for them to survive.  Plant life is kind enough to provide us with Oxygen is exchange, and thus the circle of life is continued.  But too much of anything is bad.  In 2013 39.8 billion tons or CO2 were pumped into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels alone.[iii]  To put that into perspective, according to the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory all volcanoes worldwide release only 200 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year.[iv] In the year 1900 there was only 2.5 billion tons of CO2 released into the atmosphere.  That means that in a little over a century we have increased CO2 production roughly 16 times over.[v]  CO2 that is not then converted into Oxygen has only one place to go: up.  It gathers into the atmosphere, and there it waits.  You can debate the idea of climate change all you want, but the fact remains that CO2 levels are rising in the ozone, and we sadly can’t live off CO2.

air pollution 2

Now, air pollution is more than just CO2. Another danger of air pollution is called acidification. When certain chemicals such as sulfur dioxide are released into the air it is possible for them to mix with rain clouds.  When this occurs, we get what is called acid rain.[vi]  Just from the name itself, you know it cannot be good.  Acid rain can cause damage to plant life, animal life, manmade structures, and man himself.  Factor in the fact that if the rain is falling over a body of water those chemicals that are strong enough to damage manmade structures are now in ground water, and you can see the dangers.[vii]  The plant life in the waters will die, which will cause the herbivores in the water to die, which will cause the cause the carnivores in the water to die. Sulfur dioxide is released in many industrialized cities.  You see, Sulfur Dioxide is one of the chief ingredients in that oh so lovely thing called smog.  You know, those black clouds that you see pouring out the top of factories?  That smog.

air pollution 3

Having discussed CO2, and sulfur dioxide let us move onto another, very irritating pollutant: Odors.  Now, you may be thinking “Wait, odors?  As in smells?”  Well…yes.  Odors are chemical compounds that are in the air which falls in the definition of air pollution.  So, take a moment and think of some of the things that you smell:  Garbage, Sewage, Industrial by-products.  What does it mean that you can smell them?  It means that some chemical is in the air.  Garbage, sewage, and industrial by-products are all forms of pollution in their own right with their own risks and dangers to the environment and mankind, and their smell is both a by-product of that pollution, and a further pollution of the air.  Pollution has both earth-shattering consequences, and more minor consequences.  Some of the effects of pollution are so minor that we don’t even recognize them as such.  A really bad smell is one example of that.  However, there are earth shattering consequences.  As more and more manufacturing has moved from the United States to China, you would think that pollution is going down in the US…You would be wrong.  Due to the existence of what are known as Westerlies, which are powerful winds that travel from the east to the west, China is “exporting” pollution to the West Coast of the United States.  So much pollution is being added that to West Coast cities that they are violating National EPA standards on average of one extra day a year.[viii]

Air is one of the absolutely essential components required for humankind to not only prosper, but to even exist.  Air pollution is one of the greatest dangers to our lives.  It comes in so many forms, and because air is everywhere, it effects every aspect of our planet.  Since air pollution is such a huge issue with many contributing factors it is not something that can be easily dealt with.  Despite all of the issues involved in finding a solution, a solution must be found in order for us to continue to breathe that clean air that is so vital to not just a healthy lifestyle, but life itself.


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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] “Vital Signs (Body Temperature, Pulse Rate, Respiration Rate, Blood Pressure).”HopkinsMedicine.org. John Hopkins Medicine. Web. 10 Nov. 2014. <Vital Signs (Body Temperature, Pulse Rate, Respiration Rate, Blood Pressure)>.

[ii] “Air Pollution.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster. Web. 10 Nov. 2014. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/concise/air pollution>.

[iii] MailOnline, Ellie. “Carbon Emissions Reach 40 Billion Ton High: World Faces ‘dangerous Climate Change’ – and China, the US and India Are the Worst Offenders.” Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, 22 Sept. 2014. Web. 29 Oct. 2014. <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2764323/China-US-India-push-world-carbon-emissions-up.html&gt;.

[iv] “Which Produces More CO2, Volcanic or Human Activity?” Which Produces More CO2, Volcanic or Human Activity? Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, 15 Feb. 2007. Web. 29 Oct. 2014. <http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov/volcanowatch/archive/2007/07_02_15.html&gt;.

[v] “Global Emissions.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 10 Nov. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/global.html&gt;.

[vi] “Acid Rain: Do You Need to Start Wearing a Rainhat?” Acid Rain, from USGS Water-Science School. United States Geological Survey. Web. 10 Nov. 2014. <http://water.usgs.gov/edu/acidrain.html&gt;.

[vii] “Your Cool Facts and Tips on Air Pollution.” ESchoolToday. Web. 29 Oct. 2014. <http://eschooltoday.com/pollution/air-pollution/effects-of-air-pollution.html&gt;.

[viii] Landau, Elizabeth. “China’s Exports Linked to Western U.S. Air Pollution.” CNN. Cable News Network, 21 Jan. 2014. Web. 10 Nov. 2014. <http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/20/health/pollution-china-pnas/&gt;.

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;.