Pollution – and what we can do about it

Pollution – and what we can do about it

November 7, 2018 by Julia Pfliegl Categories: Environmental Protection

What are the causes of pollution? Which species are there, what are their effects? What can you do against pollution? An overview.

The world in which we live is full of filth: plastic waste in the sea, heavy metals in the soil and in drinking water, residues of pesticides in our food and particulate matter in the air. The consequences are diverse and far-reaching, according to a study from 2017, the world’s pollution is responsible for the deaths of about nine million people per year.

Have we always polluted our environment??

Basically yes. Already in the Stone Age fireplaces caused the first, albeit small pollution by soot particles and ash. Later, agriculture and livestock were responsible for contamination of water and soil by ammonia.

At that time, however, environmental damage was still limited, and nature was usually able to regenerate as soon as people moved on. Only with the industrialization and the rural exodus to the cities in the 19th century emerged what we know today under “pollution”.

Types of pollution

Pollution does not pollute the planet, pollutants, fumes, sewage, emissions, garbage or even nuclear radiation. Partly noise and light pollution are also counted as pollution.

The pollution of our environment has many faces and affects almost all areas of daily life. For better understanding, it is usually divided into six main categories, depending on where it occurs or what is the cause / source of pollution:

  • air pollution
  • Pollution of the oceans
  • Freshwater / drinking water pollution
  • Pollution of the soil
  • Pollution by chemicals
  • rubbish

Causes and consequences of pollution

Common to all types of pollution is that they are created artificially, ie by humans. In contrast, there is also a so-called “natural pollution”, such as when natural lead deposits contaminate the drinking water. (Source: UNEA Report)

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air pollution

Causes of air pollution are mainly energy production in thermal power plants, industrial production, energy consumption in buildings as well as traffic. Air pollution killed nearly half a million people in Europe in 2015, with around 6.5 million people worldwide.

Particulate matter and exhaust gases from industry and cars cause considerable damage to houses and historic buildings. Climate change and global warming are promoted and accelerated by greenhouse gases. These in turn affect the vegetation and thus the cultivation of cereals, vegetables and other foods. It is estimated that the cost of air pollution in 2060 will be around 2% of the total European gross domestic product. (Source: EUA report) and will then slow down economic growth.

Of course, we can not directly influence industrial production. But we can save electricity, heat properly and, above all, travel shorter distances on foot or by bicycle. For more tips and information about air pollution in Germany, you can find here: particulate matter and nitric oxide in Germany

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Pollution of the seas

Much of the pollution of our oceans arises on land, not in the water. These include sewage, garbage and everything else that is simply dumped thoughtlessly into the sea. Other causes include oil spills from accidents involving tankers or oil rigs, as well as residues from fish farming and fishing.

As a result of this contamination of our seas, the food base of some 3.5 billion people is at risk – through the extinction of fish and seabirds or poisoned algae carpets. The latter also have a negative impact on tourism, an important source of income in many coastal countries. There are now nearly 500 so-called “death zones” in which life under water is no longer possible.

Although we can only do a little something against tanker accidents or the methods of the fishing industry, you can do a great deal with the topic of plastic waste to reduce the pollution of the oceans.

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drinking water contamination

The lack of access to clean drinking water is one of the most urgent problems associated with pollution. About 58 percent of diarrheal diseases are caused by contaminated drinking water – a major factor in high infant mortality. However, contaminated freshwater also reduces fish stocks, can cause cancer and kidney disease, and even lead to sterility in fish and humans.

However, the problem is almost completely man-made, as more than 80% of wastewater in the world ends up in the environment. There are also fertilizers and pesticides from conventional agriculture and heavy metals from mining and industrial production.

Drinking water is precious, so you should be aware of it and use it sparingly. In addition, when shopping you can, for example, to products with seals, labels and signs whose criteria include the proper handling of wastewater.

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Pollution of the soil

For the culprits, the faulty cultivation methods of conventional agriculture are at the top of the list. This is followed by incorrect handling of waste, nuclear waste and hazardous substances, inefficient irrigation and extraction of mineral resources. The consequences of soil pollution are obvious: less agricultural yield and therefore less food for us humans. But contaminated soil also means that poison enters the food chain that makes us sick. In addition, poisoned soil is one of the triggers of bee mortality.

You can probably do the most against this kind of pollution. When purchasing food, do you consistently focus on organic quality, promote sustainable agriculture and eliminate environmentally harmful cultivation methods. And with consistent waste separation you can also contribute to an improved handling of waste.

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Pollution from chemicals

There are two reasons for environmental damage from chemicals: on the one hand, there are catastrophic chemical accidents, such as in Hungary in 2010, when highly toxic red mud flowed into the Tisza. On the other hand, it is substances such as asbestos, lead or heavy metals to which we are permanently exposed.

About 100,000 people die of asbestos per year worldwide. The lead from aqueducts or paint has been shown to negatively impact children’s IQ. For most other toxic substances, the exact effect has not even been explored.

In terms of chemicals, you can only do very little to prevent pollution, especially companies and authorities are in demand.

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