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Industrial Pollution

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"Pollution affects two essential aspects of our planet: air and water. Although their pollutants are emitted in different ways, they both harm all living organisms. Air pollution is predominately emitted through the exhaust of motor vehicles and the combustion of fossil fuels, whereas water pollution is the result of industrial waste and environmental accidents. Our society knows that pollution is harmful and a serious problem for Earth but generally people don't care. Nevertheless everybody needs to contribute to prevention and pay attention to government control in the amount of material large industries can emit into the air and/or water. Industry gives off a good share of the waste that is polluting our planet, but it's every person is contributes as well. Government involvement is key to regulating toxins, building waste systems and protecting air and waters.

Carbon Monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas and is the most abundant and widely distributed air pollutant. "Even though vast quantities of carbon monoxide enter the atmosphere each year (147 million tons in the US alone) the majority of the emissions are due to natural causes instead of anthropogenic, human causes. It is because of this that carbon monoxide is viewed as the least danger to living beings. The largest natural cause of CO is the oxidation of methane in the atmosphere. Methane, CH4, is produced on the surface of earth by the decay of organic matter." (Harrison, 1990)

A smaller natural cause is the growth and decay of chlorophyll which is the green pigment in the leaves of plants. Eighty percent of the carbon monoxide that is emitted by humans is by transportation. Because automobiles are the largest source of CO pollution, the highest concentration of this gas is in highly populated/urban areas. The next greatest anthropogenic source is agricultural burning, which accounts for another twelve percent. "It has been shown that exposure to high concentrations of carbon monoxide can harm living organisms, but the current concentration in our atmosphere is still low enough so that plants and humans are both at minimal risk." (Harrison, 1990)

Hydrocarbons are the second largest category of air pollutants by mass, but they are by far the largest group of pollutants when considering their effect. There are thousands of different hydrocarbon compounds that are comprised solely of hydrogen and carbon. They can be found in a gaseous, liquid or solid states at room temperature. "Most hydrocarbons are emitted by the bacterial decomposition of organic material. Methane, CH4, which was mentioned in the formation of carbon monoxide, is the simplest of the hydrocarbons. Petroleum is a complicated mixture of several simple hydrocarbons showing again transportation by motor vehicles is the leading cause of this category being emitted into the air. Their evaporation during the refining of petroleum is also important." (Hirschhorn, 1991) Unlike the previous categories, the hydrocarbons are relatively harmless in their released state. It is in the atmosphere that they undergo chemical reactions and become hazardous.

Societal Effects from of Air Pollution

People are mostly oblivious to the effects of air pollution. They know it's out there and it is a problem but excepting skin cancer, there have been very few deaths with a direct link to air pollution. It is probably because of this that people aren't as concerned with air pollution as they should be. Air pollution has always been around, and has actually been on a decline since the 1960's (when coal was the major source of energy.) It is relatively easy to decrease the amount of pollutants we emit considering each year new laws arise that crack down on the amount of certain substances that can be released into the air, but the harm has already been done, and next to impossible to fix. The ozone layer is the part of the atmosphere that keeps ultraviolet rays from penetrating humans and plants. But because of all the air pollution, various chemicals are slowly destroying the ozone layer. Each year the concentration of the ozone decreases by approximately two percent and the ozone layer over the South Pole is already fifty percent of its natural concentration. "Ozone depleters (the majority of which are chlorofluorocarbons or CFC's) react with ultraviolet radiation and break down into their component atoms, especially chlorine, bromine and fluoride. These component atoms then go on to steal an oxygen atom from the ozone layer (opposite to the reaction which forms O3), thereby destroying the ozone layer. This loss of protection from UV rays can result in an increase of human skin cancer, damage to various parts of the eyes as well as causing a breakdown of the immune system." (Hirschhorn, 1991) With health being such a major issue in our society today, people have become scared by this "outbreak" of cancer. People know that the ozone layer is slowing depleting and that there is a health risk involved with being in the sun for extended periods of time. But very few people know that there is a connection between this breakdown of the ozone layer and air pollution. Instead of trying to control pollution emissions they just cut back on their time outdoors, or wear more sunscreen. Ultraviolet rays can also cause major environmental problems. These rays enter the atmosphere and can kill small aquatic organisms, such as plankton. When these small life forms decompose they release carbon dioxide, CO2, another gas which can cause the ozone layer to break down, thus resulting in a continuos cycle.

What can we do?

Although air pollution has relatively few immediate effects on humans at the present time it is important that we try to reduce the amount of pollutants we emit into the air. As discussed before the biggest cause of air pollution is use of transportation, followed by the combustion of fossil fuels. In the past thirty years many new standards have been passed in the United States which resulted in a dramatic reduction in the gases emitted by automobiles. But even with these new laws air pollution is still on the increase. It is mostly due to the fact that there are more automobiles on the road today. Cars may be more efficient but there are too many of them, which in many ways dimishes their efficiency. One solution to this problem is encouraging people to carpool which would reduce the number of cars on the road and in turn reduce the amount of pollutants. Another solution is to make more laws enforcing more efficient cars. However this would cost car manufactures more money, resulting in more expensive cars which people wouldn't want to buy. So the best solution to reducing the amount of pollutants emitted by automobiles is by encouraging



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