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The Top Causes of Air, Land, and Water Pollution

Updated on September 18, 2012
The lyrics for Tom Lehrer's "Pollution" became the call to action for envrionmental protection back in the 1960s.
The lyrics for Tom Lehrer's "Pollution" became the call to action for envrionmental protection back in the 1960s. | Source

By Joan Whetzel

Air pollution, land pollution, and water pollution have been around since at least the 19th century, all of it attributable to human contamination of the environment. These forms of pollution became increasingly challenging by the mid 20th century. So much so, in fact, that it stirred a strong movement toward cleaning up the pollution and attempts to stop pollution altogether. The first step to any pollution cleanup, though is to understand what pollution is and what's causing the various types of pollution.

What Is Pollution?

Pollution can be defined as the contamination of the environment through manmade waste. The main types of pollution are air, water, and land pollution. The United States is considered to be one of the most polluted nations on Earth.

Types of Pollution

Air pollution is the human contamination of the air that we breathe. The main components of Earth's air are nitrogen (78%) and oxygen (21%) with traces of other gasses (argon, carbon dioxide, water vapor). The addition of other gasses, particulates and chemicals causes respiratory and other health problems.

Water Pollution is the human contamination of the world's waterways, most of it coming from raw sewage, trash, fertilizers, and chemical waste. This creates a huge problem since only about 3% of the world's water is safe for human consumption and because fresh water is essential to our very survival.

Land Pollution is the manmade contamination of the land with solid waste, coming mainly from landfills. Americans produce about 5 pounds of solid waste daily, and about one ton of the stuff annually.

Tom Lehrer - Pollution

Auto exhaust contributes to air pollution.
Auto exhaust contributes to air pollution. | Source

Top Causes of Air Pollution

Air pollution is mainly generate through the introduction of particulates, chemicals, and biological materials which are released into the air in the form of solid particles, liquid droplets or gas. In major cities, smog generated by vehicle emissions and industrial fumes are the main contributors. Other major contributors are forest fire, fires used to clear land for farming and development, and volcanic eruptions. However, the "Big Six" causes of air pollution are:

1. carbon dioxide

2. carbon monoxide

3. sulfur oxide

4. nitrogen oxide

5. hydrocarbons (i.e. benzene and terpene)

6. particulates

Industrial, agricultural, and domestic waste contribute to water pollution.
Industrial, agricultural, and domestic waste contribute to water pollution. | Source

Top Causes of Water Pollution

The main causes of water pollution include the following:

1. Domestic waste products such as bathroom and kitchen chemicals.

2. Domestic lawn care products like fertilizers and weed killers.

3. Organic wastes, soil, and sediment.

4. Wash off from logging, construction and agricultural activities.

5. Industrial discharges.

6. Chemicals and detergents found in personal care items and in laundry care products.

7. Pharmaceuticals. People who flush their unused drugs down the sink or toilet are polluting the water, which affects the wildlife who drink it and any humans who drink water that has not been filtered by a water treatment plant.

8. Petrochemical disposal.

9. Soot from industry or domestic fires can be carried into the water system.

10. Raw sewage, which can produce ill effects for humans and animals, especially in areas that use ground water and wells, or that don't have access to water from water treatment plants.

Mountains of trash tossed into huge landfills make up the bulk of the world's land pollution.
Mountains of trash tossed into huge landfills make up the bulk of the world's land pollution. | Source

Top Causes of Land Pollution

The main causes of land pollution consist of:

1. Larger populations worldwide and increased urbanization.

2. Use of pesticides, fertilizers, and weed killers for home use and for agricultural use

3. Increased use of landfills.

4. Filling those landfills with more and more solid waste. Unfortunately, we live in a disposable world.

5. Mining activities.

6. Burning wood and scattering the ashes on the ground.

7. Industrial waste.

8. Disposal of computers and appliances which are not recyclable and are not biodegradable.

All of this information begs the question: What can be done to stop this pollution and to clean up the mess it has caused to the environment?


Drexel University. Pollution.

Biello, David. Scientific American. The World's Top 10 Worst Pollution Problems.

Universe Today. Causes of Air Pollution.

Environment 911. Major Causes of Air Pollution.

Green Footsteps. What Are the Main Causes of Water Pollution?

Knowledge Galaxy. Causes of Land Pollution.

eLyrics. Pollution.


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    • agusfanani profile image

      agusfanani 5 years ago from Indonesia

      Useful information. We all have to participate and function ourselves in saving the earth from those major pollutions if we don't want to dig our own grave pits .


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