Air Pollution: A Continuing Battle that Needs Everyone’s Active Involvement
Since the Industrial Revolution, life has never been the same again. The socioeconomic landscape of civilization totally changed with the advent of new facilities and technology. Job opportunities in factories and other fields began to be available to several people all at once, providing idle hands with occupations as well as allowing many with additional sources of income. Some even left their existing jobs for new opportunities. Very rapidly, the influx of people moved towards the vicinity of factories and other industries that provide them sustenance. As population began to swell, the farmlands around or leading to industrial areas were taken over by transportation facilities, storage sites, landfills, recreational facilities, and new homes. Some agricultural lands have to be converted into infrastructure buildings.
Aside from jobs in the factories, the industrial boom also caused several new entrepreneurs to thrive. People began to enjoy a new kind of lifestyle, too. From the socioeconomic point of view, the industrial development has brought a tremendous uplift to people’s lives. There’s no doubt about it!
But then, if we are keen about the environment, we can see that alongside our development some elements have to be sacrificed – and that includes human health. Sadly, our efforts to promote economic and social development have simultaneously caused the rapid decline and destruction of the environment. Conversion of fertile agricultural lands into impervious surfaces, such as asphalt or concrete, confused the natural course of rain water; deforestation in favour of infrastructure destroys natural vegetation; rapid population growth in a particular area produced so much litters and wastes that contaminate soil, water and air; landfills began to heap up toxic wastes, posing threats to groundwater, and; chimneys of factories were actively belching out smoke that obviously hazed the atmosphere.
Those industrial establishments that have economically sustained millions of people all over the world, and consequently improved their social condition use various kinds of chemicals in its production activities. The sad thing about it is that most, if not all, of these chemicals are toxic, endangering the health of factory workers who work directly or indirectly with such substances.
Studies have shown that industrial pollution is found to be one of the major air and water contaminators because of the nature of its production processes. Almost always, thermal plants, atomic reactors, manufacturing firms for fertilizers and pesticides, petroleum refineries, makers of leather and plastics, and other types of industries use chemicals that are neither conducive to human health nor friendly to the environment. The smoke and fumes coming out of their chimneys emit tons of hydrocarbons into the atmosphere and disperse them as far and wide as the wind could carry them.
Moreover, most of the industrial waste water is released without treatment into open waterways, significantly reducing water quality. But not only surface water is affected, though. The same waste water penetrates aquifers and contaminates groundwater resources. Water is an essential element to industries in generating steam, cleaning, heating and cooling, as well as a component in the production of some products like beverages.
The excess chemicals from the industrial processes are released into the atmosphere through the chimneys, exposing a greater number of people living outside the factories, and other living organisms to the same toxic chemicals. Once out, the smoke emitted from factory chimneys integrates with fog, and together they float away and contaminate the very air that people breathe. According to scientific studies, air disturbance in one region can have an extensive effect over vast areas of the earth because of the interconnectedness of weather systems.
Smog, or the combination of smoke and fog in the atmosphere, is one kind of air pollution resulting from the photochemical reaction of sunlight with hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides released into the air by industrial fumes, power plants, vehicular emissions, incinerators, and open-air burning. It can also come from many consumer products, such as paint, charcoal starter fluid, chemical solvent, hairspray, and plastic packaging.
Smog contains oxides of sulphur and nitrogen, chemicals that pose threat to human health as well as on the life of some plants and animals. To say the least, these harmful chemicals cause short-term ailments, such as coughing, sneezing, headaches, tiredness, irritation, nausea, hoarseness of the throat, and constriction of the chest. Meanwhile, the long term effects of these air pollutants are usually associated with respiratory conditions, like asthma, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis, to name a few.
Domestic Pollution and Agricultural Chemicals
The issue of air pollution, however, cannot be altogether blamed on industries and burning fossil fuels alone. Human beings also contribute much to the poor air and water quality. At home, we use chemical-based cleaning products, fumigating agents, painting supplies, and over-the-counter insect or pest killers. Farmers employ crop dusting, genetically engineered seeds, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides. All these pose risk to human health and detrimental to the environment. Most often than not, we use these chemicals, like insect spray, with little or no ventilation at all.
Government agencies throughout the world, though, have taken measures to regulate and control pollution in their respective jurisdiction by introducing the green energy, such as solar energy, wind energy, and other types of renewable power. Many scientists and big business organizations, too, are continually tapping other possible sources of fuels that are more environmentally friendly.
Governments also implement laws enjoining industrial companies to be more responsible in their manufacturing activities.
But, sadly, there are still many cities where air pollution remains very high; and even those areas that have successfully reduced pollution are not safe yet because the contaminated air from polluted cities can travel far and wide. Besides, we still have to develop ways to effectively manage our water resources to ensure sustainable availability.
What can we do then?
Let us continue to lobby for stricter laws about smoke-belching vehicles, encourage automobile producers to develop vehicles that are more environmentally-friendly, promote non-gas operated vehicles, and urge manufacturers to look for non-toxic alternatives to their production components. As consumers, we must also be conscious about using bio-degradable detergents and cleaning materials at home; patronizing organic food products so that farmers may be encouraged to go organic, and; actively participating in environmental conservation.
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The Industrial Revolution ushered humanity into an age of economic progress, and a new kind of lifestyle. A lifestyle that retrogressed from healthy to dirty. Since then, we have been living, albeit dangerously, with soot and chemically saturated air