What is Pollution?
Land Pollution
Water Pollution
Air Pollution
Adapted from Microsoft Clip Gallery Pictures

"I do wonder whether there will come a time when we can no longer afford our wastefulness - chemical wastes in rivers, metal wastes everywhere, and atomic wastes buried deep in the earth or sunk in the sea."
- John Steinbeck

"In an era when a chemical spill can kill thousands, when wastes buried 20 years earlier can contaminate community water supplies, when our environmental ignorance can plant the seeds for later diseases, environmentalists and industrialists cannot continue to draw false battlelines."
- Jay Hair

What is Pollution?


Where We Stand


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Pollution is the action of environmental contamination with man-made waste. (Marriam-Webster) This includes mainly land, water, and air. Pollution can come in various forms including the lesser-known noise, light, and thermal pollution. Of all the First World countries, the United States is the most polluting nation on Earth, according to various statistical indications. The U.S. is ranked seventh on pollution control, by only spending 60% of its Gross National Product to help the environment. (Where We Stand) We spend over 120 billions dollars a year on pollution control and abatement, regulation and monitoring, and research and development. The majority of the cost incurred is from control and abatement of pollution. (IEA) According to the Council on Eviromental Quality, our country consumed over 98 quadrillion Btu of energy in 2000. Our own residential consumption of energy in various forms has increase 300% since 1950. Some of this consumption increase is due to burning of fossil fuels, a natural resource. Why do you think the depletion of natural resources and the consumption of energy is related to pollution?

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Land Pollution

Land pollution the action of environmental contamination with man-made waste on land. Americans generate five pounds of solid waste every day, furthermore creating one ton of solid waste each year. (Kaufman and Franz) In an average day in the United States, people throw out 200,000 tons of edible food and throw 1 million bushels of litter out of their automobiles. (Kaufman and Franz) The main human contributor to pollution are landfills. Approximately half of our trash is disposed in landfills. (Dubay et al) Only 2% of our waste is actually recycled.

It is possible that land pollution might also contaminate the air and/or the water or vice versa. In the picture above, for example, some of the trash may end up getting washed into the lake adjacent to it. In another situation, chemical waste may not be disposed of properly and toxic substances may seep into the ground. These seeping chemicals can potentially contaminate a local body of water. It is also possible that these chemicals may give off a toxic vapor, thereby contributing to air pollution as well.

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Water Pollution

Water pollution is the action of environmental contamination with man-made waste into water. The source of this waste could be raw sewage, chemicals, trash, or fertilizer. Water polltuion has severe human consequences, since less than 3% of the Earth contains water that is potable or safe for drinking. (Dubay et al) Also, water is so important for human survival because we cannot live without it. When a source for drinking water becomes cantaminated with untreated sewage it is possible to spread diseases through the water like Giardiasis, a diarrheal disease caused by a parasitic protazoa, Giardia lamblia. (Kaufman and Franz) These types of diseases can also be caused by bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms. Another type of water pollution usually occurs when water is contaminted with fertilizer. The water is then nitrified and phosphorolized by the fertilizer chemicals. These added nutrients in the water can cause eutrophication or the process of changing of a body water due to excessive plant nutrients. This eutrophication promotes excessive growth of algae and aquatic plants, which then chokes the open-water areas, thus decreasing the amount of oxygen available in the water. (Dubay et al) Consequently, fish and other organism may die off due to the lack of oxygen. Other types of water polltion include trash that is dumped into a body of water or chemicals that seep or are dumped into a body of water. These two types of water pollution can have harmful side effects for humans and different organisms.

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Air Pollution

Air pollution is the action of environmental contamination with man-made waste into the air. The air we breathe is composed of a mixture of gases: 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, and a small percentage of other gases like argon, carbon dioxide, and water vapor. (Kaufman and Franz) The Earth's air also contains pollutants or harmful material, we may also breathe. Some of these air pollutants may be odorless and colorless. Other air pollution may be so apparent that it surrounds us like smog, which is a cloud or haze of air pollution. Many times you can see smog hanging over the tall skyscrapers in urban areas. Why do you think cities are more likely to have smog than suburban or rural areas? Cities have a tendency to have greater portion of industrialized areas. Industry is the main contributor to air pollution. Many times factories release greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), methane, and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere. (Kaufman and Franz) Greenhouse gases contribute to a phenomenon called the greenhouse effect or more simply put, global warming. These greenhouse gases trap heat within the atmoshpere, thus raising the temperture of the Earth. There also other harmful gases the are released when fossil fuels are burned. These gases have significant negative health and environmental effects. These are following gases that are known as the "Big Six" air pollutants":

  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Carbon Monoxide
  • Sulfur Oxide
  • Nitrogen Oxide
  • Hydrocarbons (Benzene, Terpene, etc.)
  • Particulates

  • Below are recently released images from the Terra Satellite from 9th of July, 2001. (NASA) Move your cursor onto the image of the globe and you can see areas of air pollution and how polluted air moves. The red areas depict locations with higher pollution. The specific air pollutant that is being tracked in carbon monoxide. Which areas contain the most red? Why do you think these area are more red than the others? What could be the causes?

    The above gases that we have been discussing are primary pollutants because they directly affect the environment. However, there are other gases that are consider sencondary pollutants because they react with other chemicals and then become harmful to the environment. Some examples of these are sulfur and nitrogen oxide, which can react with water to form acid rain in the atmosphere. Below is an illustration of this process. This is an example of how air pollution can also result in water pollution.

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    As you can see from the pictures and diagrams that pollution is everywhere. Pollution is a global crisis. It is not an isolated occurance, but affects every person on Earth. We must become more conscientious and aware that we are not just Americans but global citizens that must take care of the world in which we live!

    References &

    Other Related Links

  • Dubay, Lapinski, Schoch, and Tweed, Environmental Science 3rd Ed. New York : SFAW, 1999.
  • Kaufman, D. G., and Franz, C. M., Biosphere 2000: Protecting Our Global Environment. New York : HaperCollins, 1993.
  • Merriam-Webster OnLine
  • Where We Stand
  • Energy Information Administration
  • NASA
  • WebMonkey
  • MS Clip Gallery
  • CometZone
  • WebPageBackground
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    Drexel University - EDUC 325
    Revised: May 30, 2002
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