Air pollution is anything that contaminates our air or affects its composition. Polluted air can contain dust and chemicals, such as smoke from chimneys, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen monoxide. When the air is not clean, the entire environment is affected because both plants and animals depend on air to breathe. Breathing unclean air causes health problems, even in humans.
It is important for us to realize that pollution is not isolated. Toxins from the United States can travel by air currents across the oceans and harm our friends overseas, and we all share a common atmosphere. The solutions that we decide upon must be implemented on an international scale. It is not enough to prevent pollution at home; we must prevent pollution globally.
Fuel is usually not burned cleanly or completely because it may contain impurities, other chemicals which produce dangerous pollutants, and may not be burned efficiently. Coal, oil, and natural gas contain such impurities. Pollution such as carbon monoxide, a colorless and odorless gas, nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, and hydrocarbons are produced by polluters such as vehicles, especially in heavy city traffic, and factories. The result is smog and other atmospheric pollution. Sulfur dioxide leads to acid rain, which can spread to the water as well.
Air pollution can make eyes burn and cause headaches. It can make it difficult to breathe and increases the risk of lung cancer. Carbon monoxide is a toxin; it is poisonous when inhaled. Chlorofluorocarbons deplete the ozone layer, which absorbs UV radiation. This may weaken immune systems and increase the chances of skin cancer and eye diseases. The United States EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, banned CFC's in aerosol sprays in 1978. Smog was a mix of smoke and fog. Now, it also includes pollutants such as ozone, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides. Smog aggravates respiratory ailments.
Ocean Pollution is a problem that directly affects ocean organisms and the natural balance. It indirectly affects human health and resources. Oil spills, toxic wastes and the dumping of other materials all contribute to the broad term 'Ocean Pollution'. Because oceans cover over 70% of the surface of the earth, water sources are the perfect carriers of pollution, thus allowing for pollution to spread rapidly and to go all over the world via inter-connected seas.
Oil pollution is one of the highest publicized forms of Ocean Pollution. The majority of oil pollution is from spills or leakages of oil that originate from land or rivers, which in turn flow to the sea. The more direct form of oil pollution occurs when ships transporting the substance leak or crash. Some of the oil washes up on the shore and becomes tar-like lumps; some coat the fur of animals affecting their natural heating system. Also, some oil finds its way to other water sources (such as lakes, rivers, and personal water supplies) causing hazardous water to be consumed. In extreme cases, rivers, lakes and wells have been known to ignite.
TANKER ACCIDENTS: Ship crashes and/or leakages.
ROUTINE MAINTENANCE: Ship maintenance (discharge).
RUNOFF: Runoff from land, municipal, and industrial wastes.
AIR POLLUTION: Air pollution (mainly from cars and industries). The particles (hydrocarbons) settle or are washed down by rain from the air to the ocean.
OFFSHORE DRILLING: Spills and operational discharge from land drilling leak and flow to the sea.
NATURAL CAUSES: There are many forms of natural 'Oil Pollution', once such for is when eroding rocks release oil into the sea.
Toxic Wastes is the most harmful form of pollution to marine creatures and humans alike. Once a form of toxic waste affects an organism, it (the toxic waste) can be quickly passed along the food chain. Toxic wastes arrive from the leakage of landfills, dumps, mines and farms.
Sewage and industrial wastes introduce chemical pollutants such as PCB, DDT, and Sevin. Farm chemicals (insecticides and herbicides,) along with heavy metals (e.g., mercury and zinc,) can have a disasterous affect on marine life and humans alike. Radioactive wastes, reactor leaks, natural radioactivity, and radioactive particles which originate from the Atmospheric Testing Program from explosions of nuclear weapons are dispersed in water all over the world. The effect of these radioactive particles is currently being researched. Dioxin causes genetic and chromosomal mutations in marine life and is suspected of causing cancer in humans.
Medical wastes, such as stale blood vials, hypodermic needles, and urine samples that have been found in oceans around the U.S. are being researched to determine if swimmers have a chance of contracting Hepatitis or AIDs from such wastes. Other wastes have been known to cause viral and bacterial diseases such as cholera, typhoid, dysentery, and diarrhea.
The lawful ocean dumping of various pollutants was once common practice, but is now regulated. However, the wastes that were dumped into the ocean in the early 1900's remain there still. Human wastes, ground-up garbage, water from bathing, and plastics all contribute to ocean dumping. Examples of trash found in the ocean are: syringes, labratory rats, human stomach lining, Navy decontamination kits, test tubes with various substances (with radioactive markings) and tampon applicators.
One of the main causes of trash finding its way to the ocean is the fact that some sewage pipes share their space with storm water drains. Rainfall (at least 1/4 of an inch), causes the sewage pipes to flood and the sewage wastes (basically anything you flush down your toilet) mingles with the storm water drain which flows unhindered to a water source.
Balloons have been known to find their way into animals such as sperm whales, blocking their digestive tracts; causing the animals to die. Plastic six-pack rings choke various animals and other waste is mistaken by animals for food. Basically any unnatural trash can be harmful to ocean life.
Litter consists of waste products such as containers, papers, and wrappers which have been disposed of without consent. In addition to intentional littering, almost half of litter on U.S. roadways is now a result of accidental or unintentional litter, debris that falls off of improperly secured trash and recycling collection vehicles and pickup trucks. Heavy traffic and proximity to waste disposal sites are known to correlate with higher litter rates.
Litter can harm the environment in a number of different ways. It is a breeding ground for disease-causing insects and rodents. Its "ugliness" damages the appearance of scenic environments. Open containers such as paper cups or beverage cans can hold rainwater, providing breeding locations for mosquitoes which have been known to spread diseases such as West Nile Virus and Malaria.
Uncollected litter can flow into streams, storm water drainage systems, local bays and estuaries. About 18% of litter, usually traveling through storm water systems, ends up in local streams, rivers, and waterways. About 80% of marine debris comes from land-based sources.
Animals may get trapped or poisoned with litter in their habitats. Cigarette butts and filters are a threat to wildlife and have been found in the stomachs of fish, birds and whales who have mistaken them for food.
Debris falling from vehicles is an increasing cause of automobile accidents.
Cleaning up litter in the U.S. costs hundreds of dollars per ton, about ten times more than the cost of trash disposal, for a cost totaling about $11 billion per year. It often takes a long time before litter from the environment disappears.