Industrial Pollution: Can’t Live With It, Can’t Live Without It
Since the industrial revolution, we have seen climate change and pollution on the rise. Whether people want to believe it or not, historical data shows that levels of pollution are much higher than they should be. Not to mention the change in weather patterns and strength of serious storms and hurricanes. What led to all of this? During the industrial revolution, we started taking advantage of oil, coal, and many other fossil fuels to power our lives. Now, our manufacturing and other industrial practices has skyrocketed. With all of these industries, our emission of greenhouse gases has also risen. However, there are many other issues that surround industrial pollution than just greenhouse gases.
While the industrial sector is vital to our way of life, the way they function does not have to be. Industries are a blight on our environment. Besides creating excess air pollution, their waste disposal, or lack thereof, greatly pollutes the land and in turn, the water. Most factories and industries use many chemicals in the manufacturing of their specific product. These chemicals usually get disposed of along with the rest of the regular waste. Many times, this waste is disposed of improperly. Those chemicals can contaminate the soil and have drastic effects on the surrounding ecosystems.
Even when this waste is disposed of properly and gets sent to the local landfill, the decomp of this waste can release toxic gases that can harm nearby neighborhoods. Those gases contain chemicals that can find their way back into the soil in the form of acid rain which needs no introduction. The name basically says it all. Acid rain can damage the soil and contributes to overall erosion. And of course, any chemicals that end up in the soil can runoff into the water. Most pollution on Earth can find its origin to some kind of industrial practice.
Effects of Industrial Pollution
For almost 200 years, most of the world has relied on the industrial process to create the products we use every single day. From the smallest electronics like your smartphone, to the largest vehicles that transport you or your goods around the Earth. Industrial methods of production have made life what it is today. For years, humans have been numb to the effects industrial pollution is having on the environment. Industries create various types of pollution that can affect the air we breathe, the water we drink and wash ourselves with, the very ground beneath our feet, even the light and sounds that surround us.
Most people are familiar with the affects industries have on air quality. In China, the air quality is so bad that people are forced to wear face masks to filter out the polluted air. Just looking at a factory and its big smokestack, belching out black or grey smoke into the air, is enough to turn anyones nose up. For most people, their vision of industrial pollution of the air ends with those noxious fumes. However there are many invisible gases that can pollute our clean air.
Carbon monoxide are colorless, odorless, tasteless and is used in the production of polyurethane and other plastics. Even “light” industries emit toxic gases. For example, dry cleaning plants use perchlorethlyene, which is a chemical that has been linked to liver damage, skin irratation, and respiratory failure. This chemical can also leak into the atmosphere when the workers move the clothes from washer to dryer, and when the dryer exhaust is vented into the outside air.
Industries also emit tons of carbon dioxide, due to the fact that almost all of their processes rely on the burning of fossil fuels. In fact, industries are one of the leading causes of air pollution.
We have all heard the stories of mutated fish as a result of industries dumping radioactive waste into the water system. While the number of actual mutated fish is unconfirmed, the amount of chemical waste deposited by industrial factories is plausible. Industrial waste, though many companies will deny it again and again, happens when a company disposes of their garbage or general waste into the waters. This can be the lake nearest or it can happen in transit to a larger garbage disposal site. This waste creates a chemical imbalance in the water which changes that specific ecosystem, directly affecting the marine life that lives there.
In addition to toxic waste, industrial pollution also includes thermal pollution. Power, production and manufacturing plants are, of course, the top sources of thermal pollution. They discharge a lot of heat into nearby water sources. Many power plants also use the cool water from the surrounding bodies of water to cool their machinery. They then release that same water back into the area which it came from. The water they release is most of the time 10 degrees celsius higher than the normal temperature. As a result, the marine life that was thriving in the normal temperature, can not adapt to the sudden and drastic change in temperature. The discharge of higher temperature water also decreases dissolved oxygen content in the water ways. Both resulting in the death of fish and other marine life. This increase in water temperature can also affect the vegetation along the rivers and lakes.
As mentioned before, the toxic waste from industries have devastating effects on not only the environment, but also the health of every living thing in that area. Toxic waste can be difficult to recycle and poses serious problems for disposal. Many times, the proper disposal of toxic waste is expensive, which is why companies choose to illegally dump their waste. Out of sight, out of mind. However when that happens, serious problems arise in the environment. Such problems could include death of marine life, contamination of fresh water sources, contamination of soil, and threats to human health. Such waste products can include substances that have biological hazards, risk exposure to radioactivity, or contain chemicals that can contaminate soil and water supplies. One of the most common substances in toxic waste are polychlorinated biphenyls.
One of the more obscure types of pollution does not have physical effects on the environment itself, but rather its inhabitants. Industrial processes create loud noises during all times of day and night. A study by the National Institutes of Health found that up to 23% of corn mill workers who were exposed to sounds above 85 decibels, suffered noise-induced hearing loss. Civilians who live near the facility can also be affected by the noise generated by the heavy machinery, safety alarms, heavy traffic, and more. Small children are especially susceptible to loud noises at a young age. Severely loud sounds can damage their ears, which are still developing. The effects of this type of pollution on humans can range from slight mental stress to depression as well as physical harm to our ears.
If the noise can affect humans so easily, imagine what noise pollution can do to the animals that live in the surrounding area. The excess noise from the industrial processes can affect them by changing their sleep cycles and mating habits. This can also contribute to the endangerment of certain species.
Most Common Pollutants
So what is doing all this pollution? There are certain gases and chemicals that industries release into the air that causes things like smog, acid rain, increase in global temperature, change in weather patterns, decreasing the ozone layer. In fact, some industries do not even know they are doing anything wrong. The fact of the matter is, there are so many different ways that industrial parts, components, products, and materials are used that emit toxins into the air.
One of the most common pollutants is carbon monoxide, which was mentioned before. This is released during the incomplete combustion of carbon fuels. Carbon dioxide is possibly the most abundant gas that is emitted through industrial pollution. It comes from burning any fossil fuel like coal or oil. The oxides, sulfur and nitrous, are highly damaging to the environment. They create acidic conditions which can damage and destroy plant and animal life. They are also the primary contributors to acid rain, which can damage everything from cars and buildings, to forests and fresh waters.
Particulate matter is one of the more serious issues when looking at industrial pollution affecting human health. This is because it can penetrate lung tissue and lead to cancerous agents in the lungs or Tuberculosis. Speaking of human health, volatile organic compounds are especially dangerous. These VOCs escape into the air from manufacturing operations and processes in a gaseous state. These buggers can not only create hazardous outdoor toxins, but they can also create dangerous indoor toxins as well. There are many industrial pollutants that exist, however these are by far the most abundant in our atmosphere right now.
Causes of Industrial Pollution
We know how industries pollute our Earth, but why does it happen? Is it purely an unavoidable cost of using fossil fuels? Or is there more. Some parts of the industrial process are unavoidable like the emission of greenhouse gases. However, others like the dumping of toxic waste, could easily be avoided.
The first reason, and probably a big reason is just a general lack of policies. These could be policies that cover proper disposal of waste, or even anti-pollution policies. These anti-pollution policies, like the Kyoto Protocol or Paris Agreement, have their advantages and disadvantages but at least it is a step in the right direction. Going hand in hand, unplanned industrial growth can severely hurt the environment. This is when an industry decides to expand without proper measures to be taken. Often times it is a sudden and rushed expansion that leads to a lot of waste and pollution. During this time, proper waste disposal is rarely followed, leading to an increase in water and land pollution.
Using outdated technology is something that could 100% be avoided. When using old technology, certain safety measures that are added to new technology are not accounted for. Often times, this happens because old technology is cheaper to operate. This lack of capital also might mean that a company is not able to afford to do things like treat industrial water or invest in pollution control equipment.
Some things come as collateral damage. Things like greenhouse gas emissions due to the use of fossil fuels can not be avoided without the complete change of power generation. The best thing that companies can do is reduce their output by participating pollution control methods.
How to Avoid Industrial Pollution
The United States industries contribute to more than half of the total water pollution. This is in light of various legislative acts being brought against industries like the Clean Water Act of 1972, the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974. While it has done a lot to curb the increase of industrial pollution of our waters, it still happens. Some companies find ways around these policies or simply disregard them completely to save money.
Globally, it is important to participate in anti-pollution treaties like the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement. While the Paris Agreement is a non-binding agreement based on the trust system, it is good step in the right direction. Companies should follow stricter protocols regarding toxic waste and gas emissions. This will help decrease the furtherment of climate change.
It all comes down to awareness. Spread the word about industrial pollution and climate change in general. The more people who are aware of the situation at hand and actually take it seriously, the more work that can be done to fight against it. Water, air, and land pollution are 100% avoidable, we just need to pay attention and be conscious about our efforts.