Environmental Issues and Solutions

Gas releasing from chimney
Environmental Issues and Solutions
In recent years, humans have exploded on Earth. Their number has increased five folds since the wake of the twentieth century. The human population was 1.6 billion in 1900 and now stands at 7.7 billion in 2019. This unchecked growth has exerted tremendous pressure on Earth and given rise to several environmental issues such as climate change, pollution, loss of biodiversity and forest depletion.

One can define environmental issues as the issues arose due to the detrimental effects of human activity on the surrounding environment.

Pollution
Pollution can be defined as any undesirable change in the surrounding environment made by the introduction of contaminants. These contaminants are also known as pollutants.

Air Pollution

Air pollution is an undesirable change in the physical and biochemical properties of the air. The major air pollutants are particulate matter, ground-level ozone, heavy metal oxides, sulphur dioxide, benzene, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide. It is linked with several health issues and diseases such as asthma, obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer, and a reason behind more than 8 million deaths each year.

Types of Air Pollution
Air pollution is classified into two broad categories: Indoor Air Pollution and Outdoor Air Pollution. Indoor air pollution is restricted to the homes, offices, factories and other man-made walled structures whereas the outdoor air pollution simply refers to the undesirable change in outside air. Outdoor air pollution is also known as ambient air pollution.

Cause of Air Pollution
The burning of fossil fuels, agricultural activities, industrial and mining activities are the major cause of outdoor air pollution whereas household cleaning products, paints, central heating and cooling devices, stoves, gas heaters and cooking fuel are the primary sources of indoor air pollution. In addition, natural phenomena such as volcanic eruptions and lightning contribute to air pollution.

Smog: We are in the middle of a chemical revolution. Each year, humans release more than 65000 chemical compounds in the Earth environment. When these chemical compounds mix with dust and fog, they form smog. Smog is a big environmental issue in developing countries like China and India.

Ways to Reduce Air Pollution
1. Using energy efficient and less polluting medium of transportation such as public bus transit service or shared car services
2. Adopting and using alternative forms of energy such as solar or wind energy. On the individual level, one can use solar panels and if not financial feasible one should opt for clean energy service providers if there are multiple energy service companies are available to choose.
3. Tree plantation
4. Using a filtering mechanism in factories and other commercial production centres

In addition, the Governments across the world have come up with certain rules, regulations and laws to combat Air pollution. The Air Pollution Act (1955) USA and Air Act (1981) India are two such examples.

Also Read: Neerdhur

Water Pollution

Water pollution can be defined as the unwanted change in the biochemical properties of water such as colour, taste and odour. Industrial waste, sewage water, pathogens and agro-chemicals are the main water pollutants. It is estimated more than 2 billion people do not have access to clean water and because of this, more than 1.4 million people die from water-borne diseases.

Types of Water Pollution

Broadly, water pollution can be classified as 1. Surface water pollution, 2. Groundwater pollution, 3. Nutrient Pollution, 4. Microbiological pollution, 5. Chemical water pollution, 6. Oxygen Depletion, 7. Suspended Mater Pollution, 8. Oil spillage and 9. Water thermal pollution.

Causes of Water Pollution
Industrial wastes like sulphur, asbestos, lead, mercury, nitrate and phosphate compounds are the major cause of water pollution. The use of contaminated water by industrial waste is the reason behind disease such as cancer, lung and kidney problems, reproductive and endocrine damage, and neuro system malfunction. Bathing with this water can cause rashes, ear aches and pink eyes.

Similarly, oil spills are the major cause of marine water pollution. Oil forms a thick layer on the water surface as it does not dissolve in water. Thus, inhibiting marine life from receiving the sunlight and destroying them in process. The British Petroleum Oil Spill and Taylor Energy Oil Spill are examples of recent history.

Untreated sewage water dumping and agro-chemical runoff are two other major causes of water pollution.

Effects
Biomagnification: The increase in the concentration of toxicant at each successive trophic level is known as the biomagnification.

Eutrophication: The process of natural ageing of a water body by nutrient enrichment is known eutrophication. In an untouched environment by a human, the nutrients are brought by rivers or through other natural phenomena such as rainwater runoff. However, this process is accelerated by dumping of effluents from homes, farms and industries. This accelerated rate of ageing is known as cultural or accelerated eutrophication.

Treatment
Biochemical Oxygen Demand or Biological Oxygen Demand refers to the amount of dissolved oxygen required by the microorganisms such as bacterias to break down organic compounds in water at a certain temperature over a period of time. The quality of water decreases with an increase in BOD number. The water with a BOD level of 1-2 ppm is considered fit for consumption. BOD is often considered for the qualitative measure of water.

Noise Pollution

The unwanted sound disturbances created by humans, animals and machines referred to as sound or noise pollution. The word "noise" is derived from Latin word nausea which means sickness.

The sound is measured in decibels. Humans feel uneasiness at 45 decibels. The sounds become damaging at 85 decibels and it pains at 120 decibels.

Effects of Noise Pollution
The unwanted noise can be physiologically as well as psychologically damaging. The unnecessary sound disturbance can cause lack of concentration and lower productivity. Moreover, the constant disturbances can lead to annoyance, aggression, higher stress level, hearing loss, hypertension, tinnitus and sleep disturbance.

Ways to Reduce Noise Pollution
1. Implementation of noise standards
2. Restriction on the use of loudspeakers
3. Restriction on the overuse of horns and other sound-making devices

Agrochemicals
Agrochemicals such fertilizers and insecticides have played a crucial role in the Green Revolution, but their misuse and overuse have lessened their positive effect.

The overuse of agrochemicals has led to
1. Groundwater pollution
2. Surface water pollution
3. Biomagnification of toxic elements into our food chain
4. Accelerated eutrophication
5. Increased mortality of stock animals

As of now, many agriculturists are switching to organic or alternative forms of farming to combat this problem. Many Governments across the world have also come up with policies to promote organic or alternative farming.

Acid Rain

Acid rain refers to the precipitation which is unusually acidic in nature. The term "acid rain" was first used by the Scottish Chemist Robert Angus Smith in 1872 to demonstrate the relationship between sulphur dioxide emission from burning coal to acidification of rain in Manchester. The precipitation with a pH less than 5.6 is known as acid rain.

Effects
1. Lead to acidification of water bodies
2. Damaging to biodiversity
3. The decay of building materials. For example decay or yellowing of Taj Mahal marble.

Measures to Curb Acid Rain
1. Reduce sulphur and nitrogen oxides release amount in the atmosphere
2. Use a cleaner form of energy
3. Desulphurification of flue gas

Solid Wastes

Solid waste can be defined as the non-liquid waste arising from domestic, trade, industrial, agricultural and mining activities. Its mismanagement poses environmental risks. The solid waste can be broadly classified into municipal solid waste, hazardous solid waste and bio-medical solid waste.

Municipal Solid Waste
: It contains debris from construction sites, garbage from homes and offices, and non-hazardous waste from other activities. It is estimated by the World Bank, major cities around the world generated 2 billion tonnes of solid waste on a daily basis. The mismanagement and unsanitary disposal of wastes have resulted in a larger number of faecal borne disease such as dysentery, typhoid fever and enteritis.

Hazardous Solid Waste: It comprises of toxic or accidental prone waste. Household waste which falls under hazardous waste category is batteries, medicines and paints. On an industrial level, it comprises of mercury, lead, pesticides, dyes and other harmful chemicals. Direct exposure to mercury and cyanide can be fatal.

Biomedical Solid Waste: It mainly consists of hospital waste such as disposables, anatomical waste, cultures, discarded medicines and discarded chemicals.

Waste Management
1. Burning: Though not a viable option and can lead to air pollution, but it is used by many agencies.
2. Sanitary landfill: It is used as an alternative for burning. The waste is dumped into a depression and covered with a layer of soil on a daily basis.
3. Recycling: All waste we generate can also be categorized as recyclable, biodegradable and non-degradable. The recyclable waste can be sent to a material extraction agency to extract useful materials. The biodegradable waste can be dumped into landfills for natural decay or to make organic fertilizers. Lastly, non-biodegradable waste is left for disposal.

Radioactive Wastes

It arises from civil nuclear activities as well as other scientific and defence nuclear activities. The mismanagement of radioactive wastes poses a great threat for humans and the environment alike. On direct contact, it can cause various body disorders, cancer and death. It has been asked that radioactive waste should be properly stored and disposed of after a pre-treatment under earth surface. Abandoned deep mines are used for this purpose.

Greenhouse Effect

Earth gets energy from the Sun in the form of sunlight. Earth surface absorbs some of this energy and heats up in the day while releases energy in form infrared radiation in the night. However, this energy is trapped by greenhouses gases (GHGs) such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, and chlorofluorocarbons. GHGs do not allow the temperature to fall to extreme levels. This phenomenon shown by GHGs is known as the Greenhouse effect. It is s because of GHGs, the life on earth thrived and biomimicry in modern day agriculture to grow better crops.

Unfortunately, unconscious burning of fossil fuels leads to increased concentration of greenhouse gases and which in turn capture of more heat. This result in Global warming.

It is analyzed that Carbon dioxide concentration has increased by 25 per cent in the last 100 years and expected to double in the next fifty years. This effect is being accelerated by deforestation. Brazil.

Ozone Depletion

Ozone forms a layer in stratosphere somewhere between 10 to 50 km above the sea level. This Ozone layer shields our environment by absorbing harmful ultraviolet rays from the Sun. The ultraviolet rays are harmful to life on earth as it is capable of genetic mutation. In humans, prolonged exposure to ultraviolet rays can cause skin cancer, eye cataract and immune-suppressant diseases.

However, in recent years, it is discovered that the ozone layer is thinning due to chemicals like CFCs, HCFCs and Carbon monoxide. In 1983, Ozone holes were first discovered over Antartica.

CFCs and HCFCs are mostly used in air conditioning, refrigeration, aerosols, foam packaging and solvents for numerous commercial products. Many new products are on development to minimize or curtail the use of CFCs and HCFCs.

Montreal Protocol: The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer or simply Montreal Protocol is an international treaty that is designed to protect the ozone layer by phasing out chemicals that are responsible for ozone depletion. It was agreed on 1987 and came into force in 1989.

Deforestation

The process of clearance of forest for non-forest activities is known as deforestation. The major reasons behind deforestation are fuel, wood, mining, tourism and space for grassland, farming, plantation, and settlements.

It is estimated 40 per cent of forests has been lost from the earth. The forest cover of India has shrunk from 30 per cent to less than 20 per cent in the last century. According to the National Forest Policy (1988) of India, there should be 33 per cent forest cover in plans and 67 per cent forest covers in hills.

The governments across the globes have realised the need for protecting forest and started reforestation in their respected territories.

 Further Read:
1. Ecology
2. Ecosystem