Open Course on Environment for IAS Pre. "Pollution"

(IAS Pre Environment) Pollution


‘Why is Pollution such a great threat to the world today?’ ‘ Has it always been this way?’ These are the questions we often find ourselves asking along with everyone else. Well, it’s probably because Pollution and disease go hand in hand. In fact, about 40 percent of deaths around the world can be attributed to air, water and soil pollution. That’s not all, there are many other types of pollution as well.

Different Types of pollution are categorized based on the part of the environment which they affect .Each of these types has its own distinctive causes and consequences. Systematic and planned study of pollution helps to understand the basics in more detail. The main types of pollution are:

  • Water Pollution

  • Air Pollution

  • Soil Pollution

  • Thermal Pollution

  • Radioactive Pollution

  • Noise Pollution

Water Pollution:

Like the name suggests, “Water Pollution” is the type of pollution that involves the contamination of various water bodies and water sources on which various aquatic creatures depend on features to support their lives.

Causes of Water Pollution:

  • Industrial waste gets dumped into water bodies and this causes a chemical imbalance in the water leading to death of the aquatic beings  .

  • Numerous pesticides and insecticides that are used for various agricultural purposes run into the groundwater system leading to it’s pollution.

  • Washing clothes near lakes and rivers.  Since, detergents cause a condition called “Eutrophication” which blocks sunlight from entering inside that water body thereby reducing oxygen values in the water and causing an inhabitable environment.

  • ‘Oil Spills’ which are so often heard of in new these days are caused when giant oil tankers and oil rigs in the oceans are damaged. These oil float on water and form a layer that does not allow  sunlight to pass through.

  • Certain natural disasters like flash floods and hurricanes that cause the intermixing of water with harmful substances on the lands are sources of water pollution too.

Air Pollution:

The contamination of the air present in the atmosphere is known as “Air pollution”. Respiration is indispensable for all living things. We breathe in the air present in the atmosphere. Hence if the air around us is contaminated; naturally it would have an adverse effect on us.

The air naturally comprises of 78% of nitrogen, 21% of oxygen, 0.9% of oxide gases and 0.1% of inert gases. This balance is very important and it needs to be maintained.

Causes of Air Pollution

  • Combusted exhaust gases released from internal combustion engines.

  • Sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide released from various industries ( leading to acid rains.)

  • Burning of  plastic, wood and rubber release carcinogenic gases into the atmosphere.

Soil Pollution

Parting soil of its natural fertility by using artificial chemicals like pesticides, insecticides, fungicide etc. is known as “Soil Pollution”. Plants depend on the nitrogenous compounds present in the soil for their nutrition. Use of these artificial chemicals absorbs and exhausts the nitrogen from the soil making it unfit for the growth for plants. Absence of plants then leads to soil erosion.

Thermal Pollution

Thermal Pollution is when there is rise in the temperature in the ecosystem due the release of excessive heat energy into the environment by artificial methods or natural disasters. Vehicles and industries release a lot of heat energy as they require high temperatures to function. Carbon dioxide has a property of blocking heat from exiting the atmosphere and so the heat coming in from the sun is trapped in the atmosphere. Thermal pollution has increased significantly since the past few centuries.

Radioactive Pollution

When ‘Radioactive’ metals disintegrate they release dangerous beta rays which can cause deadly diseases like cancer. These types of pollution can occur by either the dumping of radioactive waste from nuclear power plants into water bodies, damage of nuclear reactors leading to radioactive contamination that would last for many years and many more. When the U.S.A attacked Hiroshima and Nagasaki of Japan in the second world war, the atomic bomb left a radioactive footprint leading to highly mutative diseases. So, most of the people who survived the atomic bombing died eventually from cancers and mutations.

Noise Pollution

Excess of noise in the outdoors causes “Noise Pollution”. This can be experienced by too many vehicles honking at the roads, heavy machinery being operated in the open . Noise pollution is known to cause mental stress and depression. It can also causes damage to the eardrum which leads to deafness. It does not have a physical effect , but a psychological one.

Other than the pollutions we have already discussed, there is also a kind of pollution called ‘indoor pollution’. Around 3 billion people cook and heat their homes using open fires and simple stoves burning biomass (wood, animal dung and crop waste) and coal which results in people’s premature death from illness attributable to the household air pollution or indoor pollution. More than 50% of premature deaths among children (under the age of 5 ) are due to pneumonia caused by particulate matter inhaled from household air pollution. Deaths from non-communicable diseases including stroke, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer are attributed to exposure to household air pollution.

Hard Facts about Pollution

  • About 1 billion people in the world or even more do not have access to drinking water that is safe and thousands of people die every day as a result of drinking unclean water.

  • People living in polluted areas (high intensity), have 20% higher risk of dying from lung cancer, than people living in areas that are lesser polluted.

  • In the great “Smog Disaster’’, that happened in London in the year 1952, approximately four thousand people died due to the high concentrations of pollution.

  • Sadly, children who contribute to 10% of the world’s pollution are prone to about 40% of global diseases.

  • China is the world’s largest producer of carbon dioxide and the USA is second.

  • Noise pollution is the most neglected type of pollution.

  • The amount of money invested in nuclear test could be used to finance 8,000 hand pumps, giving villages across third world access to clean water.

  • Oceans are becoming more acidic owing to greenhouse emissions from fossil fuel.

  • Antarctica is the cleanest place on Earth protected by anti-pollution laws.

  • Cadmium is a dangerous pollutant that kills foetus’ sex organ cells. It is widespread in many things that we eat and drink in our day to day lives.

Pollution in India

  • Various recent studies show that Indian megacities are witnessing a faster increase in pollution than the cities in the most parts of the world.

  • The second highest increase in air-pollution levels in the world has been seen by Bangalore at 34%. Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur and Ahmedabad, have seen double-digit increases in the pollution levels.

  • Pollution reflects a combination of industrial and weather-related particles so it’s not possible to blame it on human beings only. But the population factor has an important role to play and country having higher population will naturally have higher level of pollution as well.

  • To make things worse, almost 80% of urban waste in India is dumped in the river Ganges.

  • ‘Smog’ that has been recurring in India(in cities like Delhi) has become a major health hazard in past couple of years.

The Way Ahead:

The environmental consequences of rapid industrialization have resulted in countless incidents of land, air and water resources sites being contaminated with harmful toxic materials that is a threat to humans and ecosystems. More extensive use of energy has created cumulative pressures on the quality of local, regional and global ecosystems. But it’s high time people stop giving pollution a blind-eye and start to do something about it. It’s not like they have done nothing at all, but whatever has been done is apparently not enough.  

The pollution control approach that has been  attempting to protect the environment have especially relied on isolating contaminants from the environment While the pollution control approach has been quite successful in producing short-term improvements for local pollution problems, it has been less effective in addressing cumulative problems on a larger scale which have been recognized global levels.

What should be the aim of this approach to control pollution at the earnest? Well, the aim must be to promote a better quality of life by reducing pollution to the lowest level possible. The steps or approaches may vary from country to country or for that matter even regions but ultimately the goal is just the same, so coordination among areas like industrial development, city planning, water resources development and transportation policies is the need of this hour. And simple steps like Public transportation and car-pooling can help to reduce air pollution up to a great extent. At a crucial point of time every small step counts; after all ,every drop makes an ocean. So let’s step up.

UPSCPORTAL will soon come up with more articles and study material on Environment section.

We wish the Candidates All the Best for their Preparations.



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