Last week, our YCITYSCI students attended our first session after our winter break! During the session, students reviewed the topics of air and noise pollution and land cover change as well as learned about environmental science and how our environment affects us. When the session ended, a student asked if they could prevent pollution. Another asked about the amount of water inside our bodies. Our graduate research assistant, Xander, has provided the answer to the questions of the students by explaining various types of pollution and how to prevent them.
Can you prevent pollution?
First off, let’s define pollution. Pollution is when pollutants are introduced to the environment and have negative effects on the natural environment. These effects may be short- or long-term problems. Pollutants may be substances such as petroleum products or heavy metals or energy such as sound, light, or heat. Since pollutants come in many forms, there are several different types of pollution including air, light, noise, plastic, soil, thermal, water, and radioactive. Additional types of pollution are being uncovered and their effects on humans and the environment are still being researched such as visual and electromagnetic pollution. Let’s expand on each type of pollution so you can know what each type consists of.
Air pollution consists of several issues including particulate matter which our students have been learning about this year! Other issues in air pollution consist of ground level ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, lead, and carbon monoxide.
Water pollution consists of several different issue areas such as drinking water, wastewater, oil and natural gas industries, excess nutrient from run off, point and nonpoint sources, as well as issues stemming from damaged watersheds exacerbating water pollution issues such as erosion.
Thermal pollution relates to water pollution in that it is a sudden change in the water temperature of a body of water. This change can cause many aquatic species to die or leave the water body as they have evolved to live in a very specific temperature range. Thermal pollution is usually caused by industries releasing the water used in their industrial processes while it is at a different temperature than the water body they are releasing to.
Soil pollution consists of soil degradation by the addition of chemicals, substances, or any other activity that disrupts and damages the soil. Industrial activities and agriculture are large contributors of soil pollution due to chemical releases and agrochemical use.
Plastic pollution is related to air, soil, and water pollution. The issue of plastic pollution is that plastics last for an extremely long time and tend to break into smaller and smaller pieces. These microplastics have been found in many living organisms all over the world but the negative consequences of this are only just beginning to be discovered. Larger pieces of plastic such as plastic bags or water bottles create many issues by disrupting many natural ecosystems by trapping, choking, or otherwise harming animals.
Radioactive pollution is the contamination of humans and ecosystems with radioactive substances due to nuclear weapon production and use, nuclear energy production, and naturally occurring radioactive substances. These substances tend to have negative health effects due to the ionizing radiation they emit. Some radioactive substances have useful effects such as in the medical field with various imaging technologies.
Light pollution is the presence of artificial light during the night. This can cause many issues for humans, animals, plants, and even technology! For humans, light pollution can cause many issues by altering our daily natural or circadian rhythm such as sleep. For animals, light pollution can cause sea turtle hatchlings to try and walk towards cities or light sources when they hatch. This is horrible as sea turtles need to make their way into the oceans quickly so that predators or environmental factors do not kill them. Sea turtles usually migrate into the ocean once they hatch by following the reflection of the moon on the ocean. When there are artificial light sources nearby, they may stray. For plants, light pollution can trick many plants into flowering earlier or trying to keep their leaves later into the fall and winter. This is due to the fact that most plants measure the amount of light they get throughout the year to signal when to perform certain tasks such as flowering or becoming dormant for the winter. Light pollution can even negatively affect technology and science! Excessive light pollution can prevent or hamper their telescopes from being able to see as far or as clearly into space.
Noise pollution is excessive sound levels that may negatively affect many living organisms. For humans, noise pollution can cause stress and poor sleep which can increase the chances for someone to develop serious conditions such as cardiovascular diseases and hearing loss. For animals, aside from medical effects light humans may experience, noise pollution can actually disrupt the mating activities of many animals by preventing their mating calls from being heard.
Electromagnetic pollution is the fact that there are increasingly more amounts of electromagnetic waves present in our environment due to human activities such as radio broadcasts, cell phone use, and wireless connections. Negative health consequences have not yet been fully researched or discovered but may be in the future.
Visual pollution is unique when compared to the other pollution types. Visual pollution is the impact of incredibly complex, non-natural, landscapes that humans create. Visual pollution may consist of billboards, power lines, buildings, automobiles, antennas, and general overcrowding of urban areas. Exposure to visual pollution has been related to health issues concerning the eyes and mental health.
How can we prevent pollution? While many types of pollution may be completely out of your control right now, we can still do something to prevent pollution. It is important to prevent pollution now instead of just cleaning it up later, as much of the damage pollution creates will take years, decades, or even centuries to remediate and heal. Not only that, remediating pollution can be extraordinarily expensive and many ecosystems we will remediate may never recover to how they were before they became polluted. The easiest way to prevent pollution is to follow the EPA’s Environmental Protection Hierarchy.
In this hierarchy, prevention is always best. Prevention means preventing pollution from happening which can mean a variety of things such as using non-toxic or biodegradable versions instead of the conventional product or simply by reducing the amount of products someone uses or purchases. This may be as simple as using a plunger instead of a drain cleaning product to remove a clog or buying a metal water bottle and refilling it rather than buying disposable water bottles. Prevention can relate to other activities such as showering and driving. Taking shorter showers can prevent water pollution and air pollution as less water is sent to treatment plants as well as reducing the amount of energy used to heat and treat the water. Taking public transportation, walking, biking, or car sharing can reduce air pollution from car use.
Re-use is the next best thing we can do. Re-using means to use a product for as long as or as many times as possible before purchasing another. Re-use can also mean to use a product for a different purpose than it was created for such as using an old milk jug as a plant watering can.
Recycling is the next step down the hierarchy. That means it is less preferable to preventing (reducing) or re-using. Recycling consists of returning used products to a recycling plant so that the raw materials such as paper, glass, metal, or plastic can be used a second time. This is beneficial as it reduces the amount of raw material that must be gathered from logging, mining, or other chemical production processes.
Finally, treatment and disposal are less preferable than the aforementioned steps. Treatment is meant more for industry, and not so much for individual citizens. Treatment is when industries treat their wastes before disposal. This may be as simple as allowing wastewater to warm or cool to the natural temperatures before releasing into a water body. Disposal is the final solution. Disposal is what we all do at some level which is throwing away the things we do not need or want anymore. Disposal ultimately ends up with solid garbage being buried in landfills or wastewaters being released without treatment.
Finally, one more way you can reduce pollution is with activism. Activism is the act of promoting change or showing your support for changes in our environment. Activism consists of various activities such as creating art, boycotting, petitioning the government, and marches. In our current world, environmental activism is a major movement. Environmental activism can consist of: protecting natural environments, protecting humans from pollution, and the preservation or conservation of natural resources.
How much water is in your body?
The human body is actually mostly water! Generally, humans are around 60% water. This varies from person to person based on age, sex, weight, and health. Infants have been found to be around 75% water while adults can vary from around 45 to 70% water. Generally males have a higher percentage of water than females. People with high amounts of fat may also have lower amounts of water in their body as fat cells do not retain as much water. The amount of water in areas of your body varies also. For example, your heart, brain, lungs, kidney, and liver have between 65 and 85% water. Your blood is around 90% water. Bones are the driest with around 30% water.
Now that you know how much of your body is water, don’t you want that water to be clean? What are some ways you can prevent water pollution to ensure the water you put in your body is clean? Submit your answer by direct messaging our Instagram account at @YCITYSCI for the chance to win a prize and be featured on our page!
LiveScience.com Pollution Facts and Types of Pollution
Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection
U.S. EPA Pollution Prevention (P2)
USGS, The Water in You: Water and the Human Body
Discovery.com, How much of your body is water?
National Geographic, Pollution
World Wildlife Foundation, Pollution
EPA P2 Hierarchy image from EPA P2
What Does Water do for you? image from USGS