Types of Pollution

air pollution

There are several types of pollution, and while they may come from different sources and have different consequences, understanding the basics about pollution can help environmentally conscious individuals minimize their contribution to these dangers. In total, there are nine recognized sources of pollution in the modern world. These sources of pollution don't simply have a negative impact on the natural world, but they can have a measurable effect on the health of human beings as well.

Air Pollution

Air pollution is defined as any contamination of the atmosphere that disturbs the natural composition and chemistry of the air. This can be in the form of particulate matter such as dust or excessive gases like carbon dioxide or other vapors that cannot be effectively removed through natural cycles, such as the carbon cycle or the nitrogen cycle.

Air pollution comes from a wide variety of sources. Some of the most excessive sources include:

  • Vehicle or manufacturing exhaust
  • Forest fires, volcanic eruptions, dry soil erosion, and other natural sources
  • Building construction or demolition

Depending on the concentration of air pollutants, several effects can be noticed. Smog increases, higher rain acidity, crop depletion from inadequate oxygen, and higher rates of asthma. Many scientists believe that global warming is also related to increased air pollution.

Water Pollution

water pollution

Water pollution involves any contaminated water, whether from chemical, particulate, or bacterial matter that degrades the water's quality and purity. Water pollution can occur in oceans, rivers, lakes, and underground reservoirs, and as different water sources flow together through the water cycle the pollution can spread.

Causes of water pollution include:

  • Increased sediment from soil erosion
  • Improper waste disposal and littering
  • Leaching of soil pollution into water supplies
  • Organic material decay in water supplies

The effects of water pollution include decreasing the quantity of drinkable water available, lowering water supplies for crop irrigation, and impacting fish and wildlife populations that require water of a certain purity for survival.

Soil Pollution

Soil, or land pollution, is contamination of the soil that prevents natural growth and balance in the land whether it is used for cultivation, habitation, or a wildlife preserve. Some soil pollution, such as the creation of landfills, is deliberate, while much more is accidental and can have widespread effects.

Soil pollution sources include:

  • Hazardous waste and sewage spills
  • Non-sustainable farming practices, such as the heavy use of inorganic pesticides
  • Strip mining, deforestation, and other destructive practices
  • Household dumping and littering

Soil contamination can lead to poor growth and reduced crop yields, loss of wildlife habitat, water and visual pollution, soil erosion, and desertification.

Noise Pollution

air pollution from car fumes

Noise pollution refers to undesirable levels of noises caused by human activity that disrupt the standard of living in the affected area. Noise pollution can come from:

  • Traffic
  • Airports
  • Railroads
  • Manufacturing plants
  • Construction or demolition
  • Concerts

Some noise pollution may be temporary while other sources are more permanent. Effects may include hearing loss, wildlife disturbances, and a general degradation of lifestyle.

Radioactive Pollution

Radioactive pollution is rare but extremely detrimental, and even deadly, when it occurs. Because of its intensity and the difficulty of reversing damage, there are strict government regulations to control radioactive pollution.

Sources of radioactive contamination include:

  • Nuclear power plant accidents or leakage
  • Improper nuclear waste disposal
  • Uranium mining operations

Radiation pollution can cause birth defects, cancer, sterilization, and other health problems for human and wildlife populations. It can also sterilize the soil and contribute to water and air pollution.

Thermal Pollution

oil refinery

Thermal pollution is excess heat that creates undesirable effects over long periods of time. The earth has a natural thermal cycle, but excessive temperature increases can be considered a rare type of pollution with long term effects. Many types of thermal pollution are confined to areas near their source, but multiple sources can have wider impacts over a greater geographic area.

Thermal pollution may be caused by:

  • Power plants
  • Urban sprawl
  • Air pollution particulates that trap heat
  • Deforestation
  • Loss of temperature moderating water supplies

As temperatures increase, mild climatic changes may be observed, and wildlife populations may be unable to recover from swift changes.

Light Pollution

light pollution

Light pollution is the over illumination of an area that is considered obtrusive. Sources include:

  • Large cities
  • Billboards and advertising
  • Nighttime sporting events and other nighttime entertainment

Light pollution makes it impossible to see stars, therefore interfering with astronomical observation and personal enjoyment. If it is near residential areas, light pollution can also degrade the quality of life for residents.

Visual Pollution

Visual pollution - eyesores - can be caused by other pollution or just by undesirable, unattractive views. It may lower the quality of life in certain areas, or could impact property values and personal enjoyment.

Sources of visual pollution include:

  • Power lines
  • Construction areas
  • Billboards and advertising
  • Neglected areas or objects such as polluted vacant fields or abandoned buildings

While visual pollution has few immediate health or environmental effects, what's causing the eyesore can have detrimental affects.

Personal Pollution

Smoking is personal pollution.

Personal pollution is the contamination of one's body and lifestyle with detrimental actions. This may include:

  • Excessive smoking, drinking or drug abuse
  • Emotional or physical abuse
  • Poor living conditions and habits
  • Poor personal attitudes

In some cases, personal pollution may be inflicted by caregivers, while in other cases it is caused by voluntary actions. Taking positive steps in your life can help eliminate this and other sources of pollution so you can lead a more productive, satisfying life.

Pollution Types Are Connected

All types of pollution are interconnected. For example, light pollution requires energy to be made, which means the electric plant needs to burn more fossil fuels to supply the electricity. Those fossil fuels contribute to air pollution, which returns to the earth as acid rain and increases water pollution. The cycle of pollution can go on indefinitely, but once you understand the different pollution types, how they are created, and the effects they can have, you can make personal lifestyle changes to combat poor conditions for yourself and others around you.

Types of Pollution