Human beings have always caused some environmental pollution. Since prehistoric times, people have created waste. Like garbage today, this waste was either burned, tossed into waterways, buried, or dumped aboveground. However, the waste of early peoples was mostly food scraps and other substances that broke down easily by natural decay processes. Prehistoric populations were also much smaller and were spread out over large areas. As a result, pollution was less concentrated and caused few problems.
The growth of pollution started during ancient times when large numbers of people began living together in cities. As cities grew, pollution grew with them. Poor sanitation practices and contaminated water supplies unleashed massive epidemics in early cities. Environmental problems became even more serious and widespread during a period called the Industrial Revolution. This period was characterized by the development of factories and the overcrowding of cities with factory workers. By the 1800s, people began to understand that unsanitary living conditions and water contamination contributed to disease epidemics. This new awareness prompted major cities to take measures to control waste and garbage. First major sewage systems were built in this period to treat wastewater. As cities became more populated towards the end of the 19th century, industrialized cities across Europe and the United States were experiencing a new kind of pollution: waste from industries and factories. In 1897, a report to the Royal Commission on River Pollution detailed the gross industrial contamination of the Tawe River in Wales, noting that it was polluted by "alkali works, copper works, sulfuric acid liquid, sulfate of iron from tin-plate works, and by slag, cinders and small coal" During the Industrial Revolution, coal powered most factories. Most city homes also relied on coal as a heating fuel. The burning of coal filled the air of London and other industrial cities with...
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