Air pollution has always accompanied civilizations. Pollution started from the prehistoric times when man created the first fires. According to a 1983 article in the journal Science, "soot found on ceilings of prehistoric caves provides ample evidence of the high levels of pollution that was associated with inadequate ventilation of open fires. The forging of metals appears to be a key turning point in the creation of significant air pollution levels outside the home. Core samples of glaciers in Greenland indicate increases in pollution associated with Greek, Roman and Chinese metal production, but at that time the pollution was comparatively less and could be handled by nature.
Pollution became a popular issue after World War II, due to radioactive fallout from atomic warfare and testing. Then a non-nuclear event, The Great Smog of 1952 in London, killed at least 4000 people. This prompted some of the first major modern environmental legislation, The Clean Air Act of 1956.
Pollution began to draw major public attention in the United States between the mid-1950s and early 1970s, when Congress passed the Noise Control Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.
A pollutant is a waste material that pollutes air, water or soil. Three factors determine the severity of a pollutant: its chemical nature, the concentration and the persistence
Sources and causes
Air pollution comes from both natural and human-made (anthropogenic) sources. However, globally human-made pollutants from combustion, construction, mining, agriculture and warfare are increasingly significant in the air pollution equation.
Motor vehicle emissions are one of the leading causes of air pollution. China, United States, Russia, India, Mexico, and Japan are the world leaders in air pollution emissions. Principal stationary pollution sources include chemical plants, coal-fired power plants, oil refineries, petrochemical plants, nuclear waste disposal activity, incinerators, large livestock farms (dairy cows, pigs, poultry, etc.), PVC factories, metals production factories, plastics factories, and other heavy industry. Agricultural air pollution comes from contemporary practices which include clear felling and burning of natural vegetation as well as spraying of pesticides and herbicides.
About 400 million metric tons of hazardous wastes are generated each year. The United States alone produces about 250 million metric tons. Americans constitute less than 5% of the world's population, but produce roughly 25% of the world’s CO2, and generate approximately 30% of world’s waste. In 2007, China has overtaken the United States as the world's biggest producer of CO2, while still far behind based on per capita pollution - ranked 78th among the world's nations.
Adverse air quality can kill many organisms including humans. Ozone pollution can cause respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, throat inflammation, chest pain, and congestion. Water pollution causes approximately 14,000 deaths per day, mostly due to contamination of drinking water by untreated sewage in developing countries. An estimated 700 million Indians have no access to a proper toilet, and 1,000 Indian children die of diarrhea every day. Nearly 500 million Chinese lack access to safe drinking water. 656,000 people die prematurely each year in China because of air pollution. In India, air pollution is believed to cause 527,700 fatalities a year. Studies have estimated that the number of people killed annually in the US could be over 50,000.
* Pollution has been found to be present widely in the environment. There are a number of effects of this: * Bio magnification describes situations where toxins (such as heavy metals) may pass through trophic levels, becoming exponentially more concentrated in the process. * Carbon dioxide emissions cause ocean acidification, the ongoing decrease in the pH of the Earth's oceans as CO2 becomes dissolved. * The emission of greenhouse gases leads to global warming which affects ecosystems in many ways. * Invasive species can out compete native species and reduce biodiversity. Invasive plants can contribute debris and biomolecules (allelopathy) that can alter soil and chemical compositions of an environment, often reducing native species competitiveness. * Nitrogen oxides are removed from the air by rain and fertilise land which can change the species composition of ecosystems. * Smog and haze can reduce the amount of sunlight received by plants to carry out photosynthesis and leads to the production of tropospheric ozone which damages plants. * Soil can become infertile and unsuitable for plants. This will affect other organisms in the food web. * Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides can cause acid rain which lowers the pH value of soil.
Pollution control is a term used in environmental management. It means the control of emissions and effluents into air, water or soil. Without pollution control, the waste products from consumption, heating, agriculture, mining, manufacturing, transportation and other human activities, whether they accumulate or disperse, will degrade the environment. In the hierarchy of controls, pollution prevention and waste minimization are more desirable than pollution control. In the field of land development, low impact development is a similar technique for the prevention of urban runoff.