The Consequences of Environmental Health Hazards
The Constitution of India states that “It shall be the fundamental duty of every citizen of India, to protect and improve the natural environment and have compassion for all living creatures.”
Eco imbalance has adversely affected climatic conditions all over the world and has resulted in damage to flora and fauna. The animal and plant kingdom including the aquatic (marine) atmosphere has also been adversely affected due to the pollutants in the atmosphere, soil, and water. At the turn of the century, the situation is further aggravated with destruction of bio-diversity resulting in damage to the natural processes that maintain an eco-balance. The various types of pollution such as air, water, soil, and noise are discussed here with their causes and consequences.
Air pollution is caused as result of emission of gases by vehicular traffic, industrial fumes, diesel generators and a variety of other factors that emit poisonous gases in the atmosphere like carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, ammonia, sulphur, as result of which there is global warming. If this process continues in an uncontrolled manner there will be exaggerated melting of polar ice resulting in a rise in sea level up to 2 to 3 metres, causing submergence of various low-level islands. For example, an island in the Maldives has already submerged in the Arabian Sea. The quality of air is affected due to a major pollutant – suspended particulate matter (SPM) which is basically dust and ash particles often laden with toxic chemicals. The primary sources of SPM are auto emissions, industrial units and power plants. These particles can easily penetrate the lungs and result in premature mortality through respiratory diseases as well as cardiovascular diseases. SPM is also found to be responsible for increased morbidity due to chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD), asthma and allergies.
The build-up of greenhouse gases leads to global warming at the earth’s surface but cools the stratosphere. Since ozone chemistry is very sensitive to temperature, the cooling results in more ozone depletion at the polar region. The “Greenhouse Effect” is defined as, warming of the climate that results when the atmosphere traps heat radiating from the earth towards the space. Certain gases in the atmosphere like water vapour, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and chlorofluro carbons act like glass in a greenhouse allowing sunlight to pass into the green house but block the earth’s heat from escaping into the atmosphere. Intense ozone depletion over Antarctica is called the “Ozone Hole” and it allows an increased amount of ultraviolet radiation to reach the earth’s surface. This radiation has the potential to increase the incidence of the following:
- Skin cancers
- Cataracts in humans
- Damage to crops
- Interference with marine life.
A rise in the sea level will severely affect the coastal areas around the globe where a quarter of the world’s population resides and often many of these areas are the poorer tropical countries. Ecological consequences result, such as beaches that will be lost forever (impacting economy and the tourism industry), and the disturbance of the natural habitat of flora and fauna in those areas. Tourism that involves travelling to relatively undisturbed natural areas with the specific object of studying, admiring and enjoying the scenery and its wild plants and animals as well as any existing cultural aspects found in these areas of eco-tourism will be impacted unless we “Think Green, Talk Green and Act Green”
Water is life! Whether it is potable, or meant for irrigation or industries, the sources of contamination are no different. The waste water and run-off from garbage or industrial waste dumps, containing dissolved and suspended solids, pollutes the rivers and streams throughout the year and is a dominant source of pollution of surface water. In farming, fields where fertilizers and pesticides are used extensively can also get dissolved in the water. The seepage of the water mixed with chemicals pollute the small creeks, rivers and ultimately the sea. The effluents from industries that are drained in the waters contain toxic chemicals including arsenic, fluorides, besides host of different types of chemicals which act as carcinogens. Pipelines carrying drinking water may get contaminated due to damage to the sewage pipeline, especially when they run parallel to the former and in close proximity. Acid rain should not be underestimated. In addition to discharge of effluents from industries, sea water also gets polluted from ships threatening sea life species. Even radioactive toxic chemicals have been detected in certain class of fish.
The earth is a dumping ground for domestic as well as industrial waste in the form of solids and liquids for centuries. Toxics chemicals have adversely affected the bio-diversity resulting in destruction of plants which in turn affects the weather conditions. Reckless dumping of garbage and burning the same results in air pollution as well. However, if it is systematically disposed of, the fertility of the soil is likely to improve. At this point of time, it may be noted that polythene bags, plastic bottles and other synthetic food containers in the form of boxes, glass shaped articles etc. can take almost 35 years for bio degradation. Indiscriminate balding of the soil has caused irreversible damage to the biodiversity in addition to bringing down the water table. The quality of water is affected as well. Here again the use of chemical fertilizers injudiciously has resulted in destruction of nitrogen-retaining bacteria and various other nematodes that were responsible for maintaining the fertility of the soil. This process in turn has affected the productivity of the soil; less crop results in soaring prices.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) noise level above 55db is not good for the well being of the individual. Noise can cause irritation, anger, fatigue, depression etc., according to another study. Unfortunately, noise pollution despite its disruptive impact has failed to attract the same kind of attention as water and air pollution. An explosive increase in the number of vehicles in cities and towns of India has contributed to the phenomenal rise in the level of decibel attack. In another study, it has been shown that noise not only impairs physical and psychological functioning of the human organism, but also causes nausea, vomiting, headaches and a host of other complications including cardiovascular diseases, hyperacidity, peptic ulcers and nervous breakdowns. Unbelievable but true!
Noise pollution adversely affects the power of concentration in students and adults also. Pregnant women who stay near the airports are vulnerable to premature delivery or miscarriages. It has been observed that sudden and intense sounds like crackers during festival can cause irreversible damage to hearing. During fireworks, there is noise as well as air pollution as well as burn injuries that can occur.
Treasuring our natural resources with appropriate and warranted action against any form of pollution is not only necessary but vital to our interests to preserve our land, health, and well being.