Environmental Pollution

  • Pollution is defined as ‘an addition or excessive addition of certain materials to the physical environment (water, air and lands), making it less fit or unfit for life’.

  • A pollutant is a substance or energy introduced into the environment that has undesired effects, or adversely affects the usefulness of a resource.
  • They are constituent parts of the pollution process. They are the actual “executing agents” of environmental pollution. They come in gaseous, solid or liquid form.


Classification of pollutant on disposable nature

  • Biodegradable pollutants are the ones that can be broken down and processed by living organisms, including organic waste products, phosphates, and inorganic salts. For example, if a pollutant is organic, it can be used by a living organism to obtain energy and other material from carbohydrates, proteins etc. Therefore, biodegradable pollutants are only “temporary nuisances” that can be neutralised and converted into harmless compounds. However, it is important to remember that they can become serious pollutants if released in large amounts in small areas, thus exceeding the natural capacity of the environment to “assimilate” them.
  • Non-biodegradable pollutants are the ones that cannot be decomposed by living organisms and therefore persist in the ecosphere for extremely long periods of time. They include plastics, metal, glass, some pesticides and herbicides, and radioactive isotopes. In addition to that, fat soluble (but not water soluble) non-biodegradable pollutants, ex. mercury and some hydrocarbons, are not excreted with urine but are accumulated in the fat of living organisms and cannot be metabolised.

Types of Environmental Pollution

  • Air pollution is by far the most harmful form of pollution in our environment. Air pollution is cause by the injurious smoke emitted by cars, buses, trucks, trains, and factories, namely sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides. Even smoke from burning leaves and cigarettes are harmful to the environment causing a lot of damage to man and the atmosphere. Evidence of increasing air pollution is seen in lung cancer, asthma, allergies, and various breathing problems along with severe and irreparable damage to flora and fauna. Even the most natural phenomenon of migratory birds has been hampered, with severe air pollution preventing them from reaching their seasonal metropolitan destinations of centuries.
  • Chlorofluorocarbons (CFC), released from refrigerators, air-conditioners, deodorants and insect repellents cause severe damage to the Earth’s environment.  This gas has slowly damaged the atmosphere and depleted the ozone layer leading to global warming.
  • Water pollution caused industrial waste products released into lakes, rivers, and other water bodies, has made marine life no longer hospitable. Humans pollute water with large scale disposal of garbage, flowers, ashes and other household waste. In many rural areas one can still find people bathing and cooking in the same water, making it incredibly filthy. Acid rain further adds to water pollution in the water. In addition to these, thermal pollution and the depletion of dissolved oxygen aggravate the already worsened condition of the water bodies. Water pollution can also indirectly occur as an offshoot of soil pollution – through surface runoff and leaching to groundwater.
  • Noise pollution, soil pollution and light pollution too are the damaging the environment at an alarming rate. Noise pollution include aircraft noise, noise of cars, buses, and trucks, vehicle horns, loudspeakers, and industry noise, as well as high-intensity sonar effects which are extremely harmful for the environment.
  • Soil pollution, which can also be called soil contamination, is a result of acid rain, polluted water, fertilizers etc., which leads to bad crops. Soil contamination occurs when chemicals are released by spill or underground storage tank leakage which releases heavy contaminants into the soil. These may include hydrocarbons, heavy metals, MTBE, herbicides, pesticides and chlorinated hydrocarbons.


  • Electrical and electronic equipment contain different hazardous materials which are harmful to human health and the environment if not disposed of carefully. While some naturally occurring substances are harmless in nature, their use in the manufacture of electronic equipment often results in compounds which are hazardous (e.g. chromium becomes chromium VI). The following list gives a selection of the mostly found toxic substances in e-waste.


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