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The impact of human pollution

The impact of human pollution

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True or false? Contaminated water is suitable for drinking.

The impact of human pollution

Humans are an incredible species. We learned to use fire to cook and make tools. We farm our own food, and transport it all over the world. We are also the only species that has cars and smartphones, and uses advanced technology to produce them. But everything we do has a great impact on our planet.

All kinds of human activities produce energy, such as sound or light, and substances that do not belong in the natural environment - at least not in such large amounts. Once released, these spread, over time they accumulate, and they affect nature in a negative way. They cause pollution. There are four main types of pollution that are caused by humans: land pollution, water pollution, air pollution, and pollution related to energy. Rubbish we see on the ground or in landfills is a common example of land pollution.

However, land pollution involves other forms of destroying our land resources too, for example extracting minerals from the ground, deforestation, and farming. These activities can deplete soil of nutrients which can lead to erosion. This makes it difficult for plants to grow, and makes them more susceptible to diseases. Such activities change natural habitats too, endangering many species, or forcing them to move. Land can also become polluted by chemicals from farms, industrial sites, and landfills.

If these chemicals leach into streams or groundwater, they can also cause water pollution. Water pollution can happen when substances such as sewage, chemicals, and heavy metals enter the water and contaminate it. This makes water unsuitable for drinking, cooking, and hygiene, as well as farming. Another source of water pollution can be spills from damaged oil tankers or platforms. Oil forms a thick layer on the surface, which stops light from reaching aquatic plants.

It also contains toxic chemicals that kill fish and other organisms in the sea. Plastic objects often contribute to water pollution too, if they end up in the sea. Plastic is carried by waves and currents, and spreads all over the ocean, and becomes a great threat to many species. When plastic is exposed to sunlight and sea water, it breaks apart into smaller and smaller pieces. These are eaten by aquatic animals and move up the food chain, and might even end up in our bodies!

Air pollution occurs when substances are released that shouldn’t be in the air, or that there shouldn’t be so much of. These can be gases or small particles. They can for example come from burning fuels, chemical fumes, or waste rotting in landfills. Some gases, such as carbon dioxide or methane, contribute to increasing temperatures and climate change, which affects all life on earth. Certain air pollutants can dissolve in water, forming compounds that change the acidity and pollute both water and soil.

Air pollution can damage our health, causing illnesses such as asthma, heart diseases, and cancer. Noise and light produced by humans also have an impact on the environment. Increased levels of noise from industry, transportation, or cities can cause stress and hearing disorders in humans. This also affects species that use sound to navigate or find their prey, such as bats. Artificial light confuses many animals too.

For example birds change their migration cycles, and newly hatched sea turtles die because they start walking towards town rather than towards the sea. Light pollution can also affect our sleep and make us feel more stressed. This can lead to health problems. Yes, we are an incredible species - but not the only one. And we only have one planet to live on.

It is really important that we remember this, and that we do all we can to minimize the impact our actions have on the environment.