Chemical Pollution Facts and Prevention Tips

The health effects of chemical pollution may appear immediately following exposure, or after some time (weeks or even months after the exposure occurred or started). The length of time depends on the type of pollutants and on the amounts to which we are exposed. Thus, never assume that all is OK if no ill health effects appear immediately.

Confined spaces are problematic from the point of view of chemical pollution because the risks of serious health effects are high. Such confined spaces may accumulate toxic gases or asphyxiating gases which could be fatal if we enter such a space. Warehouses or storage confined spaces for fruits and vegetables may pose a serious risk, as these spaces are usually depleted in oxygen in order to prevent the ripening of the fruits and vegetables.

While chemical pollution may affect any medium (water, air, and soil), chemical pollution could pose serious long-term risks when present in water bodies, such as oceans. This is because large water bodies such as oceans and seas may serve as sinks to chemical pollution. Various chemical pollutants may get deposed into aquatic sediments and can concentrate and accumulate in sediments over a longer time. Sediments may thus act as secondary sources of various contaminants with potential for continuous release into the water. Additionally, some chemical pollutants may bioaccumulate into aquatic life (e.g. fish) which means that they are continuously absorbed into aquatic organisms (living tissue) without being excreted. Thus, in time, if the aquatic life continues to be exposed to a certain chemical water pollutant (which bioaccumulates), fish and other aquatic life may get highly contaminated with that pollutant and they become poisonous for human consumption. If no tests are performed, the results could be disastrous. Thus, chemical pollution in the ocean water could pose serious health risks to the ecosystem and ultimately could cause anything from mild to deadly chemical intoxication in humans.

The chemical pollution of water may create acute long-term problems. However, the effects of acute chemical pollution on the air are usually short-term - but they could still be disastrous. For example, an accident at a chemical plant may release poisonous gases into the atmosphere, which may pose a serious health risk for the residents in the close vicinity, but only for a short time following the accidental release. In contrast, the effects of oil and chemical refineries on air pollution are less obvious, yet they contribute to the overall reduction of air quality and global warming (by adding carbon dioxide).

Water Pollution & the Chemical Industry

The chemical industry is usually linked to polluted waste streams. However, there are many other sources of water chemical pollution, including transportation, agriculture, power plants, as well as household chemicals such as detergents! In fact, the waste streams from chemical industry are now strictly controlled and treated before being released into the environment. However, this was not always the case in the past and many rivers and surface water bodies got contaminated by dumping waste streams for various chemical plants as well as other industrial sources. Pollution by chemical factories and chemical manufacture pollution of water and environment was happening historically but current preventive measures are reassuring.

Household Pollution and Chemical Contamination

We tend to think of household chemicals or activities as anything but polluting! However, household chemicals involve a variety of chemical products and mixtures that easily become chemical pollutants when released in the environment. Even the everyday detergents are chemical compounds that may pollute our environment! It is enough to read the label of various products we are using to confirm that they are made by a variety of chemicals. While any of these chemicals may pollute the environment, not all the chemicals pose the same risks and not all of them persist in the environment. But some are. This is why we can prevent chemical pollution at an individual level by buying “green” environmentally friendly products and detergents. These will also pose less risk if accidentally spilled in our homes.

How Can Air Pollution Cause Chemical Weathering?

Chemical weathering means the transformation or degradation of a chemical, which usually happens when the chemical is released into the environment. In the air, weathering is due to a combination of processes which all result in the reduction of the pollutant concentration in air. Such processes are dispersion, deposition with precipitation water, as well as chemical reaction and photo-degradation of contaminants (degradation induced by UV light). All these processes make the acute air effects of chemical pollution to be generally short-term (except for indoor air).

Tips to Avoid Chemical Pollution

  • Have important water sources analyzed. Always evaluate any potential source that may be causing chemical water pollution, especially if you are using a water stream for fishing, swimming, drinking or any other purpose.
  • Always get fish from trusted sources and in general try to learn more about the fish you are buying. Fish is one of the foods that are the most critically exposed to chemical pollution and can cause serious poisoning in humans. If possible, reduce the consumption of fish, especially in the case of pregnant women and children, who are more sensitive.
  • Be especially careful when going into tightly confined spaces, such as storage areas, where chemical pollutants may have accumulated over time. First air any confined space and then step into it.