We explain what chemical pollution is, its origin, causes and consequences. Types of pollutants and forms of pollution.
What is chemical pollution?
Chemical contamination, or also chemical risk , is understood as the ability of certain elements and substances generally for industrial use, to enter other compounds , organic tissues and even ecosystems , causing unpredictable and often toxic or lethal changes, as a consequence of chemical reactions. you uncontrolled.
From a certain point of view, it could be said that every form of contamination is chemical, since it consists in the introduction of harmful substances in an environment to which they are alien, and from which it is then difficult to extract them. However, the case of chemical contamination differs from others in that its causal elements come directly from the chemical industry and constitute toxic or dangerous substances.
Origin of chemical contamination
The presence of chemical elements or chemical substances in an uncontrolled way in terrestrial ecosystems has occurred throughout its geological history on multiple occasions , especially as a result of long periods of volcanic activity or, even, the appearance and flowering of life. Photosynthetic plant, which gradually filled the Earth’s atmosphere with gaseous oxygen.
However, in its very brief history on the planet, human beings have altered the balance of ecosystems much more quickly and radically, due to the start-up of industries, especially after the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century.
The human being’s understanding of the way in which matter operates has allowed him to manufacture substances and manipulate the atoms that constitute them, but by underproducing in the process other useless and often harmful substances, which in the absence of better management will give the environment . Once there, they can enter wildlife and destroy the chemical balance of the ecosystem, having truly serious consequences for the sustainability of life on the planet.
Causes of chemical contamination
For the most part, the causes of chemical contamination are from human sources . There are also chemical materials thrown from the ground by volcanoes and geysers, but these events are more infrequent and often give nature the time necessary to recover from ecological damage.
On the other hand, the amount of substances that humans pour into the air , water and earth day after day are more abundant, difficult to eliminate and therefore harmful in the medium and long term . The indiscriminate discharge of wastewater or of gases and substances to rivers, air or seas comes not only from large factories, but from the escape of cars, discarded commercial products and power plants .
Consequences of chemical contamination
Chemical pollution has serious consequences on the molecular balance of ecosystems and life itself, such as:
- High levels of toxicity. This leads to massive deaths of animal or plant or microscopic species, destroying the trophic (food) balance of a given ecosystem, and decreasing its biodiversity .
- Chronic diseases. Such as cancer, respiratory failure, skin damage, etc., both in humans and animals and plants.
- Unpredictable chemical reactions. When introduced into the meteorological and climatic cycles, these substances can produce unexpected reactions that give rise to phenomena such as acid rain , for example, in which instead of raining water, it rains a very mild acid that causes material damage.
- Biochemical accumulation Certain contaminants can be stored in the body of living beings , thus traveling from one place to another as an animal devours another, and eventually reaching our own food, to enter our bodies and cause us diseases.
Types of polluting chemicals
Chemical pollutants can be classified according to their effect on the environment in:
- Poisons Substances that when introduced into the body of living beings dramatically inhibit or alter their vital biochemical processes and cause death .
- Mutagenic Substances whose presence in the organism of living beings affects the conformation of DNA molecules , thus causing unpredictable mutations , some of which can be transmitted generationally.
- Corrosive Materials that when interacting with organic matter cause its corrosion, that is, its violent oxidation , causing irreparable damage to it.
- Suffocating Especially gases, they are lighter than air and usually displace it, occupying the space of the lungs and generating mechanical asphyxiation in living beings.
- Radioactive Atomically unstable substances, which emit particles and waves of energy at such a frequency, that they affect the DNA causing genetic damage and causing disease.
Forms of chemical contamination
Chemical contamination usually occurs by inhalation ( breathing of toxic gases) or direct contact (penetration through the skin), or irradiation (simply by being in the immediate vicinity of the material) in the case of radioactive materials.
In the case of human beings, these behaviors can be controlled and minimize immediate damage , but not in the case of animals or plants, which suffer the effects of chemical contamination and eventually bring them to our own food . In addition, the damage to the ecosystem that occurs silently cannot be anticipated when we pour substances, suppose, to the rivers. Its effects will be observable in the long term, usually when it is too late.
Main chemical contaminants
The main chemical pollutants of today are:
- Heavy metals. Metal elements used in the manufacture of tools, pipes and other industrial uses, capable of releasing over time particles that end up suspended in the air, in the water or as part of the food, and that in the long run can cause poisoning or incidents of Cancer.
- Chemical pesticides Substances used in the agricultural industry and that fulfill the function of protecting the crops of insects, bacteria or even of herbs that can ruin them, but that also have a residual presence in the groundwater and in the food itself, making them slightly toxic for consumption .
- Drug waste The disposal of expired or unnecessary drugs must occur through appropriate mechanisms, or else their active components will go to the environment, thus becoming biochemical contaminants.
- Commercial waste The chemical content of batteries (batteries), aerosol products, disinfectants and other products for everyday use in our homes will almost always give the environment and, in large proportions, become a source of harmful chemicals.
Radioactivity is one of the most serious cases of chemical contamination that exist, since these are unstable chemical elements, which emit particles and energetic waves constantly and in all directions, traversing practically all matter (except lead , so used to contain this type of materials) and damaging especially the genetic material of living beings.
Radioactive materials have a variable disintegration period, but in some cases it can be extremely long, as occurs in plutonium-239 that emits radiation for 24,100 years , used during the twentieth century in the manufacture of nuclear weapons.
The chemtrails ( chemical trails , ” chemical trails “) are the name that some conspiracy theories give to the contrails left by airplanes in the atmosphere , which would contain, according to these theories, chemical or biological pollutants, which Dark powers behind the pharmaceutical industry employ to keep the population sick and to sustain the pharmacology business.
How to prevent chemical contamination?
Chemical pollution requires firm measures by societies to reduce the amount of harmful materials that are dumped into the environment on a daily basis. This may mean:
- Strict government controls for the chemical, petrochemical and steel industries regarding the management of wastewater, vapors and waste.
- Exemplary punishments for those who cause environmental damage through poor or irresponsible handling of chemical substances.
- Prohibition of commercialization of products with harmful chemical elements, promotion of the consumption of eco-healthy alternatives and recycling strategies so that these products do not end up in the environment.
- Prohibition or control of agrotoxics and promotion of independent, objective and self-financed studies that evaluate each product before its massive use.
- Hazardous materials recycling systems: batteries, medicines, empty aerosol containers, etc.
- Awareness campaigns for the population to understand the risks of chemical contamination.
Examples of chemical contamination
Some classic examples of chemical pollution are those caused by certain chemical industries in the ocean : by pouring their waters full of sulfates and other substances into the water, they encourage the growth (by overfeeding) of certain algae and similar organisms, whose population increases to the point such as suffocating other species and then competing themselves, dying massively and rotting at the seashore, which is all detrimental to biological diversity and marine biotic balance.
Another traditional example has to do with the use of DDT as a pesticide during the twentieth century , until its prohibition having found traces of this toxic substance in animals from the other side of the world, as well as in food and even sewage for human consumption.