Air pollution is caused by a range of human activities, such as motor vehicle exhaust, industrial smoke, and the burning of coal and oil. It is responsible for many environmental health issues, such as aggravated asthma, and lung and heart disease. The Clean Air Act, originally introduced in 1963, and the Motor Vehicle Pollution Act of 1965 are designed to protect us from air pollution and have had to be updated many times since their inception. Although, regulations and enforcement take place on both local and national levels, most air pollution issues have global implications. As air pollution is carried by the wind, many of the effects of industrial pollution, such as acid rain are felt far away from the source.
Water quality is of even greater concern to human health. Without water, humans would survive only three or four days. Although seventy percent of the earth’s surface is covered with water, only one percent of that can be consumed by humans. Our water supply is jeopardized by rapid population growth, increases in municipal water consumption, global warming and drought, and increases in irrigation and pollution. Several federal statutes have been enacted to help protect our water supply. In 1972, the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act prohibited the dumping of material into the ocean that would unreasonably degrade or endanger human health or the marine environment. In 1974, the Safe Drinking Water Act was enacted to ensure the quality of drinking water in the United States. In 1990, the Oil Pollution Act began requiring oil companies to clean up oil spills.
All of these laws have helped clean up and protect our water, but we must remember that water is not an unlimited resource. The treatment plants clean and recycle water and the hydrologic cycle recycles water for reuse, but we are not creating new water. We must care for what we have. According to the EPA, “The average American family of four uses 400 gallons of water per day. On average, approximately 70 percent of that water is used indoors, with the bathroom being the largest consumer (a toilet alone can use 27 percent!)” (2014). Considering ways to cut down on water use becomes more important as the demand increases.
Besides clean air and water, population and economic growth depend on the productivity of the land. Land quality differs from place to place; while soil should be a renewable resource, it can be degraded beyond reusability. Population growth and land degradation are related. Changes in farming practices have improved soil quality immensely in the U.S. because regulations have helped to make sure toxic substances are not dumped into the soil. It is essential to maintain soil quality both for food quality and to limit the potential for contaminated soil to pollute our water supply.
The disposal of waste is a looming problem in the country. Landfills are slowly filling up, chemicals from the breakdown of wastes have entered the soil and the water, and few steps have been taken to change the throw-away mentality of our society. According to the Duke Center for Sustainability and Commerce (2014), the average person generates 4.3 pounds of waste per day. Further, waste disposal is one of the biggest expenses in city budgets. Improper disposal causes problems with vermin and insects and pollutes surface as well as groundwater. Individuals are often unaware of the special programs for disposing of hazardous materials, so these too end up in landfills. The management of waste is a public health problem that must be addressed seriously and soon.
Plastics make up almost 13 percent of our municipal solid waste, with most of it coming from containers and packaging (such as drink containers, lids, and shampoo bottles) (U.S EPA, 2014). Plastic waste in our landfills and oceans has become a major issue in environmental and human health.
Most of you have probably seen the new corn-based plastic, which is being used in more and more products such as take-out containers, water bottles, and cardboard boxes. This new plastic is made from a resin called polylactic acid (PLA). According to Ryote (2006), conventional plastic packaging requires about 200,000 barrels of oil a day in the United States. PLA is touted as the way to break away from petroleum packaging and save us from the mounting piles of plastic taking over landfills.
On the downside, PLA decomposition requires large-scale recycling. Specific microbes, specific levels of carbon dioxide and water, and specific temperature are needed. These facilities are very rare and most do not accept residential food scraps collected by municipalities. PLA causes problems for conventional plastic recyclers if it is mixed in, so they must now pay to remove it. There are also concerns that using corn in such a manner will continue to drive up food prices.
BPA is a chemical used in the production of certain plastics. The chemical is known to leach out of plastic into foods and liquids. Critics believe BPA acts as an estrogen mimic and disrupts brain development in utero and in newborns. BPA supporters say the risks are minimal and that research has not supported the need for a ban. Canada has banned BPA in baby bottles and even tougher restrictions have been proposed by the U.S. Senate.
Duke Center for Sustainability and Commerce. (2014). How much do we waste daily? Retrieved from http://center.sustainability.duke.edu/resources/green-facts-consumers/how-much-do-we-waste-daily
Royte, E. (2006). Corn plastic to the rescue. Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/corn-plastic-to-the-rescue-126404720/?no-ist
United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (2014). Indoor water use in the United States. Retrieved from http://www.epa.gov/WaterSense/pubs/indoor.html
United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (2014). Plastics. Retrieved from http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/materials/plastics.htm
By successfully completing this assessment, you will demonstrate your proficiency in the following course competencies and assessment criteria:
Please review the resources and assessment instructions. No extra preparation is required for this assessment.
For this assessment, in a 3–4-page report, examine the impact of your choices on the environment and consider positive changes you could implement.
Begin your report by explaining areas of your life in which your choices impact the environment. This list could be endless; choose to focus on 10 areas of impact. Then, choose five changes related to the areas you listed that you could implement in your life.
Finally, address the following in regard to your chosen changes overall:
Use the APA Paper Template (linked in Resources: Pollution) to format your report.
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