With climate change denial rhetoric running rampant throughout the Trump administration, the future seems rather bleak for those who have fought for measures to combat this global phenomenon. Luckily, a majority of Americans care about the planet.
While 47% of Americans voted for Trump, a March 2016 Gallup poll revealed 74% of Americans worry at least a “fair amount” about the environment, with only 7% saying they don't worry at all. Specifically addressing water pollution, the Gallup poll found 61% worry “a great deal” about polluted drinking water.
With gag orders being instated upon government agencies designed to help the environment, understanding that a majority of US citizens share the same sentiments on pollution is crucial now more than ever. Before citizens can band together, though, there are some facts about pollution worth knowing.
Pollution Facts You Should Know
There are five main areas of pollution: land, air, light, noise, and water. Humans impact each of these in drastic ways.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the United States sent about 258 million tons of municipal waste to the nation’s landfills in 2014.
Here’s what that looks like: in Los Angeles, CA, the Puente Hills dump spans 630 acres of land that could otherwise be used for farmland, wildlife habitat, or housing. Taking up land for human activities has been shown to increase disease emergence, which is especially concerning for diseases that can be transmitted between animals and humans. Our land waste also impacts air pollution: energy is needed to handle waste, which contributes to the release of greenhouse gas emissions.
The EPA illustrates how we can reduce these emissions, namely by reusing, recycling, and composting material — rather than letting it build up in landfills.
The American Lung Association's State of the Air report measures different components of air pollution, including particulate matter and ozone pollution. According to their 2016 report, over half of America's population experiences unsafe levels of air pollution.
California cities topped the lists of areas with the worst air conditions. The American Lung Association cited natural phenomena, such as wildfires, and man-made pollutants, such as car emissions, as the largest contributors. The effects of air pollution on human health can be severe, including an increase in asthma attacks and premature death rates.
To raise awareness of air pollution, the Air Quality Index has a global tracker that makes it easy for people to view the air conditions in their area.
Light pollution refers to the glow from artificial lights that fills the night sky. According to the 2010 research article “Light Pollution As A Biodiversity Threat,” light pollution can lead to the decline of certain nocturnal species, like moths that serve as pollinators, because it disrupts their feeding habits.
Light pollution also affects the circadian rhythm of humans. According to the American Medical Association, certain LED lights used for outdoor lighting emit blue light, which the human eyes are most sensitive to. This lighting may lead to unrestful sleep cycles, which can impact health in numerous ways ranging from increased irritability to obesity.
Covered under the Clean Air Act as “unwanted or disturbing sound,” the effects of noise pollution on human health range from the obvious, hearing loss, to the more abstract, like an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. The Federal Highway Administration has a section on their website devoted to the effect highway noise alone has on wildlife, concluding that noise could impact the breeding habits of animals, which may impact conservation efforts in certain areas.
In the Mississippi River, nutrients leaching into the water from industrial plants, city wastewater, and farmland contribute to growth of the hypoxia region in the Gulf of Mexico. The hypoxia region is a naturally occurring phenomenon that results when warm freshwater from the Mississippi meets with cooler salt water in the Gulf and does not mix, causing the water to become oxygen-starved.
Nutrient runoff causes the hypoxia region to grow to an abnormal size, which means the oxygen-starved zones can expand. This expansion damages the Gulf ecosystem and leads to the death of many aquatic species like mussels, crabs, and young fish.
In other areas of the country, abandoned mines pose a threat to human health through the risk of mine drainage. Acidic, alkaline, and metal mine drainage can contaminate surface and groundwater, resulting in environments that are damaging to animal and human health.
Taking Action Against Pollution
Fortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as other federally funded groups, have been working for decades to combat many of these issues.
Under EPA guidance, Community Action Groups are working to clean up Superfund sites. The Clean Air Act addresses the mitigation of acid rain, ozone layer protection, greenhouse gas emissions, and noise. The EPA and states in the Mississippi River Watershed have employed strategies to reduce nutrient run-off. The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement helps restore areas with abandoned mines. And, while not yet covered by the EPA, both the American Medical Association and the International Dark-Sky Association are working to unearth the real damages of light pollution.
Here’s how we can take action: with a new administration set on shaking things up, it's more important now than ever to call our congresspeople and stress the value of federal programs that protect our natural resources. Pressuring them to keep these programs, and providing the EPA with the power to do so, can help ensure our natural resources are available for future generations.