We have learned a lot regarding chemical facts and their relevance to the living organisms. Chemistry has influenced our life so much that we don't want to envision life without it. The story of chemistry is not wholly a happy one mainly as people recently became aware of the effects of the chemical processes in our atmosphere. Of particular concern is the pollution of the environment caused via human activity and particularly those occurring from the chemical industry.
Water and air are the two necessary elements of our physical environment as they sustain life. Likewise water and air are the sources of important raw materials for the chemical industry. Water as a universal solvent for abundant chemical process; for cooling and cleaning use; and also for the hydroelectric power generation. A few industrial raw materials like salt, magnesium, calcium and so on are obtained from the sea water. Air on the other hand, is the major source of the oxygen and nitrogen. Oxygen is employed as combustion fuel whereas nitrogen is employed in the preparation of ammonia, trioxonitrate (v) acid fertilizers and so on.
Ironically, the similar water and air is the recipient of all industrial waters. Most of our wastes end up in the water or air. The chemical industry produces and releases too much waste into the water and air that unless special care is taken the environment might be so polluted to the extent that our own lives could be in immense danger. The quality of our water and air and can get worse to the level that these necessary elements of the environment might be sources of poison. This is the challenge presently facing our world in general and the chemical industry in particular.
Pure and drinkable water is generally an odorless, tasteless and colourless liquid. Water is employed as a universal solvent for some purposes and liberated back to the environment.
Can you visualize life devoid of water?
The water employed for any human activity is never returned the same, to its source. Used water have dissolved or suspended foreign materials that are responsible for the water pollution. The sources and nature of water pollutants are abundant however we will illustrate some of them.
The detergent industry responsible for making a variety of cleaning agent is a large and vital industry. Everybody and all industries do one form of cleaning or the other, and only detergents have the features for removing all kinds of stains. Phosphates are broadly included into detergents and therefore are liberated in large quantities via water into lakes and rivers. Most fertilizers have phosphates that are washed into lakes, rivers and underground water, when not used via plants.
Phosphates in the lakes and rivers act as nutrients for the growth of algae and other water weeds. This decreases the oxygen level in the waters and prevents other living organisms in water example: fish from getting sufficient supply of oxygen. The weeds as well cover the surface of waters and hinder adequate light, needed for plant photosynthesis, from getting down the waters, and therefore reduced the food production.
Some of the industries dump their solid and liquid chemical wastes into the streams and rivers. Based on the kind of industry; the chemical wastes might have acetone, benzene, trichloromethane, tetra-chloromethane, phenols, acids, alkalis and so on. Such chemicals comprise pollutants to water bodies and are harmful to organisms that live in the water and other living things which get in contact by such waters.
Increased food production has been accomplished by the use of pesticide that helps in controlling the damaging effects of pests to crops. Some of these pesticides example: DDT, which is toxic, ends up in lakes and rivers. Mercury having pesticides have been employed over the years, and mercury which is toxic simply concentrates in fish. Whenever such fish is consumed, they can lead to the mercury-poisoning.
Water is employed as a coolant for machineries in some industries and the release of the hut water, which might seem harmless, can be source of pollution. Hot water increases the temperature of river water which might harm fish and as well raise the growth of algae and other water weeds.
Industrialization has caused an augment in the level of pollutants to the air and might be present in concentrations which can harm the environment and its inhabitants. The major cause of air pollution is the combustion of fossil filets like coal, petrol and gases, through power plants and vehicles to attain energy. The major air pollutants are illustrated below.
The industrial procedures like coal burning, can lead to the emission of smoke, soot and dust that are released into the atmosphere. Such pollutants whenever inhaled can damage the respiratory system specifically the lungs. At times, the pollutants became trapped just above the surface of earth leading to the formation of smog, specifically over cities having high industrial emissions. The other toxic solid pollutant found in the environment is lead emitted from the exhaust of motor vehicles using leaded petrol. The lead dust can cause lead poisoning and damage to the nervous system.
Oxides of carbon:
The incomplete combustion of fuel leads to the formation of carbon (II) oxide (CO) that is a poisonous gas. Having modernization and increase wealth, the use of motor vehicles has increased. The motor vehicles are the main single source of carbon (II) oxide emission. Whenever inhaled, carbon (II) oxide competes with oxygen for the haemoglobin in blood. This can lead to the reduction in blood oxygen. Carbon (II) oxide gas causes headaches, dizziness, fatigue and can cause death at high concentrations.
Carbon(iv) oxide (CO2) is the main product of the combustion of fossil fuel. The rise in the use of fossil fuels as the source of energy has given increase to the extreme production of the gas. Plants utilize carbon (iv) oxide for photosynthesis The joint effect of deforestation and extreme combustion of fossil fuels has led to the raise in the level of atmospheric carbon (iv) oxide. The effect of an increase in the level of carbon(iv) oxide is a greater retention of the infrared ray in the earth, giving increase to the green house effect - a steady warming of our planet. This occurrence will lead to the melting of the ice in the polar areas of the earth and numerous coastal areas and islands on earth will then be submerged via the increase in ocean water level.
Oxides of Nitrogen and Sulphur:
Whenever sulphur-containing coal is burnt in the electric power stations and industrial plants, sulphur (iv) oxide is generated This oxide of sulphur is acidic, poisonous and corrosive. Likewise, in the combustion of fuels at high temperatures, oxides of nitrogen example: NO and NO2 are generated.
The oxides of sulphur and nitrogen liberated into the atmosphere join with rain-water to produce acids - the so-called acid rain. Whenever acid rain falls it harms the animal and plant life, building and metal structures. Moreover, oxides of nitrogen and sulphur cause irritation of the nose, eyes, throat and respiratory tissues.
Hydrocarbons like methane, ethane, propane, butane and so on, which are the components of fuels are liberated into the air via evaporation from storage tanks. Such hydrocarbons are assumed to cause cancer that is, they are carcinogenic. The hydrocarbons are as well known to react with oxides of nitrogen in the presence of lies to generate smog or heavily stagnant air, Hydrocarbons are acknowledged to retard the growth of plants and cause irregular leaf and bud growth.
The Chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs are man-made chemicals example: Freon and winch are employed as propellants for spray cans such as sheltox, coolants in refrigerators and air-conditioners, and for making the plastic forms. Whenever such chemicals are liberated into the atmosphere, ultra-violet light breaks off free chlorine atoms, Cl, from the CFC molecule. The free chlorine atom which is extremely reactive, attacks a molecule of ozone, O3, to generate an ordinary oxygen molecule and other reactive species. The reaction is a chain reaction and the method is repeated many times. This causes a reduction or depletion in the ozone layer that protects us on earth from injurious radiations discharged in the atmosphere.
The ozone layer is found in the stratosphere. Studies from satellites illustrate a definite reduction in the ozone levels and revealed "ozone hole" (that is, area devoid of ozone protection) over the Antarctic. The effect of reduced ozone layer protection signifies an increase in the level of ultra-violet radiation which reaches earth. Such radiations are identified to cause cataracts (that is, eye disease), skin cancer and sunburns.
Biodegradable and Non-Biodegradable Pollutants:
The release of pollutants in the atmosphere is an undesirable effect of the industrial revolution. Most of the harmful chemical wastes from crude oil spill, detergents, insecticides and mercury compounds are non-biodegradable, that is, they can't be broken down into harmless compounds through living organisms. They remain in the atmosphere and harm its inhabitant. For illustration: mercury accumulates in the body of aquatic organisms example: fish, which when eaten can ultimately lead to the mercury poisoning.
A few chemical pollutants are though biodegradable and are transformed into harmless substances example: fertilizers through living organisms in the atmosphere. At times harmful effluents are treated in the sewage plants to transform them to helpful chemicals utilizable for other purposes or before release into the atmosphere.
1) Legislations have been passed in some countries to control the level of pollutant released into the air and water bodies. Agencies such as FEPA have been established to monitor the conformity by the legislations.
2) The use of unleaded petrol is encouraged to decrease emission of the lead compounds.
3) Industrial effluents and emissions are treated to transform them to undamaging biodegradable substances before being liberated.
4) The combustion of fuels are now more proficiently done, to decrease carbon (II) oxide emission, by correct tuning of and the use of catalytic converters in the engines.
5) The release of oxides of sulphur can be decreased by using sulphur-free crude oil or low-sulphur coal as fuel.
6) Afforestation programs are now seriously encouraged in some countries.
7) The ban on the use of CFCs as refrigerants and propellants has been confirmed by some countries.
8) Education is the significant anti-pollution measure, so that each of us is awake of the effects of polluting our atmosphere.
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