In this Section, we survey the different aspects of the human environment, viz. land, water and atmosphere and see how they affect the lives of the people. Certain aspects of global pollution - acid rain, the ozone layer and nuclear fallour are also considered. The environment that we work in also has certain factors that affect our health and lives - these are also studied. Thus this section is essentially divided into four parts:
(a) Land (b) Water (c) Atmosphere and (d) work Environment.
The issues related to land that we choose to dwell on are changes in agricultural practices, dams, mines, housing and soil pollution.
CHANGES IN AGRICULTURAL PRACTICES
Changes in Agricultural Practices : The Green Revolution introduced the trends towards hybrid and high-yielding varieties of seeds. These replaced our traditional hardier strains of seeds. The newer varieties required large quantities of chemical fertilizers and pesticides and large volumese of water for irrigation. Even small and marginal farmers who do not have the resources - either in terms of capital for seeds and fertilisers or water for irrigation - are lured by the promises of phenomenal yields. without the requisite water, the strong chemical fertilizers and pesticides destroy the productivity of their already meagre lands. The small farmers lose not only the productivity of their lands, but also their pool of indigenous varieties of seeds, yet another factor to be dependent on external sources for !
With the advent of the market forces, the cropping patterns have changed too-instead of the traditional crops, more cash crops are being grown now. Nutritive diets available from traditional food crops grown earlier have been largely replaced by weaker diets based on non-traditional foods and imported grains.
Three Points about the Seeds issue (Excerpts)
The Dungarpur district of Rajasthan, one of the worst drought affected districts in the country has lost most of its grain producing capacity. Many local people, who twenty to thirty years ago, used to be self sufficient in maize and wheat, now eat Australian wheat which they receive through the government drought relief programmes. The people state that this wheat is less nutitive than the local grains they used to produce earlier.
DAMS The rationale offered by the planners for large dams is to generate electricity and provide irrigation for the country’s agriculturists. heavy investment in the many major hydro-electric projects has not had the desired effects the thousands of mega watts of electric power that has been generated has mainly benefitted industries. The share of agriculture stood at a meagre 14.2% in 1978-79. About irrigation, the Planning commission itself has admitted in the Sixth Plan Document that the huge irrigated land investment made have yielded disappointingly low returns. While irrigated land should yield four to five tonnes of grain per hectare, the national average for such fields is only about 1.7 tonnes per hectare.
The Tawa dam in the Hoshangabad district in Madhya pradesh built at the total cost of Rs.300 crore had the following results:
Table 1 : Yields before and after Tawa Dam
Crop Average yields per acre (in quintals)
The average yields for all crops declined after irrigation. The Comptroller and Auditor General had the following to say in a report :
According to the scientific and technical opinion now available, because of the soil and weather condition, in the command area of the Tawa project, agricultural operations in both kharif and rabi seasons with the help of irrigation could not have been productrive but on the other hand, irrigation could even be harmful. The cultivators also resisted changing their habits and the cropping pattern they have been used to. Thus, it would appear that the project was ill-conceived and the benefits that were presumed would be available, could not have been realised. This would also indicate the need for a second look at the programme for development of the command area, so that possible further unnecessary and wasteful expenditure could be avoided.
Dr. D.R.Bhumla, former Agricultural Commissioner and Vice Chancellor of Haryana Agricultural univesity, says :
".... from the experience of major and medium irrigation works in India, it is evident that its benfits in arid areas, though spectacular for the first 10 to 20 years, gradually get reduced and a considerable portion of the land gets deteriorated because of waterlogging and salinity. In the humid areas, the benefits are doubtful from the beginning and in many cases negative. The programmes of major and medium irrigation works, as has been envisaged for the future in humid areas, in my opinion, would not lead only to disastrous consequences in degradation of soil and environment, but would also result in reduced agricultural production. It is time to halt the expansion of these programmes...
Not only do dams mean unnecessary and wasteful expenditure, out of the public exchequer, but they also have adverse multiplier effects. Most of the dams have resulted in the drastic reduction of surrounding forest cover. Forests are cleared for approach roads, offices, storage of construction material, for rehabilitation of the affected peoples or then simply cut down by contractors even in unaffected areas. The deforestation process sets up its own cycle of further perpetuation of ecological imbalance -- soil erosion, siltation, pollution, wild life destruction, cultural ethnocide - are the costs of thousand of mega watts of electricity and millions of hectares of irrigated land that dams promise.
An issue of foremost importance when dams are being discussed, is how they affect people. Millions of local inhabitants - mostly tribals - are rudely displaced to locate the dams. They lose their centuries ‘ old roots and ties. promises of rehabilitation by the State are lofty but often come to nothing. Many a time they are rehabilitated on degraded land in non contiguous areas - thus villages and families are broken up and scatterd. sometimes the displaced people are compensated with money. This fails to purchase the land, the value of which is soaring the beyond reach of the buyers. For instance, in the case of the Ukai dam in Gujarat, "Out of a total of 18500 affected families, only 3,500 could be resettled. Though Rs.7 crore, was paid as compensation, only Rs. 1 crore was deposited in banks, the rest being squandred or used for daily needs."
There are some otehr hazards of dams which are significant. dams have been known to cause earthquakes because the large quantities of water which impounds in them. Earthquake have been felt in the Koyna district. After the impounding in them. Earthquakes have been felt in the Koyna district. After the impounding of water in the Koyna dam of Maharashtra reservoir in 1962, a major quake in December 1967, took nearly 200 lives, injured 1500 people and rendered thousands homeless. Reports of tremors in idukki district of Kerala where the Idukki dam is situated on the Periyar river, have also been coming in.
Dams are known to burst too. The worst disaster was the Machu dam in Gujarat in 1979. Hundreds were killed and the town of Morvi along with several villages was destroyed by the flood waters.
What is the alternative to large dams? Development workes have shown that small to medium sized earthen dams built with local people’s participation and managed by them will be far more successful than the large capital intensive and centrally managed ‘temples’. Other ways of managing and conserving the surface water and ground water resources on local basis will have far reaching consequences
Small hydro electric plants can be very useful in augmenting the country’s available hydroelectric potential and in providing electricity in remove areas, particularly the hill districts. CentralElectricity Authority has estimated a potential of 25 billion kwh (Kilo watt hours) from small plants - 60% of our present installed capacity. china’s example of 87,000 small hydel works - almost a third of its total hydropower is something that India can learn from. thes micro hydel schemes would serve the nearby rural populations and not the large centralised urban-based industries.
MINES: are a crucial source of raw material for industry. Planners also justify mining as bringing jobs to backward areas. In fact, because of high degree of mechanisation, in the mining process, there are a limited number of low-skilled jobs available. Skilled labour is imported into these areas, leaving the local population unemployed.
Mining activity also leads to loss of agricultural land. It is not just the mines that eat away the agricultural alnd, roads, railways, townships, stock yards, processing operations - all encroach on land that earlier yielded food. Mining results in the removing of all vegetation and topsoil leaving leaving the land barren and devastated. disposal of the debris onto adjoining fields increases its infertility. Rain and wind further the process - they transport the waste mateial onto other cultivable land, reducing its productivity.
Mining on the hills is worse. the example of Nahi Kala area of Doon Valley, U.P. illustrates the horrors of limestone quarrying.
Limestone quarrying in doon Valley : since the last 26 years, sanctioned and formalised quarrying has been going on in 60 acrea of reserved forest areas. These forests had been a rich pocket of genetic wealth and means of sustenance of people of 31 surrounding villages. Quarrying started on a large scale when refugee miners came in from Pakistan after partition. The quarrying was formalised in 1962. Over the years, it affected the ecosystem in drastic ways. The lush green tree covered hills have been reduced to pathetic grey ash hillsides.
The forest cover and topsoil over large areas in the catchments was destroyed. The rejects and overburdens spilled over to areas on the hillslopes, not directly under the quarry lease. Both these factors affected the hydrological capacity of the hillslopes - the result was that the natural springs in the local catchment areas registered a decrease of 50% in their lean period discharges in the last 20 years. Large amounts of debtis has been dumped below the limestone belt. This has little water - infiltration capacity - so the catchment area in the Mussoorie Hills has reduced.
The debirs dumps added to the dangers of landslides on the already fragile hills worsened further by the use of explosives. The debris was washed down during the monsoons and increased the levels of the riverbeds by several feet accentuting the impact of floods. During the dry periods, the rivers dried up as the wate was displaced by the additional boulders and rocks. Water supply to the Doon Valley, especially to the urban settlements, has been getting progressively reduced.
Agriculture and food production have been adversely affected by the disturbance in the ecosystem. The flow of silt and debris has destroyed the irrigation channels in the villages below the quarries. Grazing lands - cattle population has decreased due to mining by as much as 40%. This has affected milk production in the area, as also the production of energy for farm operations and producion of animal dung. The last has affected soil fertility very badly. The overall impact is a collapse of food production system. Not only are the villages ain the vicinity of the quarries adversely affected - the overloaded streams and rivers with their slower flows have also affected agricultural activity on the plains leading to increased crop failure.
Housing : III maintained poorly ventilated and cramped residentialsurroundings are responsibel for the rapid spread of infectious diseases, particularly respirtory diseases and tuberculosis. Accidents associated with poor housing conditions, such as broken stairs, and ill paved yards are a leading cause of death, mainly among women, children and older age groups. Unsatisfactory home environment in crowded conditions is also responsible for psychiatric problems and mental problems. WHOs health hazards of the Human Environment (Geneva, 1972) lists several studies showing how the home environment affects health. some of the aspects apart from overcrowing and lack of sanitation whcih affect health and cause deaths are : fires due to faulty house wiring, electrical appliances and heating equipment. poisoning due to consumer products consisting of toxic chemicals, e.g. laundering and cleaning products, detergents, cosmetics, paints, pesticides etc.
The following table shows that even basic facilities like piped water supply, toilets and bathrooms are the privileges of a minority.
Table 2 : Condition of Structure and Facilities available to Households in Urban & Rural India
|1||Households in 1971 census (in million)||19.12||77.94||76.06|
|2.||percentage living in houses:|
|c||bad & Dilapidated||18.4||27.4||23.6|
|3||Age of houses in years:|
|e||40 & above||20.0||23.0||24.0|
|4||percentage of houses having:|
|a||I. Piped water inside||26.6||0.4||3.6|
|ii. Piped water outside||30.6||2.2||7.8|
|d||I. Toilet of any type||34.0||3.8||13.7|
|ii. Flush Toilet||12.4||0.1||2.5|
|Source : Goi Ministry of Planning, Statistical Abstract India - 1975 (New Delhi : central statistical Organization, 1976). |
Quoted in Health Status of the Indian people FRCH (1987, Bombay), p. 196.
A report on housing financed by RBI (Reserve Bank of India) in 1978 estimated tghat 5.59 million houses in the rural areas and 1.53 million houses in the urban areas need to be built every year for the next twenty years. This would help to eliminate the backlong, meet fresh demand and replace dilapidated structures.
The urban housing shortage has led to mushrooming of slum and pavement dwellings. The growth in the slum population in the recent years has been a result of large scale migration from the rural areas. The rural people, deprived of ways of earning a livelihood and because of lack of sustainable agriculture, flock to the urban, industrial centres, as a means of sustaining themselves and their families.
About 82% of Bombay’s population lives in one room abodes, including slums. In calcutta, slums house 40% of thge metropolitan population. The figure for Madras is 30%. In Delhi, the slum population in 1977, was 25% __ in a span of 4 years in 1981, the figure rose to 53%.
Resettlement efforts have hardly given the results that were hoped for. The main reason for this is that the slum and pavement dwellers have not been part of the planning process that sought to resettle them. Society for Promotion of Area Resources Centre (SPARC) a voluntary organisation based in Bombay has been working with pavement dwelles- mainly women in a unique training and self education process. The process seeks to empower women to intervene actively in the process of securing their shelter.
Rural housing also faces many problems as mentioned in Section I, with the drfastic reduction in biomass, rural people face a shortage of building materials like thatch, timber etc. Some of the Stae Governments have also enacted laws that prevent people from cutting even their own trees for timber for buildings, without prior permission of the social administration. As poor people lose control of their traditional building resources, they tend to turn to urban building mateials - like brick, and cement, which apart from being expensive, (even for urban populations) are not ecologically ppropriate, being energy intensive and requiring mining operations. One conseqauence of imitating brick cement architecture is that the value of mud and mud houses which is the raw material for the majority of rural houses - list lost.
Soil Pollution generally occurs because of:
The soil is thus becoming increasingly polluted with chemicals including heavy metals and products of the petroleum indsutry which can reach the food chain, surface water or ground water and ultimately be ingested by man.
In most cities, there are open rubbish dumps that are easily accessible to flies, insects and animals. the common method of disposing refuse generated in homes, restaurants, markets and other public places, is to indiscriminately dump it on the adjoining land, or in some low-lying areas. Besides refuse, the nighsoil collected from unsewered areas, is also disposed off in the same ground either by trenching or compositing, giving rise to the danger of epidemics. Most towns have some organisation for collection, transportation and disposal of wastes, but these suffer from shortage of funds, inadequate transport faciliteis, bad management and lack of public cooperation. Sulabh International, an organisation in Patna, has been successful in showing how human waste of urban areas can be used to make biogas to generate electricity.
The problem of disposal of nuclear waste is a serious one in India, as elsewhere in the world. Every once in a while, there are newspaper reports of how children playhing on dumped waste heaps suffered serious burns from radioactive materials. not only do developing countries have to contend with their own waste, but also imports of toxic waste that the developed countries do not want on their own land.
Ruth Norris points out in Pills, Pesticides and profits : As the Unites states Government has acted to impose strict regulations on the domestic transport and disposal of hazardious wastes, American companies have begun to seek solutions to their waste control problems in less regulated developing countries. Several nations in West Africa. the Carribean and Latin Amerca have been approached, in some cases with lucrative offers of payments for recicing industrial wastes from the United states.
Most developing countries have neither government agencies, regulatory authority, nor technical expertise sufficient to prevent the occurrence of ‘Love canals’ - sites where unsuspecting residents are exposed to hazardous chemicals, improperly disposed of, such as the notorious one in upsate New York. Yet because no comprehensive United States or International Laws govern the export and disposal on foreign soil or toxic wastes, the developing world must once again weigh the payoff, whether it is economic development or technical assistance or simply cash, against the risk to health and environment posed by toxic wastes.
Water is another one of nature’s resources that is being affected adversely by man’s thoughtlessness.
Systems for optimum harvesting of rainwater have either not been designed or are not being used sufficiently. Tanks which usedd to be traditional India’s method of collection of rain water, have been neglected - much of the attention and resources have been spent on developing dams and the canal system of irrigation.
Another issue to be mentioned is the overexploitation of groundwater resources by boring of tubewells leading to the lowering of the water table. The Green revolution in the Indo-Gangetic plains drew heavily on the groundwater resources. In Maharashtra, too, where earlier coarse grains were cultivated with the available rain water, there has been a shift to the cultivation of water intensive sugarcane crop. The over exploitation the traditional agricultural practices, but to satisfy the market forces of generating cash crops. In the coastal areas, this has led to the diastrous condition of development of salinity. In parts of coastal Saurashtra for example, water intensive vegetables and sweet lime begun to be cultivated in 1950s. By 1970, sea water had intruded into the area, making the ground water in Maharashtra has increased the number of problem villages with no source of drinking water from 17,000 in 1980 to 23,000 in 1983.
Pollution of ground water sources is a serious matter too. Textile printing and dyeing industries, tanneries and coir processing industries are some of the industries that discharge chemical effluents and contaminate the ground water. Certain aras around Jodhpur, where many small scale textile dyeing units are situated, were found to have various forms of cancer among other diseases. Cattle, wildlife and crops were also found to be affected.
"Pollution of water - surface or ground - causes several health problems, most of the acute diseases affecting Indian are water - borne such as diarrheas, amoebic dysentery, cholera, typhoid, and infective hepatitis. diseases caused by water supply can be classified as follows:
it is estimated that 73 million work days are lost every year in India, due to water related diseases.
India is rich in rivers - surface flow represents 97% of the available water in India. But rather than being a boon, these rivers are proving to be quite a disaster in their pollution effects. Yamuna whose course is 48 kms, through Delhi picks up nearly 200 million litres of untreated sewage and 20 million lites of industrial effluents including about 1/2 million litres of DDT wastes. The sewage treatment plants are capable of treating only half of Delhi’s wastes. Water samples from the Yamuna taken near Agra are 20 times more polluted than those taken when the river enters Delhi. The section of the river from the point of Najafgarh drain upto Okhla show that the water ius not even fit for irrigation!
The FRCH report tells the following about water pollution in Bombay:
"A study by the Institute of Sciences, Bombay in 1980 revealed that the Kalu river, flowing through the industrial suburbs of Ambernath, Ulhasnagar and Kalyan in north east Bombay and emptying into the Thane creek, had mercury concentrations far above the permissible levels. Mercury poisoning from eating fish that had accumulated methyl mercury was responsible for the death and maiming of almost 300 persons at Minamat and Niigata in japan in 1953. Mercury enters the good chain through contaminated fish or cattle that graze on plants in shallow water. The study investigated in a 10 km stretch between Ambivali and Titwala, receiving toxic wastes from a rayons factory, a paper mill, a dye factory and a chemical plant. It found mercury levels between 1.6 and 20 ppm (parts per million) when permissible levels as per WHO standards for human consumption is 0.5 ppm. Also blood samples of villages near Ambivali, revealed levels ranging from between 14 ppm and 55 ppm when the normal is 1.5 ppm. The consequence has been a higher mortality; also most affected villagers had an impaired Central nervous system, maiming them for life. More recently, Maharashtra Government set up the A.K. Ganguly committee (Septembe 1986) to study the pollution levels in the Bhatsai river, one of Bombay’s main sources of potable water. The report submitted on February 4, 1987, confirms the fact that industries located within the river’s catchment area are discharging toxic effluents like hydrochloric acid, caustic soda, carbon tetrachloride, benzene, tolvene, cadmium, chromium, nickel etc. into the river, and that the filtration plant is not designed to remove these contaminatns nor is there any foolproof method to deal with them. The committee recommended relocation of the polluting industries. however relocation without stringent pollution control and environmental planning is no solution. In fact, when industry is located in so-called backward areas there is a tendency on the part of the pollution control authorities to relax implementation of stadnards specifying the levels of emission or discharge of pollutants and an inclination on the part of industry not to invest adequately on pollution control equipment.
TABLE 3 : SELECTED CHEMICALS & ASSOCIATED HEALTH HAZARDS.
|Acrylonitrile||Acrylic fibres/synthetic rubber plastics||highly toxic / carcinogentic / teratognic.|
|Arsenic||Pesticides / Unanic medicines / glass||Toxic / dermatitis / muscular paralysis / damage to liver & kidney/ possibly carcinogenic & teratogenic.|
|Benzene||Octane number of gasoline/manufacture of many chemicals||Leumekia/chromosomal damage in exposed workes/ behavioural changes.|
|Beryllium||Aerospace industry / ceramic parts / household appliances||Fatal lung disease / heart & lung toxicity.|
|Cadmium||Electroplating / plastics / pigments/ supenphosphate fertilisers.||Kidney damage / emphysema / possibly carcinogenic, teratogenic & mutagenic.|
|Chlorinated organics (DDT, BHC, etc.)||Pesticides / Fumigeint||Depression of central nervous system / possibly carcinogenic.|
|Chromates||Tanning / paints / pigments / corrosion inhibition / fungicides||Skin ulcers / kidney inflammation / possibly carcinogenic / toxic fish.|
|Lead||Pipes storage batteries / paints / printing / plastics / gasoline additive||Intoxicant / neurotoxin / affects blood system.|
|manganese||Mining / welding / dry cell battery / ferromanganese||nerous damage / damage to repoductive system.|
|mercury||Chloralkali cells / fungicides / Pharmaceuticals.||nervous damage / kidney damage.|
|Polychlorobiphenyls||Transformers / insulation of electricity.||Possibly carcinogenic / nerve skin and liver damage.|
|Sulphur dioxide||Sugar / bleeding agent / pollution from coalbased power stations.||Irritation to eyes and respirtory system / damage to plants and monuments.|
|Urea||Fertilizer||Bronchial problems / kidney damage.|
|Vinyl chloride||Plastics / organic compounds synthesis.||Systematically toxic / carcinogenic.|
Organic and inorganic chemical industries generate both liquid and sold wastes that are treated very inadeauately before disposal Generally the industry neutralizes the toxic waste water from the plants with time and the neutralized liquid effluents, whcih are still hjighly toxic, are discharged into rives and ponds. The sludge and other solid and semi-solid wastes are disposed off on fallow public land which pollutes both ground and surface waters. Table 3 shows the health hazards associates with selected toxic chemicals that need to be straingently regulated.
This Section deals with pollution of the atmosphere. Air pollution, noise pollution and pollution of the atmosphere due to tension, depression etc. are discussed. Pollution due to acid rain, the ozone layer and nuclear fallout are also mentioned.
Air pollution : The quality of the air that we breathe in is affected by smoke from domestic cooking fuels, thermal power stations, industries, vehicles, and mining activity. Domestic pollution in the third world countries from cooking fuels has been found to be the world’s worst air pollutant. Rural women in Gujarat are said to inhale 40 times the volume of suspended particulates considered safe by WHO. In barely three hours, they inhale the amount of carcinogenic benzo (a) pyrene that equals 20 packs of cigaretts. The problem is made worse in the monsoon and winterm when all the outlets in the house are closed and the smoke stays for longer periods within. Studies in Nepal, in higher altitudes, have shown a strong association of domestic smoke with chronic bronchitis.
A distressingly high incidence of acute respiratory infection (ARI) was found and was the most important cause of mortality and morbidity among infants below one year of age. Anemic women with low haemoglobin levels are affected very badly by the carbonmonixdfe emitted by burning fuels during cooking - dizziness, headaches, nauses are common sympotoms following even moderate exposure to carbonmonoxide. During pregnancy, which further lowers their reserves of haemoglobin, they become more sensitive to carbonmonoxide. The exposure can also affect the unborn child leading to reduced birth weight and increased perinatal death rates.
Thermal Power stations spew out pollutants, fly ash, soot and sulphurdioxide, despite the fact that the government has set limits to pollution levels. Out of the 48 thermal stations, surveyed in 1984, 31 had no pollution control measures and only 6 had their pollution control equipment functioning properly. The Badarpur and Indraprastha thermal power stations are the biggest air polluters in New Delhi. Thick black amog from the IP station’s chimney’s coats the surroundings with a layer of soot. tuberculosis incidence among the workerfs of the IP power station has been found to be twice the normal levls.
Industries like fertilizer factories and textile mills pour out noxious gases, particulates and cotton dust. "A detailed study of 4000 people conducted by KEM Hospital and the Air Pollution prevention Cell of the Bombay Municipal corporation in 1977-78 compared the health of residents in a clean western suburb of Bombay like Khar with that of residents of the mill area of Lalbaug and the Chembur area with its concentration of petrochemical plants. the residents of the congested industrial areas were found to be suffering from a much higher incidence of diseases like chronic bronchitis. TB, skin allergy, anaemia and irritation of the eyes. The absentee rate of workes was much higher particularly in Lalbaug’s textile mills and there was 10 to 16 percent incidence of byssinosis among the mill labourers. There was also a rise in deaths due to cancer in Lalbaug - twice as many as in Chembur or Khar.
Vehicles exhaust proved to be a major health hazard. Delhi is the worst polluted city as far as vehicle exhausts are concerned - 400 tonnes of pollutants are vomitted everday by 500,000 vehicles. This is 34 per cent of the smoke and dust emitted in the city. Over the last decade, Delhi’s pollution levels have risen by 75 per cent.
A lethal contaminant in the atmosphere is lead - no less than 400 kg is released in Delhi every day. Traffic police and road and construction workers are particularly vulnerable to it. samples from leaves on certain roads show a lead concentration of upto 5 ppm. Lead is an accumulative nerve toxin, which can cause irreversible damage like mental retardation and other extremely debilitating, but hard to measure effects. Children absorb it five times faster than adults.
Mines throw up much dust - open cast coal mines produce huge clouds of dust following blasting operations, the Bhatti mines just outdie Delhi add to the pall that hangs over Delhi. (See Table 4: Selected Atmosphere Pollutants).
ACID RAIN, OZONE LAYER & NUCLEAR FALLOUT
Related to air pollution, but coming more into the purview of atmospheric pollution are the issues of acid rain, the ozone layer and nuclear fallout. These area not local issues, but rather are global concerns.
The nitrogen oxides and sulphur oxide which are spewed out into the air by industries, vehicles and thermal power stations are transformed into nitric acid and sulphuric acid and get washed down by rain. This falls as deadly showers and destroy the natural life in the forests and lakes. Acidity kills off fish, bacteria and algae, and the acquatic ecosywtems collapses into sterility leaving a crystal clear but ultimately dead lake . Acidification fo the soil changes its biology and chemistry " Acidified soil can absorb cadmium more easily. Swedish cultivatged plants with high cadmium levels pose a serious threat to human beings and animals.
Unfortunately acid rain does not remain a local problem. For instance, the polluted air over London was varried by the winds to other countries, some even thousands of miles away and English pollution descended on sweden as acid rain.
Another problem of intenational significance is the destruction of the ozone layer, around the earth. This is our shield against solar radiation. Gases (chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs) used in spray cans, fluids in refrigerators and many of the packaging material of processed foods destroy the ozone layer. we aren now putting these gases into the atmosphere 6 times faster than nature can remove them. This descrution of the ozone layer will result in : Increased skin cancer, cataracts and other diseases; the blighting of food crops and harming of animals and the upsetting of the worlds climate and life support system.
Nuclear Fallout : Indirect or residual radiation is what we refer to as fallout. Whereas direct radiation lasts a few seconds, at most fallour can be lethal for hours, days or even yeas. The particles and waves given off in an atomic explosion cause radiation disease. They enter the human body like X rays, penetrating cell walls and damaging or destroying tissues. A nuclear explosion gives off both direct and indirect radiation. In the first few seconda the bomb produces direct radiation, which kills anyone close to it by destroying brain and nerve tissue.
Fallout is produced when the radiation from a nuclear explosion irradiates the material pulverized by the bomb’s blast. This debris is drfawn up into the stem of the mushroom cloud. the heavier material falls to earth near the blast site. smaller, dustlike particles are carried high into the air and picked up by prevailing winds which may take them hundreds of miles. When fallour drops to earth, its radiation has the same effect as direct radiation. It damages cells and causes sickness and death. Since radioactivity is invisible, tasteless and odorless, people hundreds of miles from an explosion may not realise thta the air they are breathing, the food they are eating, or the water they are drinking has been contaminated and can kill or injure them. Even where immediate illness does not occur, radiation can cause cancer and future genetic problems. Leukemia and other cancers crop up years after exposure. japanese people exposed to the bomb, for example, developed by the mid-1950s a leukemia death rate thirty times higher than the rest of Japan. Scientists have established a direct correlation between exposure to nuclear radiation and the incidence of cancer of the thyroid, breast, lung and salivary glands. A US Government study estimated that cancer deaths in the millions could be expected during the forty yeas following a large nuclear attack, even if that attack avoided targets in population centres, the same study estimated that, in addition to cancer, a large nuclear exchange would cause up to six million natural abortions. It would also cause as many as thirty six million "genetic effects" - for example, mutations resulting in deformed babies and increased genetic diseases - throughout the world.
Fallout comes not only from nuclear war explosions, but also from the testing of nuclear weapons all over the world. Not only do we face this insurmountable problem of a possible nuclear war holocaust, but also the effects of nuclear power plants. Fresh in everyone’s mind is the chernobyl disaster. Otehr such accidents are real part of this dangerous technology. Safety systems are not safe. Human error cannot be controlled. Ageing nuclear plants show signs of deterioration.
|POLLUTANT||PRINCIPAL HUMAN SOURCES|
|CARBON DIOXIDE||Fuel combustion for heating, transport, energy production.|
|CARBON DIOXIDE||Incomplete fueld combustion (as in motor vehicles).|
|SULPHUR DIOXIDE||Burning of sulpher - containing fuels like coal and oil.|
|SUSPENDED PARTICULATE MATTER||Smoke from domestic, industrial and vehicular sources.|
|OXIDES OF NITROGEN||Fuel combustion in motor vehicles and furnaces. forest fires.|
|VOLATILE HYDROCARBONS||Partials combustion of carbonaceous fueld, industrial processes, disposal of solid wastes.|
|OXIDANTS AND OZONE||Emissions from motor vehicles. Photochemical reactions of nitrogen oxides and reactive hydrocarbons.|
|SELECTED ATMOSPHERE POLLUTANTS|
|No direct effect on people. Over time, may lead to increase in earth’s temperature||Normal constituent of atmosphere. essential to plant life.|
|Deprives tissues of oxygen with cardio respiraory diseases more sensitive.||Construction of natural sources small. Smoking more significant for humans than exposure to traffic.|
|Combined with smoke, increase risk and effects respiratory diseases. Causes suffocation, irriration of throat and eyes. Combines with atmospheric water vapour to produce acid rain. Reduce crop yields. Leads to acidification of lakes and soils. corrodes buildings.|
|Possible toxic effects depend on specific composition. Aggravates effects of sulphur dioxide. Reduces sunlight and visibility. Incrases corrosion.||Chemically, a most diverse group of substances. Natural sources include dust-storms , volcanic eruptions and sea-spray.|
|Possible increase in acute respiratory infections and bronchitis morbidity in children. Produces brown haze in city air. Causes corrosion.||Nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide are the two components.|
|React with other pollutants to produce eye irritants (acrolein, aldehydes). Ethylene is harmful to plaints. Aerosol particles reduce visibility. May produce unpleasnat odours.|
|Cause eye irritation and impaired pulmonary function in diseased persons. Corrode materials and reduce visibility. Ozone is one of the most damaging pollutants for plants.||Mainly derivative : products of atmospheric reactions between other pollutants. Ozone is a natural and essential constituent of the upper atmosphere.|
And nuclear waste from power plants cannot be safely disposed of. See the box for dangers of dumping it in seas and rivers.
We must study the structures where lethal pollutants can be hidden and isolated for long periods - even up to 500,000 years and not so easily trust the present wholly inadequate nuclear waste disposal practices:
"The present strategy of nuclear waste disposal is ‘concentration and confinement (Morgan 1976b). The Atomic Energy Commission (US) report in 1972 stipulates that the high level radioactive waste be solidified and transferred to a respiratory owned by the government (Karam 1976). A repository is supposed to be completely isolated from the biosphere so that the pollutants cannot percolate into any food chain. Further it is supposed to be permanent storage facility, so that once the pollutants are deposited there, no more surveillance should be needed. According to one estimate soon about 1000 acres of land per year would be needed to bury radioactive pollutants (Karam 1976).
It was proposed in 1971 by the Committee on Atomic Energy (US) that the radioactive waste be buried in salt mines