Nila Eslit is a freelance writer, editor, book reviewer, and environmentalist.
June 5 Is World Environment Day
June 5 is designated as World Environment Day (WED). This global event “encourages worldwide awareness and actions for the protection of the environment”, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) declares.
In response to the UNEP call, more than 100 countries have already participated since its first celebration in 1974. The 2019 event, which had the theme of air pollution, was hosted by China.
One of the participating countries in the global event was the Philippines. But instead of commemorating it only on June 5, the country declared the entire month of June as Philippine Environment Month. The country's Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) spearheaded different regional activities, including an opening of a mini-park, tree and mangrove planting, coastal clean-up drive, information campaign focused on climate change mitigation, a photo exhibit and a public screening of Bird of Prey (about the endangered Philippine Eagle). The country also did a rigorous nationwide campaign on waste management and air pollution.
Aside from being WED’s theme for 2019, air pollution is indeed a global concern not only of this generation but also of the future.
Prior to the 18th century, humanity did not worry about air quality. They were breathing only fresh air then.
But since the era of the Industrial Revolution, life, in general, has never been the same again. The socio-economic landscape of civilization totally changed with the advent of new facilities and technology. Many job opportunities in factories and other fields became available to several people all at once, providing the once-idle hands with occupations. At the same time, they allow those who already had jobs some additional sources of income. And that was good for the family’s economy in particular, as well as for the nation at large.
Air Pollution Became the "New Normal"
The rising of industries pulled in, or even uprooted, many people from their places of origin as they began to flock to the vicinity of the factories and business establishments. As populations began to swell, the farmlands around or leading to industrial sites were taken over by transportation facilities, storage sites, landfills, recreational facilities, and new houses. Vast agricultural lands were even converted into infrastructure.
Alongside these developments, however, our predecessors began to see and experience a deteriorating condition of their environment that impacted human health. They began breathing unclean air since then. And current generations are born into it. Air pollution became one of the things we have to bear as industries grew and transportation facilities became a necessity.
Today, the world experiences a horrifying situation caused by air pollution. The World Health Organization (WHO) released these statistics:
- 4.2 million deaths per year are due to exposure to ambient (outdoor) air pollution.
- 3.8 million deaths per year are a result of household exposure to smoke from dirty cookstoves and fuels.
- 91% of the world’s population lives in areas where air quality is beyond WHO's guideline limits.
Air pollution is even identified as the leading cause of a number of non-communicable diseases, such as lung cancer, stroke, heart disease, and lung disease. There are also studies that link air pollution to autism.
The ambient, or outdoor, air pollution is brought about by both natural and anthropogenic sources. Air pollution from natural sources refers to local incidents of sand and dust storms, volcanic eruptions, forest fires, and the like. On the other hand, air pollution with an anthropogenic origin is from:
- car emission or fuel combustion
- oil and coal power plants
- industrial facilities
- agricultural wastes
- residential activities like cooking, lighting with polluting fuels, and heating
Sadly, air pollution from the anthropogenic sources is far worse than what the natural sources contribute. It’s a known fact that industrial establishments that sustain national economies and millions of people who depended on them use various kinds of chemicals in their production activities. The sad thing about it is that most of these chemicals are toxic, endangering the health of factory workers who work directly or indirectly with such substances.
Studies show that industrial emissions are one of the major air and water contaminants because of the nature of its production processes. Almost always thermal plants, atomic reactors, manufacturing firms for fertilizers and pesticides, coal plants, petroleum refineries, makers of leather and plastics, and other types of industries use chemicals that are neither conducive to human health nor friendly to the environment. The smoke and fumes coming out of their chimneys emit tons of hydrocarbons into the atmosphere and the winds disperse them as far and wide as it could carry them. Thus, exposing a greater number of people living outside the factories and beyond to toxins. Other living organisms are also at risk with the same toxic exposure.
Once out, the smoke emitted from factory chimneys integrates with fog. Together, these two elements, now called smog, float away and contaminate the very air that people breathe. According to scientific studies, air disturbance in one region can have an extensive impact over vast areas of the earth because of the interconnectedness of weather systems.
Smog is a kind of air pollution resulting from the photochemical reaction of sunlight with hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides released into the air by industrial fumes, vehicular emissions, and other sources.
Smog contains oxides of sulfur and nitrogen, elements that pose a threat to human health as well as on the life of some plants and animals.
Moreover, most of the industrial waste-water is released without treatment into open waterways, significantly reducing water quality. Not only surface water is affected, though. The same waste-water penetrates aquifers and contaminates groundwater resources.
Domestic and agricultural pollution
The issue of air pollution is not only caused by industries and burning fossil fuels. We, humans, are equally guilty of contaminating the air. At home, we contribute to air pollution through the indoor burning of fossil fuels, wood, and other biomass-based agents in cooking our food, and in our lighting and heating systems. We also use chemical-based cleaning products, fumigating agents, painting supplies, and over-the-counter insect or pest killers. These are significant contributors to air pollution.
Meanwhile, the agriculture sector contributes to air pollution through its livestock. Farm animals produce ammonia and methane. Burning of agricultural waste is also another source of air pollution.
Now, what should you and I do?
Even as we join the global celebration of World Environment Day, we can also do these activities in our respective regions:
- Continue to lobby for stricter laws against smoke-belching vehicles.
- Encourage automobile manufacturers to develop vehicles that are more environment-friendly (thanks to those who started producing hybrid cars and electric vehicles).
- Urge manufacturers to consider using non-toxic alternatives to their production components.
- Promote non-gas operated vehicles.
And as consumers, we must also be conscientious about using eco-friendly materials like biodegradable detergents and cleaning implements at home, and patronizing organic food products. If you have some space in your backyard, it might be wise to grow your own vegetables there.