Pollution

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Pollution

The contamination of the air, water, or earth by harmful or potentially harmful substances.

The U.S. environmental movement in the 1960s emerged from concerns that air, water, and soil were being polluted by harmful chemicals and other toxic substances. During the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century, the mass production of goods created harmful wastes, much of which was dumped into rivers and streams. The twentieth century saw the popular acceptance of the automobile and the internal combustion engine, which led to the pollution of the air. Rapidly expanding urban centers began to use rivers and lakes as repositories for sewage.

Land pollution involves the depositing of solid wastes that are useless, unwanted, or hazardous. Types of solid waste include garbage, rubbish, ashes, sewage-treatment solids, industrial wastes, mining wastes, and agricultural wastes. Most solid waste is buried in sanitary landfills. A small percentage of municipalities incinerate their refuse, while composting is rarely employed.

Modern landfills attempt to minimize pollution of surface and groundwater. They are now located in areas that will not flood and that have the proper type of soil. Solid wastes are compacted in the landfill and are vented to eliminate the buildup of dangerous gases. Hazardous wastes, including toxic chemicals and flammable, radioactive, or biological substances, cannot be deposited in landfills, and the management of these wastes is subject to federal and state regulation. The federal government's Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (42 U.S.C.A. § 6901 et seq.) is a comprehensive regulatory statute that creates a "cradle to grave" system of controlling the entire hazardous waste life cycle.

Nuclear wastes are especially troublesome. Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 (42 U.S.C.A. §§ 10101–226), which directed the department of energy to formally begin planning the disposal of nuclear wastes and imposed most of the costs of disposal on the Nuclear Power industry. Since 1986 the Department of Energy has been unsuccessful in finding an acceptable site. Yucca Mountain, Nevada, is the only place earmarked for a site study. Solid waste pollution has been reduced by recovering resources rather than burying them. Resource recovery includes massive systems that burn waste to produce steam, but it also includes the recycling of glass, metal, and paper from individual consumers and businesses. The elimination of these kinds of materials from landfills has prevented pollution and extended the period during which landfills can receive waste.

Land pollution also involves the accumulation of chemicals in the ground. Modern agriculture, which has grown dependent on chemical fertilizers and chemicals that kill insects, has introduced substances into the soil that kill more than pests. For many years the chemical DDT was routinely sprayed on crops to control pests. It was banned when scientists discovered that the chemical entered the food chain and was harming wildlife and possibly humans.

Air Pollution is regulated by the federal government. The Clean Air Act was originally enacted in 1970 and was extensively amended in 1977 and again in 1990 (42 U.S.C.A. §§ 7401–7626; Pub. L. No. 95-95 [1977 amendments]; Pub. L. No. 101-549 [1990 amendments]). Under its provisions, every stationary and mobile pollution source must comply with emission standards as a means of cleaning up the ambient air quality in the area. This has meant that automobile emission control systems have been created and improved to meet more stringent air quality standards. Coal-burning electric power plants have been required to install filtration systems on their smokestacks, and manufacturing facilities have had to install equipment that "scrubs" polluted air clean.

Water Pollution has existed longer than any other type of pollution. Depositing liquid and solid wastes in rivers, streams, lakes, and oceans was convenient and inexpensive for a company or municipality, but it eventually destroyed the ecosystems found in the water. Many large rivers became nothing more than sewers. Most troubling was the polluting of groundwater, creating serious health hazards for those people who drank water containing toxic substances.

The federal Clean Water Act (CWA) was originally enacted in 1972 and then amended in 1977 and 1987 (33 U.S.C.A. §§ 1251–1387; Pub. L. No. 95-217 [1977 amendments]; Pub. L. No. 100-4 [1987 amendments]). The CWA seeks to eliminate the "discharge of pollutants into navigable waters," to make water safe for people to fish and swim in, and to end the "discharges of toxic pollutants in toxic amounts." The CWA seeks to accomplish these goals through a variety of regulatory strategies.

Cross-references

Environmental Law; Environmental Protection Agency; Land-Use Control; Solid Wastes, Hazardous Substances, and Toxic Pollutants.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
While the English experiments in filtration gained limited results, the Lawrence station was able to prove, using the methods devised by Swallow and implemented by Sedgwick, that bacteria and other germs could be eliminated by filtration through sand and exposure to air and sunlight.(51) Science and technology found a solution to the problem of sewage pollution and the passage of germs into the water supply of the state.
While Bowditch and Walcott were complaining of industrial pollution in the 1870s and early 1880s, the germ theory now provided manufacturers with a new way to present industrial wastes.
Industrial wastes, it was argued, helped reduce sewage pollution by killing germs.
The success of the Lawrence station encouraged public health officials to lobby for sewage treatment centers, and these centers were slowly built,(58) although a massive construction campaign of sewage treatment center building did not materialize.(59) Science and technology did offer solutions to the problems of nineteenth-century pollution. Drinking water, rivers and streams were cleaned up, although over a much longer period of time than imagined by those early reformers of the late 1860s and 1870s.
For the reformers of the 1870s and 1880s, the science of observation linked industrial and sewage pollution (both clearly observable) to concerns for public health.
The industrialists argued convincingly that forcing them to stop polluting would harm the economic welfare of the state, while the public health reformers argued just as convincingly that not to clean up the pollution would harm public health.
Although it took decades of further agitation and legal action before most communities stopped dumping raw (untreated) sewage into the closest available water way (not until 1959 did Pittsburgh and the surrounding cities cease dumping raw sewage into the nearest rivers), the beginning was clearly chartered by these early anti-contagionist public health officials with their concern over miasma.(68) Yet just as these reformers were going into full battle against pollution, the main justification for their attack, their environmental theory of disease causation, was undermined by the new germ theory of disease, and their position as scientific experts was being challenged by the new scientific specialists.
The old reformers were scientific generalists, usually medical doctors and statisticians, who understood pollution as something that could be seen, smelled, or tasted, dirty, blackened bad smelling air or water, without fish.
How the germ theory and public policy united was also tied up in the nature of the public struggle that emerged over the issue of pollution reform.
The new specialists found themselves working in a highly politicized world where their expertise linked together the interests of business, progress, and science within the world of politics and culture.(71) Industrial pollution did not disappear from the discourse of health reform because of the germ theory.
In New England manufacturers were able to resist pollution reform, but they were initially not able to defeat or silence the reformers who put forward an argument for the public good of clean water linked to public health to checkmate the manufacturers' argument of the good of economic development.(72) In the case of pollution reform and public health it was the new science and technology which gave the manufacturers the edge to continue their industrial pollution.