‘We spray our elms, and the following spring, trees are silent of robin song, not because we sprayed the robins directly but because the poison traveled step by step through the now familiar elm-earthworm-robin cycle’
– Rachael Carson
This quotation appeared in Rachael Carson’s book entitled Silent Spring. In the years following the publication of Silent Spring in 1962, the book has inspired controversy and has initiated a major change in thinking about the safety of using pesticides and other toxic chemicals.
Pollution is the effect of undesirable changes in our surroundings that have harmful effects on plants, animals and human beings. This occurs when only short-term economic gains are made at the cost of the long-term ecological benefits for humanity. No natural phenomenon has led to greater ecological changes than have been made by mankind. During the last few decades we have contaminated our air, water and land on which life itself depends with a variety of waste products. Pollutants include solid, liquid or gaseous substances present in greater than natural abundance produced due to human activity, which have a detrimental effect on our environment.
The nature and concentration of a pollutant determines the severity of detrimental effects on human health. An average human requires about 12 kg of air each day, which is nearly 12 to15 times greater than the amount of food we eat. Thus even a small concentration of pollutants in the air becomes more significant in comparison to the similar levels present in food. Pollutants that enter water have the ability to spread to distant places especially in the marine ecosystem.
From an ecological perspective pollutants can be classified as follows:
Degradable or non-persistent pollutants: These can be rapidly broken down by natural processes. Eg: domestic sewage, discarded vegetables, etc. Slowly degradable or persistent pollutants: Pollutants that remain in the environment for many years in an unchanged condition and take decades or longer to degrade. Eg: DDT and most plastics.
Non-degradable pollutants: These cannot be degraded by natural processes. Once they are released into the environment they are difficult to eradicate and continue to accumulate. Eg: toxic elements like lead or mercury.