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Pollution

by Ibrahim B. Syed, Ph. D. 
President
Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc.
7102 W. Shefford Lane
Louisville, KY 40242-6462, USA

E-mail:
IRFI@INAME.COM
Website: 
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   There is a Surah in Qur'an Kareem called Dukhan (Smoke or Mist), which addresses the problems of modern environmental pollution and the dangers to mankind from such pollution.

 

Then watch thou

For the Day (period or age)

That the sky will

Bring forth a kind

Of smoke (or mist)

Plainly visible

Enveloping the people:

This will be a penalty Grievous.

                         Surah DUKHAN, 44: 10-11

 

 A. Yusuf All in note 4696 interprets "smoke" or "mist" as referring to a severe famine in Mecca, in which people were so pinched with hunger that they saw smoke (or mist) before their eyes when they looked at the sky. 

     Qur'an Majid (Glorious) is a Book of Wisdom and Guidance to be followed by people of all nations and at all ages of time. 

 " And Peace to all

   Who follow guidance! " Surah TA-HA,  20: 47

 

  The first Ayah cited above is interpreted according to the conditions existing now here In USA and other industrialized countries of the world. This writer strongly feels and is convinced (unless someone proves to the contrary) that the Ayath is referring to the environmental pollution in general and to the smog or air pollution in particular.  The smog is plainly visible and it is enveloping the people.  This clearly poses a grievous or serious health hazard to humanity.  If not checked and controlled, it may pose a serious threat to the very existence of mankind on planet earth.

 

ENVIRONMENTAL POLLUTION 

     Environmental pollution is a term that refers to all the methods by which people pollute their environment or surroundings.  People with gases and smoke dirty our clean air, our pure water is tainted with chemicals and other substances, and the virgin soil is damaged with too many fertilizers and pesticides.  People also pollute their surroundings by other different methods.  For example, they ruin nature's beauty by scattering junk and litter in the water and on the land.  People operate motor vehicles and machines that fill the air with unpleasant noise.  Almost everybody causes environmental pollution in someway or other. 

     Today environmental pollution is one of the most serious problems facing mankind.  Air, water, and soil are essential to the survival of all living creatures on planet earth, but unfortunately they are harmed by pollution. Air polluted beyond tolerable levels can cause illness, and even death.  Polluted water kills fish and other marine life and is dangerous to human health. Pollution of soil decreases the amount of land available for growing crops, vegetables and fruits.  Our naturally beautiful world is becoming ugly by environmental pollution.  Everyone is now conscious and wants to reduce pollution.  But the pollution problem is both serious and also complicated. It is complicated because much of pollution is caused by things that benefit mankind.  For example, automobile exhaust causes a large percentage of all air pollution.  However, the automobile provides transportation for millions of people all over the world.  Discharge from factories is responsible for much of the material that pollutes air and water, but factories provide jobs and produce goods that people want.  The use of fertilizer or pesticide can ruin soil, but fertilizers and pesticides are important aids to the growing of crops, fruits and vegetables.  In order to end or greatly reduce pollution immediately, people must stop using many things that benefit them.  Unfortunately, most people do not want to do that.  But pollution can be reduced in a planned manner in several ways.  Scientists and engineers can work together to find methods to decrease the amount of pollution that such things as automobiles and factories cause.  Governments should pass and enforce laws that require manufacturers and Individuals to stop, or reduce on certain polluting activities. And most important of all is individuals and people's organizations must work to persuade their representatives in government, and also persuade manufacturers, to take action toward reducing pollution.

 

HISTORY 

     People have always polluted their environment or caused some environmental pollution.  Since prehistoric times, human beings have put wastes in water and generated smoke by burning fuel.  However, in early civilization people did not live crowded together, and they had no pollution- causing machines. Therefore, pollution was negligible and it was spread out over large areas. During ancient times, pollution problems first arose when large numbers of people started to live together in cities.  With the growth of the cities, pollution also increased proportionately with them. However, the environmental problems were not serious or widespread until eighteenth century and early part of the nineteenth century.  This period in history is called the Industrial Revolution, which began In England and spread to other European countries and the United States.   The notable feature of the Industrial Revolution was the development of factories and overcrowding with factory workers in cities.  At that time coal was the prime energy fuel to power most of the factories and to heat most of the homes in the cities.  Because of the burning of coal, the air over such industrial cities as London became filled with huge amounts of smoke and soot containing sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide.  An additional problem was poor sanitation facilities, which allowed raw sewage to get into water supplies in some cities, which sometimes happens in the developing countries even now.  The polluted water causes typhoid fever and other diseases. In the early part of the twentieth century, air pollution in industrial cities in the United States became a particularly serious problem.  During the post economic depression period (1930's), smoke and smote emanating from factories, steel mills, power plants, railroads, and heating plants filled the air over many Eastern and Midwestern cities.  It was reported that in some cities such as Pittsburgh and St. Louis, the air pollution was so thick that the motorists had to use headlights to see during the daylight hours.  

    After the end of the Second World War, air pollution from coal burning has been greatly diminished in most parts of the world.  Cleaner fuels such as oil and natural gas are being used in nearly all railroads and many industries and home heating plants now.  Those factories, which use coal, have taken steps to control the pollution from their furnaces.  In many countries, epidemics from disease-carrying germs in city water supplies are no longer a major problem. Sanitary Engineering is advanced, so that cities now treat their water and keep it as free from germs as possible. 

     Inspite of these technological advancements, environmental pollution has become increasingly serious and widespread.  Technological improvements have helped cause this increase.  In addition, the population growth in urban areas is tremendously increasing.  A rule of thumb is more the people more is the waste produced of every kind.  Public awareness of environmental pollution has grown considerably.  Dramatic environmental tragedies that occurred during the 1960's and the 1970's have pointed up the seriousness of the pollution problem. These include the oil spills that ruined the beautiful beaches and killed wildlife and waterways that had become nearly dead from solid wastes. 

     During the late 1970's the inhabitants of the city of Seveso in Italy were threatened after an explosion at a local chemical factory that released a poisonous and carcinogenic gas called dioxin.  Chemical wastes that leaked from a former disposal site called Love Canal, in Niagara Falls, New York, resulted in many families moving out of their homes located in the area. Chemicals, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB's) were discharged in the wastewater of certain industrial plants, found their way into the bodies of fish and other animals in various parts of the United States.  In 1984, a leak of poisonous gas from a pesticide plant in Bhopal, in Madhya Pradesh State, in India, killed over 3,600 people and injured over 25,000 people. In April 1986, an explosion and fire at a nuclear power plant at Chernobyl, near Kiev, in the Soviet Union, released large amounts of radioactivity into the atmosphere and over 36 people died because of this accident and several hundreds were injured and hospitalized.  During the same year (1986), toxic chemicals released into the Rhine River killed thousands of fish and eels. The reason for this chemical spill has been traced to a fire at a chemical storage warehouse near Basel, Switzerland.

 

PUBLIC CONCERN 

People have always polluted our environment.  But for large part of history, pollution was not a major problem.  Most of the people lived in uncrowded rural areas and the pollutants (waste products) they produced were scattered widely.  At that time pollution-causing machines were not invented, such as industrial plants or motor vehicles.  Industrialization and the development of crowded cities in the 1700's and the 1800's made pollution a major problem to man, plants and animals.  Factories and human beings in these urban cities released huge amounts of pollutants into small areas. With the advent of automobiles and the rapid development of urban areas made pollution steadily worse.  By the middle of the twentieth century, pollution had affected the water in every major lake and river and the air over every major city In the United States and other Industrial nations.  Since man landed on the moon, millions of people have become alarmed by the dangers of pollution. The United Nations and a large number of countries are joining hands and working together to reduce pollution.  There are several kinds of environmental pollution. They are air pollution, soil pollution, water pollution, and pollution caused by solid wastes, noise, and radiation.  All parts of the environment are closely related to one another, ecologically.  Ecology is the study of the relationships among living things, and between living things and other parts of the environment. 

Because of the ecological relationships, a kind of pollution that chiefly harms one part of the environment may also affect others.  Take for example, air pollution.  Air pollution harms the air.  However, rain washes pollutants out of the air and deposits them on the land and in bodies of water.  On the other hand, wind blows pollutants off the land and puts them into the air.

 

AIR POLLUTION 

     Air pollution turns clear, odorless air into hazy, smelly air that harms health, kills plants, and damages property.  Human beings cause air pollution by pouring hundreds of millions of tons of gases and particulates into the atmosphere each year.  Particulates are tiny particles of solid or liquid matter. Smog is one of the most common forms of air pollution.  Combustion (burning) is responsible for most of the air pollution.  The burning of gasoline to power by motor vehicles and the burning of coal to heat buildings and help manufacture products are examples of such processes.  In a combustion process, each time a fuel is burned, some type of pollutant is released into the air. The pollutants vary from small amounts of colorless poison gas to clouds of thick black smoke.  Weather conditions can help to decrease the amount of pollutants in the air.  Wind is responsible for scattering the pollutants, and rain and snow wash them into the ground.   Unfortunately, in many areas, pollutants are discharged into the air faster than weather conditions can dispose of them.   As we are witnessing everyday, in all crowded cities throughout the world, for example, millions or thousands of automobiles, factories, and furnaces are adding tons of pollutants into a small area of the atmosphere each day.  Sometimes, weather conditions cause pollutants to build up over an area instead of clearing them away.  One such weather condition -called thermal inversion- occurs when a layer of warm air settles over a layer of cooler air, which is near to the ground.  The warm air holds down the cool air and prevents the pollutants from rising and scattering.  A serious pollution problem occurs when a thermal inversion prevails over a city that is pouring tons of pollutants into the air.

 

HEALTH EFFECTS OF AIR POLLUTION 

     Factories, homes, and office buildings discharge sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide into the air.  Sulfur dioxide harms the respiratory systems of humans and animals.  Sulfur dioxide turns into sulfur trioxide, which combines with water vapor to form sulfuric acid.  Sulfuric acid is well known to cause corrosion of metals.  Automobiles, motor vehicles and aeroplanes emit hydrocarbons, nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide into the air.  Carbon monoxide causes headaches and dizziness in humans.  Nitrogen dioxide harms the respiratory systems of humans and damages plants.   Hydrocarbons injure plants.  Nitrogen dioxide combines with hydrocarbons and sunlight to form smog.  Smog irritates the eyes of people, damages their lungs, and causes headaches.  It also injures the plants.   Combustion of garbage and trash results in the discharge of particles, and mercury into the atmosphere.  Mercury harms the nervous systems of humans. Particulates injure the respiratory systems of humans, reduce visibility, and affect climate.  As mentioned earlier, air pollution also harms plants. Poisonous gases in the air can restrict the growth of, and eventually kill nearly all kinds of plants.  To give few examples, forests in Tennessee, citrus groves near Los Angeles, and vegetable gardens in New Jersey have all been seriously damaged by air pollution. 

    Both gases and particulates burn people's eyes and irritate their lungs. Particulates can settle in the lungs and worsen such respiratory diseases as asthma and bronchitis.  Some experts are of the opinion that particulates may even help cause such diseases as cancer, emphysema, and pneumonia.  It has been observed in cities throughout the world, long periods of heavy air pollution have caused illness and death rates to increase dramatically. 

     It has also been observed that most materials get dirty and wear out more quickly in polluted air than in fresh air.  Construction engineers say that polluted air even harms such hard and strong materials as concrete and steel.  Statues and other art objects that stood outdoors for centuries have been removed and taken indoors because air pollution is threatening to destroy them.  One of the seven wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal, located in Agra City In India is decaying due to sulfur dioxide polluted air hovering over it. Air pollutants affect weather.  Changes in the average temperatures of an area are affected by both gases and particulates.  Particulates scatter the sun's rays and reduce the amount of sunlight that reaches the earth. Such interference with sunlight may cause average temperatures in a city to drop. Carbon dioxide and other gases, allow sunlight to reach the surface of the earth, but prevent the sunlight's heat from rising out of the atmosphere and flowing back into space.  This phenomenon is called the greenhouse effect.  Greenhouse effect is known to cause average temperatures to rise.

 

WATER POLLUTION 

    As a result of water pollution the amount of pure, fresh water that is available is reduced for such necessities as drinking and cleaning, and for such activities as swimming and fishing.  Water is affected by pollutants that come mainly from industries, farms, and sewerage systems.  It is well known that factories dump huge amounts of waste products into bodies of water each year. The wastes that are dumped into water reservoirs include chemicals, wastes from animal and plant matter, and hundreds of other substances.  Wastes from farms include animal wastes, fertilizers, and pesticides.  A large amount of these materials drain off from farm fields into nearby bodies of water.  Sewerage systems carry wastes from homes, offices, hospitals, and factories into water. Almost every city has a waste treatment plant that removes some of the most harmful wastes from sewage.  This does not remove completely materials that harm the water. 

     Natural cycles work to absorb small amounts of wastes in reservoirs of water. During a natural cycle, wastes are turned into useful or at least harmless substances.  Aerobic bacteria use oxygen to breakdown natural wastes such as dead fish and decay them down into chemicals, including nitrates, phosphates, and carbon dioxide.  These chemicals, called nutrients, are used as food by algae (simple organisms) and other green plants in the water.  Microscopic animals called zooplankton eat algae as food.  Small fish such as minnows eats zooplankton.  The small fish in turn, are eaten by larger fish. The larger fish eventually die and are broken down by bacteria.  The cycle then begins again.  This same natural cycles work on wastes discharged into water by people.  Chemicals are broken down by bacteria. Bacteria also break down other wastes and turn them into nutrients, or else into substances that will not harm fish or sea plants.  On the other hand, if too much waste matter is poured into the water, the whole cycle will begin to break down, and the water starts to become dirtier and dirtier.  The bacterium that works to decay the wastes consumes too much oxygen during the decaying process. As a consequence of this, less oxygen is available for the animals and plants in the water. Due to lack of oxygen the animals and plants die, adding even more wastes to the water.  In the end, the water's entire oxygen supply is used up and, without oxygen, anaerobic bacteria, rather than aerobic bacteria, decay wastes.  The disadvantage of the anaerobic decaying process is that it causes wastes to give off smelly gases.  

    A process called nutrient enrichment, or eutrophication, takes place by nutrients present in the water.  People also add nutrients to water, such as nitrates from agricultural fertilizers and phosphates from detergents in sewage; greatly increase the growth of algae in water.  Growth of larger amounts of algae also results in the death of large amounts of algae.  The dead algae become wastes, and, as they decay they use up the water's oxygen supply. 

    When heated water is added to a body of water, it upsets the cycles.  Heated water can kill animals and plants, which are accustomed to living at lower temperatures in the water.  Heated water reduces the amount of oxygen that water can hold.  The addition of heated water is called thermal pollution. The source of most heated water is industries and nuclear power plants that use water for cooling.

    Another major pollutant of water is oil.  Oil enters oceans primarily as a result of oil tanker accidents.  Such oil spills ruin our beautiful beaches and kill birds and marine life.

 

SOIL POLLUTION 

    Soil pollution damages the thin layer of fertile soil that covers much of the earth's land and is essential for growing crops, vegetables and fruits. Nature takes thousands of years to form the soil to support food crops, but man can destroy it in a few years.  In nature, cycles keep soil fertile.  Bacteria and fungi decay these wastes such as animal wastes and dead organisms, breaking them down into nitrates, phosphates, and other nutrients.  The nutrients feed growing plants, and when the plants die the cycle begins again. The use of large amounts of fertilizers decreases the ability of bacteria to decay wastes and produce nutrients naturally. Pesticides harm bacteria and other helpful organisms in the soil. Erosion causes much damage to soil.  Careless farming and land construction cause erosion.

 

SOLID WASTES 

    The most visible form of pollution is solid wastes.  Garbage and trash results in billions of tons of solid material each year.  Much of this waste ends up littering roadsides, floating in lakes and streams, and collecting in ugly dumps. Some examples of solid wastes are junked cars, tires, and refrigerators. Stoves, cans and other packaging materials, and scraps of metal and paper.  When solid waste is stored' dumps, it provides home for disease-carrying animals, such as cockroaches and rats. When solid waste is destroyed by burning it, the smoke causes air pollution.  Wastes dumped into water results in water pollution. Each American produces about 45 pounds (20 kilograms) of solid waste each day. Production of solid waste is increasing rapidly. In addition, materials that decay and burn are replaced by plastics that will not decay and that give off harmful gases when burned.  Other kinds of pollutants such as noise, radiation, acid rain, pesticides, and such metals as mercury and lead will be covered in a sequel.

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