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Pollution Facts

Kids can do their part to fight pollution. In this article, we’ll tell you what pollution is and what kids can do about it. Let’s start with some fast facts about pollution:

  • Kids need to know about pollution.
  • Kids can control certain kinds of pollution, like plastics pollution.
  • Kids can pick up trash to correct visual pollution.

What is pollution?

Pollution is anything that people put into the environment (the natural world around us) that decreases the quality of life for people, animals, or plants.

Kids can do their part to reduce pollution when they know what to do.

What are the various types of pollution?

There are lots of kinds of pollution, such as:

  • Air pollution. This is contamination that makes the air harder to breathe.
  • Water pollution. These are chemicals and metals that poison the water and make it dangerous to drink or swim in.
  • Land pollution. Sometimes harmful substances linger in the soil, so they are taken up by plants that are eaten by animals and people.
  • Radioactive pollution. Tiny amounts of radioactive substances get into the air, soil, and water and emit gamma rays that harm living things.
  • Light pollution. Did you know that there was a time that everyone could see a sky filled with stars at night? Light pollution blocks the view of the stars, and it keeps animals and people awake when they need to be sleeping.
  • Noise pollution. Constant noise from cars and trucks and other human activities harms hearing and interferes with rest and recreation.
  • Thermal pollution. You have probably heard about global warming. Increasing levels of carbon dioxide trap heat in the atmosphere, so the climate is getting warmer and warmer.
  • Visual pollution. Sometimes pollution is ugly., like piles of burning tires or giant trash dumps or trash thrown by the side of the road. Visual pollution spoils natural beauty.
  • Personal pollution. Harmful substances can get into our bodies from pollution. They can cause serious diseases and even be passed on to future generations.

Kids can’t stop pollution from factories on their own. They can’t reduce carbon dioxide that comes from trucks or noise pollution that comes from jet planes.

But everyone can do something to prevent pollution, and everyone can do something to reduce pollution. It’s important to take responsibility for doing what you can to stop pollution even when you aren’t the person who is causing it. Sometimes the only person who can do something that makes the natural world a better place is you. Small deeds can add up to big changes for the better for the environment. At the end of this article, we will tell you five things every kid can do to fight pollution. 

Let’s consider a kind of pollution that kids can do something about.

Why is plastic waste dangerous?

Plastic waste is one of the most common kinds of pollution. One of the big problems with plastic is that it is everywhere. Just about everyone uses plastic bottles, plastic bags, and plastic wrap.

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There are plastics in our clothes, plastics in our computers, plastics in our phones, and plastics in our houses and apartments. There are plastics in glues, even things like the glue used to seal tin cans, and plastics in the clothes we wear, so they don’t have to be ironed or sent to the cleaners to be pressed.

All the plastics people use find their way into landfills and water and break down into tiny pieces. There is so much plastic in the world that some scientists estimate that by the time kids now are 40 years old, about the year 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

When the world first started using plastics in huge amounts 60 years ago, scientists didn’t realize they could harm the environment. They thought that plastic would just lie around inert. 

What the scientists didn’t know was that plastics break down into toxic chemicals, like these:

  • PET (polyethylene terephthalate). PET shows up in soft drink bottles, in jars for salad dressing and jams and jellies, and tubs for butter and margarine. It’s also in the bottles used for cosmetics. When PET is heated, it releases a toxic heavy metal called antimony.
  • PVC (polyvinyl chloride). PVC is used for things like pipes. It’s also used for plastic bags and fruit juice bottles. It can break down to release chemicals that cause asthma and cancer.
  • Polystyrene is used for things like insulation and plastic peanuts. It can break down into chemicals that cause cancer.

There are problems with plastics besides just the chemicals they release. Plastics can escape landfills and trash dumps and get into waterways. They can strangle birds, fish, and turtles. They can be swallowed and interfere with digestion, so an animal starves. Modern plastics that can be made by melting pellets release microfibers that get into the ocean, so they are now found everywhere, from the North Pole to the waters off Antarctica and from the surface of the oceans to the Marianas Trench, seven miles deep.

What can you do about plastic pollution?

The most important thing you can do to stop plastic pollution is to make sure you always put plastics in the recycling bin.

This way, they don’t escape from trash dumps and landfills and harm wildlife and fish, and the companies that make plastic don’t have to get as many raw materials.

Water pollution is also a major problem in many, many places.

It isn’t just plastics that pollute water around the world. There is also pollution from trash, industrial waste, and sewage in many places in the United States and around the world.

Just how bad is the problem of water pollution?

  • 40% of the rivers in the United States are too polluted for swimming and fishing.
  • 46% of the lakes in the United States are too polluted for swimming and fishing.
  • About 50% of the world’s population, even some people in the United States, have contaminated drinking water.

Now let’s consider air pollution.

Air pollution can be visible and invisible.

When your grandparents and great-grandparents were growing up, air pollution was something everybody could see. There were brown clouds with silver linings in Los Angeles.

The soot from burning coal to make steel could get trapped in an inversion layer so that people in steel mill towns could not see across the street. Unusual weather conditions created such severe pollution that sometimes hundreds of people would die in a single pollution event.

There are still rare occasions that air pollution, like smoke from smokestacks released at night, is still visible. But nowadays air pollution is mostly invisible. Here are some of the common kinds of air pollution:

  • The most deadly form of air pollution is particulate matter. These are tiny bits of ash and waste from burning fuels that are too small to see but large enough to get stuck in people’s lungs. The worst particulate matter comes from burning wood for heat and kerosene for light. There is also particulate matter from burning diesel that causes breathing problems in people who live close to major highways.
  • There are chemicals that are formed when automobile exhaust is exposed to sunlight. These compounds, like sulfur dioxide and nitric oxide, burn the lungs of people and animals.
  • And the CO2 (carbon dioxide) released by burning trash, wood, and fossil fuels like gasoline and diesel traps heat from the sun and is changing the climate of the whole world.

We, humans, are getting better at controlling most forms of air pollution, except for CO2. There will have to be huge reductions in the production of this greenhouse gas in your lifetime to get global warming under control. This means electric cars and trucks and changes in the way we make concrete and steel, as well as greater and greater energy efficiency.

How does air pollution affect your health?

It depends on how much air pollution you are exposed to. If you live in a place where the air is clean, you won’t have health issues.

But if you live in a major city where air pollution is not under control, you are at a greater lifetime risk for asthma, a chronic lung condition called COPD, and later in life, even certain forms of cancer.

Can air pollution be reversed?

You hear a lot about CO2 pollution, and you should, because it is a huge problem that will take many years to correct. But skies in much of the world are much cleaner and clearer than they were 50 and 100 years ago because particulate matter is not as abundant in the air.

Five Things Every Kid Can Do to Fight Pollution

When you become an adult, you will be responsible for your part in the major decisions that will help reverse the pollution of our planet. And there are five things you can do right now.

  • Turn off lights when you aren’t using them. This seems like a small thing, but the power company won’t have to burn as much fuel when everybody does it.
  • Walk or take your bike to school or your friends’ houses or the playground if your neighborhood is safe. Don’t ride in cars when you don’t have to. This reduces all kinds of pollution, not just air pollution.
  • Pick up and throw away trash even if you didn’t drop it. This reduces visible pollution by making the landscape cleaner. It can also protect birds and frogs and turtles and fish from deadly plastics.
  • Use glass instead of plastic whenever you can, and be sure to put the used glass containers in the recycling bin.
  • Don’t get in a hurry to buy new stuff. Wear things out and then recycle them, but make them last as long as you can.