A Look at Pollution by the Numbers

When I was a kid, the newspapers were full of reports about acid rain. I remember learning about the hole in the ozone. I remember watching cartoons on Saturday mornings and Woodsy Owl imploring that we “Give a hoot, don’t pollute.”

I think the idealist in me believed that I was growing up in a world that was recognizing the damage it had done to the earth. I thought that by the time I reached adulthood these issues would be addressed, we’d heal our earth, and we’d live in harmony with nature. Obviously, I was wrong.

As Earth Day 2012 approaches, let’s take a moment to reflect on some statistics on pollution and some tips for how we can all start pitching in more.

Air Pollution

While we’ve successfully managed to cut back on some environmental pollutants in our air, air quality and pollution is becoming an increasing problem. With hugely populated countries like China and India industrializing rapidly, the air quality is looking to get worse before it gets better.

- In the United States, exhaust from vehicles make up approximately 60 percent of all carbon monoxide emissions countrywide. Furthermore, each tank of gas the average sedan consumes adds 330 pounds of carbon dioxide to the pollution.

- International Wildlife magazine reports that in since 1987, U.S. factories have been releasing over 1.2 million tons of toxic chemicals directly into our atmosphere.

- Worldwatch State of the World Report estimates that, in the U.S. alone, air pollution is the leading factor in almost $40 billion in health care expenditures and lost time from work.

So what can we do? First, try to rely on public transportation, bicycling, and walking as much as possible. Even just parking the car one day a week can have a huge impact on your carbon footprint.

Next, consolidate the number of trips you’ll need to utilize your vehicle for. Instead of running to the store once or twice a day, try to dedicate one day to running errands and get as much of it done as possible.

Finally, don’t let your car idle. After 10 seconds of idling, you are actually using more gas than if you turned the engine off and restarted.

Next: Soil & Water Pollution

Soil Pollution

Our soil is being polluted in a variety of ways. Studies have shown that our soil contains up to 100 pathogens and toxins, and more recently, we’re even finding evidence of trace amounts of antibiotics, such as hormones from birth control pills, in wildlife.

- One of our largest sources of soil pollution is the agricultural industry. The EPA reports that fertilizers, pesticides, irrigation systems, large factory farms, grazing, and plowing are all adding pollutants into our soil and damaging animal habitats and stream channels. In the U.S. alone, 40 percent of pesticides are used on corn crops.

- Coal burning power plants contribute 54 percent of our energy consumption. Not only does the burn off contaminate our air, but also coal ash from the plants is toxic and oftentimes ends up in our ground soil.

- Landfills are another source of soil contamination. Byproducts and toxins leech out from them and, through the groundwater supply, end up in soil samples all over the country. Scientists have found evidence that these harsh toxins are making their way into the food chain, which is endangering many of our native animal populations.

So what’s the solution? It’s clear that we need to start relying on more sustainable methods for agriculture. You can help by trying to buy organic as much as possible. Supporting small, local farmers can also go a long way on cutting back on the amount of pollution.

In the summer, try growing as many of your own vegetables as you can. Even in urban areas, many people are creatively utilizing small spaces to grow a hefty amount of their own produce.

Also, reduce your usage of electricity. Be vigilant in turning off lights, unplugging appliances, and reducing the amount of energy expended towards air conditioning and heat.

Water Pollution

Worldwide, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for people to access clean drinking water. The U.N. reports that about half of the world’s population is subject to polluted drinking waters, which results in as many as 6 to 10 million deaths annually. We’re dealing with a floating island of trash in the Pacific ocean, and, on top of that, we are seeing entire ocean ecosystems, like corals which are essential for ocean well-being, floundering. Here’s what water pollution looks like here in the U.S.

- Every year the Mississippi River, which carries about 2/5ths of our groundwater out to sea, dumps a million and a half metric tons of nitrogen waste into the Gulf of Mexico each summer.

- A large percentage of what we throw away actually ends up in the sea. It’s estimated that about 80 percent of what we throw away can actually be recycled.

- According to Carl Jaeckel of the law firm Atlanta Injury Lawyers, the number of injury claims brought against municipalities for polluted groundwater is on the rise. In these economic times, these cases can pose a huge tax burden on residents and cities.

- More than 70 types of pesticides have been discovered in groundwater, which is our source for drinking water.

- The EPA estimates that over 40 percent of our lakes, rivers, and streams are too polluted for swimming, drinking, and fishing.

So how can we stop this? Again, we need to think about sustainable practices. The old adage “reduce, reuse, recycle” is just as important now as when it was coined. Make certain that you are thoroughly recycling your trash. It’s probably a good idea to check with your city to see what you can recycle, as recent advances in recycling are making it easier to recycle more types of plastics and papers. If your city doesn’t have a decent recycling program, talk to your local city counsel about pushing forward new initiatives.

Buy foods that are unwrapped as often as possible. And finally, we all know that we live in a consumerist society. However, if things break, consider fixing them instead of chucking them out. Buy as much as you can secondhand and always remember that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Utilize resources such as Craigslist and Freecycle to give your old possessions a new home.

We have a long way to go to restore Earth to the state it was before Industrialization, and we all need to do our part to start this world down that path. Of course, the biggest factor in cleaning up this world will be legislation. So as we do our part in our home lives, we also need to focus on electing folks who see fighting pollution as a front-burner issue and we need to keep our politicians accountable.

stock photo courtesy of Big Stock Photo.

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How Much Energy Do You Use in an Hour?

To see more of our Earth Day coverage, click here.


Kiana S.
Kiana S6 years ago

Thanks for the article. It's such a big problem. I feel overwhelmed and stressed out just thinking about it! Sometimes it's hard to remember that doing my part and turning out the lights and recycling makes any difference at all.

heather g.
heather g6 years ago

I wish Jane B. would learn (after all these years) that the over-use of capital letters is regarded as rude - akin to shouting.
Often one hears Canadians wondering why there are so many young children who suffer from asthma and allergies ..... they appear not to know about or perhaps not acknowledge the high level of pollutants in our air and in our lungs...

KS Goh
KS Goh6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Juliet Defarge
judith sanders6 years ago

One number you should be aware of is how many children in your local school suffer from asthma. Ask the school nurse, without asking for names. This is a good statistic to beat up you congressman with.

Unusable Lost Account
Past Member 6 years ago

Yes, the "Nazi Catholic regime" of which Jane always speaks of, must be taken down immediately! Straight jacket anyone?

Mary Donnelly
Mary Donnelly6 years ago

Thanks--great post.

Jane Barton
Jane Barton6 years ago

Sandra, indeed, we need to take down the Catholic regime first of all. They have brainwashed billions of poor people to pop out more Catholics to keep their ponzi scheme going. The greedy, money grubbing Pope keeps blocking BIRTH CONTROL and that's what's CAUSING a lot of OVERPOPULATION. Mass PROTESTS against Toys R Us is NOT GOING TO DO IT, WE NEED MASS PROTESTS AGAINST THE CATHOLIC CHURCH AND ALL RELIGIOUS CULTS! The MORMONS have whole towns of marriages to UNDERAGE GIRLS IN UTAH and their SOLE PURPOSE IS TO POP OUT BABIES. Let's PROTEST THE GOP NAZIS IN OUR GOVERNMENT TOO. THEIR AGENDA IS TO POP OUT MORE BABIES FOR THEIR WAR MACHINE!!!! They want to BLOCK BIRTH CONTROL TO FORCE POOR WOMEN TO GIVE BIRTH!!!! THEY WANT TO DENY LEGAL

Winn Adams
Winn Adams6 years ago


John B.
John B6 years ago

Thanks. Interesting article and good ideas,

Sandra K.
Ruxandra K6 years ago

Mass protests against overpopulation (outside maternities, mothercare, toys'r'us, etc) is what we should be doing.

Global overpopulation is becoming more and more pressing every day and needs to take centre stage as the greatest issue of our time.

It is time for serious steps to control rampant world population, in an era of too many people and not enough resources to go around.