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Brief on Environmental Pollutions

By Anton Sri Probiyantono

General Understanding
By definition, pollution is a release or an introduction of contaminants into an environment
that causes instability, disorder, harm or discomfort to the system and living organisms in it.
It can also be considered as a process or the state of being contaminated. It occurs when
the quantity and quality of contaminants excess certain level beyond the nature can handle.
In general, it may take place in the air, water and land. They may be natural or man-made.
They can be classified as either primary or secondary.

Forms of Pollution
The forms of pollution may vary. In general, they can be liquid, gas or solid. Noise, smoke
(exhaust gases of vehicles, tobacco, combustion of coal and other industrial smoke which
may occurs), ozone depleting substances (ODS) and acid rain are considered as air
pollutions1. Liquid wastes and other kind of wastes discharged as the results of production
processes, industrial processes, agricultural activities, and domestic activities to water are
examples of pollution occurs in water. Land pollution occurs due to the exploitation of
mineral, poor agricultural practices, industrial waste dumping, visible littering, etc.2

Hazardous Pollutants
Since their earliest identification, isolation and utilization, chemicals and chemical products
have been representing vital element of human development. At one side, they have been
used in medicines and medical products able to save lives and increase life expectancy.
They have been used to control insects, increase agricultural productivity, control
temperatures (refrigerants), produce home furniture, etc. At the other side, these could
cause adverse impacts to human health and environment.

If the pollutants are highly toxic or hazardous, they are able to harm/ damage the nature and
kill the living organisms (including animals and even human). Some of them are stable
compounds that can last for years or decades before breaking down. They circulate globally
through a repeated process of evaporation and deposit, and through the atmosphere to
areas/regions far away from the original source. They are transported through air, water and
migratory species across international boundaries. They concentrate in living organisms
through bioaccumulation (concentration in living organisms). These are known as persistent
organic pollutants (POPs).3

Some people mention it as atmospheric pollution
When certain chemicals concentrate in living organisms, it is accumulated in fatty tissue and
potentially being transferred to others through food chain process, for instance.
They are characterized by their long lifetimes (persistence) in the environment (air, water, soil,
biota), their capacity to build up dangerous levels in some larger predatory species through
bioaccumulation, and their potential for long-range transport through air, water or migratory species.
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Persistent Organic Pollutants
A study and scientific evidence indicates that exposure to very low doses of certain POPs
can lead to cancer, damage to the central and peripheral nervous systems, diseases of the
immune system, reproductive disorders and interference with normal infant and child
development. Therefore these are able to disrupt ecosystems and injure human health in
countries far distant from where they first entered the environment.

Quantity and Quality

Quantity of pollution seems to increase along with the increase of human population. From
the smallest perspective, everyone disposes pollutants through her/his daily activities. When
s/he gets up in the morning, s/he starts releasing her/his waste in the bathroom and toilet.
Her/his solid and liquid waste will indeed pollute the land where s/he lives. By the time s/he
is ready to leave for her/his office, she will turn on her/his motorized vehicle which, for sure,
directly releases gas pollutants to the air/atmosphere. In the office, s/he may have to print
out draft of a concept on papers for her/his boss. Her/his boss may ask her/him to revise it.
As the consequence, s/he will release a set of paper as solid pollutants. When lunch time
comes, s/he may have food in a wrapped bag and beverage in a plastic glass which will go
directly to waste bin afterward. The story may have to go on and on until the end of the

Based on the estimated calculation of US Census Bureau4, the world population is

6,739,638,952 people. Quantity of pollutants is linked with the trend of population. As the
effect of this, however, quality of life in this finite planet Earth under serious threat.

Global Actions
To address existing and potential problems that may occur to environment and human
health, representatives of states around the world took several actions to measure, reduce,
replace and eliminate the production, distribution and use of substances that produce
hazardous contaminants. To protect human health and environment from atmospheric
pollutions due to the consumption and release of ozone depleting substances (ODS),
developed countries initiated Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer
(1985) and Montreal Protocol (1987). On the other side, the developing and least developed
countries initiated Basel Convention on the Control of Trans-boundary Movements of
Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal (1989). These countries demanded attention, actions
and supports from potential risks that occurred as the consequence of industrial/developed
countries’ activities.

In the meantime, in compliance with the Declaration on Environment and Development and
Agenda 21 produced in the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development
(Earth Summit) held in Rio de Janeiro (June 1992), they established the actions through
Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous
Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade (1998) and Stockholm Convention on
Persistent Organic Pollutants (2001).

The efforts to protect human health and environment do not end here. World leaders,
politicians, non-governmental organizations, experts and people who have interests on these

4 (on November 27, 2008)
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issues keep on working through international conventions (such as UNFCCC), protocols
(such as Kyoto Protocol), declarations, retrofitting activities, researches,
information/knowledge sharing, etc. Business as usual would not be their primary options to
address pollutions and their potential risks to human health and environment.

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