Chemical pollution: what it is, causes and consequences - Summary

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Chemical contamination is a type of contamination that is due to the introduction of an external agent, totally foreign, into an ecosystem. The damage it causes depends on the nature of the chemical agent, the amount of pollutant and the resilience of the environment that we take into account. The causes are varied, although in general they are always due to human activity, and the consequences can be highly damaging, both for people's health and for the environment.

As it is our duty to stay informed and avoid these problems to the greatest degree possible, if you want to know more about this problem, continue on Ecologista Verde and discover this article about the chemical pollution, what is it, its causes and consequences.

What is chemical contamination

Chemical contamination is that contamination that occurs due to the entry of a harmful chemical agent into an ecosystem. The damage it causes depends on both the amount of pollutant and its aggressiveness, as well as the resilience of the environment in which it is released.

In addition, we must bear in mind that there are two types of chemical contamination according to the pollutant released. Thus, we find the primary pollutants and secondary pollutants. A primary pollutant is one that exerts its damaging influence without undergoing any subsequent modification. On the contrary, a secondary pollutant may even be a harmless substance at its origin, but once released it undergoes a series of chemical transformations that make it a harmful agent. In this other Green Ecologist article we will tell you all about Secondary Pollution: what it is, types and examples.

We must also bear in mind that ecotoxicity and toxicity or danger for people are not the same. A ecotoxic agent it is harmful to the environment, but depending on its nature it can be perfectly acceptable (always taking into account the quantity) for people's health. For example, the remnants of hormonal drugs can wreak havoc on aquatic ecosystems, even in ridiculous proportions, but they do not cause health problems when it comes to such minute amounts.

Causes of chemical contamination

There are multitudes of causes of chemical contamination, but all of them can be summed up in poor waste management (without taking into account illegal and / or deliberate activities). Let's see some concrete examples:

  • Waste: Discharges are one of the main sources of chemical contamination, and they occur especially as a result of industrial or livestock activities. In Spain there have been large discharges of pig slurry.
  • Sewage water: When wastewater is not treated, or is poorly treated, it can carry all kinds of pollutants. Even well cleaned, there are certain contaminants that are very difficult to remove. In these other articles you can learn about What is wastewater and how it is classified and the Types of wastewater treatment.
  • Leachate: leachates are liquids that are released from accumulated materials. For example, landfills often have a "leachate basin", which is a containment basin for these pollutants. If it is not available, or is deficient, it can lead to contamination. Here you can learn more about Leachates: definition, examples and treatment.
  • Sources of atmospheric emissions and diffuse sources: They give off pollutants in the form of fumes, which can react with other substances, giving rise to really dangerous compounds.
  • Bioaccumulation: bioaccumulation involves the accumulation of a contaminant in the tissues of living organisms, since they cannot be excreted. An animal's own diet can be a source of contamination. It is common with heavy metals. In this other post we talk about How heavy metal pollution occurs in water.

Consequences of chemical contamination

The consequences of chemical contamination can be devastating, depending on the factors that we discussed at the beginning. In this section we are going to distinguish two categories of consequences: those associated with health and those associated with the environment.

Consequences of chemical contamination for health

There are pollutants that are very harmful to health. The endocrine disruptors (EDCs) They are substances that alter our endocrine system by closely resembling our own hormonal signals. Some sources are medicines, sanitary products (pesticides and pesticides, etc.).

Without forgetting that there are many substances that are corrosive or irritating by their very nature (once again, we recommend that you know the safety pictograms).

Consequences for the environment

The consequences for the environment are varied, but in any case they always affect living beings to a greater extent. For example, these are some of the consequences of contamination by more obvious chemicals:

  • Eutrophication.
  • Soil contamination with heavy metals.
  • Contamination of water basins with endocrine disruptors.
  • Widespread acidification.

How to tell if a chemical is dangerous: safety pictograms

To find out if a chemical product is dangerous for the environment, in Europe we have the CLP pictograms, issued by the ECHA (European Chemical Agency). The pictograms are clear and simple signs that inform us of the dangerousness of a chemical agent in question. The ecotoxicity, or environmentally toxic, pictogram represents a shore with a dead fish and tree.

Although we advise you to know all the pictograms, that a chemical is not recognized as ecotoxic does not mean that it is not, for several reasons:

  • Only substances that have been tested as pollutants carry it, but others may be, even though they have not yet been tested.
  • It does not take into account secondary pollutants, since these depend on the receiving environment.
  • It tends to only put the most important pictograms. For example, the pictogram for soda is corrosivity, but a significant amount of soda dissolved in water can vary the soil pH of an entire region.

If you want to read more articles similar to Chemical pollution: what is it, causes and consequences, we recommend that you enter our Pollution category.

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