Urban Pollution and waste management

Urban pollution and waste management is a major problem in both the first and third worlds. The increases of major air pollutants in the atmosphere are causing damage to our waters and land. The increase of garbage and waste in urban areas, such as cities, are beginning to look like huge landfills, acid rain is causing forests and buildings to deteriorate, and finally ozone, which is caused from primarily transportation, is slowly suffocating the populations it affects. My area of the problem was the acid rain problem and how we are trying to solve it. The first thing I will discuss is major air pollutants. Transport is the major source of air pollution because of its heavy dependence upon the combustion of fossil fuels, either in vehicles or at power stations. The major air pollutants are carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen monoxide, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, sulfur oxides, lead, and suspended particulate matter. The most serious environmental issue pertaining to urban areas is that of air quality. The principal sources of air pollution in urban areas are derived from the combustion of fossil fuels for domestic heating, for power generation, in motor vehicles, in industrial processes and in the disposal of solid wastes by incineration.

These atmospheric pollutants affect human health directly through inhalation, and indirectly through such exposure routes as drinking water and food contamination. Most traditional air pollutants directly affect respiratory and cardiovascular systems. Certain groups have an even greater risk to the effects of air pollution; the elderly, the young, and those weakened by debilitating ailments such as poor nutrition, which primarily falls in third world countries. There have been programs implemented to monitor air pollutants in cities such as UNEP and WHO since 1974. Data indicates that while cities in industrialized countries have made significant reductions in air pollution in the past few decades, rapidly growing third world cities pose serious threats to the millions of people who live in them. (EPA) The rapid growths of urban areas have outpaced the ability of urban authorities to provide adequate facilities, such as the collection and disposal of household garbage.

Some of the problem that are associated with the improper disposal of garbage include; a serious fire hazard, attraction of pests and disease carrying animals, creating health hazards, and local disposal by burning or dumping adds to pollution loads and clogs waterways, so increasing the dangers of flooding. Waste can take on many different forms: solid, liquid, gas, and energy in the form of heat or noise. The disposal of wastes usually falls into three different sources; air, oceans, and rivers. The disposal authorities are usually publicly owned and this common ownership has facilitated unregulated emissions of wastes. The two most commonly used options for waste disposal include landfills and incineration. Disposal for hazardous waste have tightened in developed countries, there has been a movement of both operations themselves to areas where legislation is less stringent or poorly enforced. International trends ultimately lead to the Basal Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes, which came into force in 1992.

The convention is based on a series of guiding principles originally adopted by OECD countries. (UNEP) The next problem that I will discuss is that of ozone which is three oxygen atoms that formed together. Ozone is not emitted directly, but is formed by complex set of chemical reactions involving hydrocarbons, oxides of nitrogen, and sunlight. Hydrocarbon and nitrogen oxides come from a variety of industrial and combustion processes. In typical urban areas, at least half of the pollutants come from cars, busses, trucks and off-highway mobile sources such as construction vehicles and boats. At high altitudes, ozone absorbs ultra violent radiation, at low altitude damages lung tissue, aggravates respiratory disease, and makes people more susceptible to respiratory infection. In high concentrations, like on hot summer days, it inhabits plant growth and causes wide spread damage to crops and forests.

The Clean Air Act of 1970 is on piece of legislation that has been developed to regulate ozone. It gives primary responsibility to state and local governments for regulating pollution from power plants, factories and other stationary sources. The EPA has primary responsibility for regulating mobile sources such as cars and other types of mobile polluters. (EPA) The last section, Acid Rain, is one that I had responsibility of researching. Acid rain refers to acidic deposits from the atmosphere by both wet and dry depositions. A wet deposition refers to acidic rain, snow, mist, dew, or any form of precipitation. Dry deposition refers to acidic gases and particles, and about half of all depositions in the atmosphere fall back to the earth as acid rain. The main cause of acid rain is the burning of fossil fuels, which release sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, which are the two primary causes of acid rain. (WHRC) These two gases react in the atmosphere with water, oxygen, and oxidants to form various acidic compounds such as sulfuric acid and nitric acid. Sunlight increases the rate of most of these reactions.

Acidity of water is measured by the pH scale, this scale ranges from 0-14 with 7 being neutral. The lower the pH the more acidic the solution. Normal rain is slightly acidic due to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and has a pH of about 5.6. In the United States in the year 2000, most acidic rain that fell had a pH of about 4.3. (MSC) Acid rain causes acidification of lakes and streams and contributes to the damage of trees and many sensitive forest soils. It also accelerates the decay of building materials, statues, paints, and so on and it contributes to visible degradation and is harmful to public health. The ecological effects of acid rain depend largely upon the buffering capacity of that ecosystem. Aquatic ecosystems are affected by the increased acidity of the water. Acid rain primarily affects sensitive bodies of water, which are located in watersheds with poor buffering capacity. The lakes in Ontario are an example of this due to the hard bedrock and poor soil cover, which has poor buffering capacity; there are more than one hundred fishless lakes.

(EPA) Increased mobilization of toxic heavy metals in the soil allowing them to flow freely into the water, aluminum is a particular problem because it obstructs the gills on fish. Another ecosystem that acid rain affects is forests, acid rain may effect terrestrial ecosystems in a number of ways such as increased soil activity, decreased availability of nutrients, mobilization of toxic metals, leaching important soil chemicals and changing species composition and decompose microorganisms in the soil. Human health is also affected by acid rain, damage to human health comes from dry depositions, which damages lung tissue and increases the chance of asthma and chronic bronchitis over an extended time. Heavy metals can eventually reach the human population through contaminated drinking water or fish. Toxic heavy metals have been associated with brain damage and bone disorders.

(MSC) What is being done in the fight against acid rain? Acid Rain is an issue in which a veto coalition has been formed to divide and weaken the issue over time by defection, therefore strengthening of a regime that was initially ineffective. Scientific evidence was a major force in switching members of the veto coalition to advocating the international regime on acid rain reduction. Evidence has made no impact on the remaining veto coalition, which includes many industrialized countries who see acid rain reduction as a major economic slowdown. Emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide became a problem after developed countries raised heights of industrial chimneys in the late 1960’s to disperse pollutants. Dispersed pollutants meant acid rain is exported to other countries. Transboundary Air Pollution, acid rain in one country caused by another, became an issue in the late 1960’s with Sweden introducing scientific evidence that the acidification of their lakes was from an outside source. Sweden’s efforts were advanced when they hosted the first UN environmental conference in Stockholm in 1972.

(EPA) After the UN conference in Stockholm a major effort was started to reduce transboundary air pollution. OECD began monitoring of transboundary air pollution in Europe and completed in 1972, which completed the definition process. In 1977 there were monitoring programs sponsored by UN Economic Commission for Europe began. (UNEP) Victims of acid rain took initiative for stringent and binding regulations on emissions, which caused some, industrialized countries to form a veto coalition. The Veto coalition rejected any agreement that included special commitments to reduce emissions; they included the U.S., Great Britain, Germany, Belgium, and Denmark. The Convention of Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution concluded in Geneva in 1979 with thirty-five countries signing. The convention failed because without the support of industrialized countries no legislation could be regulated effectively. The Convention did set up an agreement to meet annually for review implementations.

After the convention scientific evidence of damage to European forests and historical buildings the veto coalition began to change stance with Germany who belonged to the veto coalition. In 1983 was the first meeting of the signatory parties, Norway and Sweden proposed a thirty percent reduction of 1980 emission levels by 1983. Some states made unilateral decisions among themselves though. (UNEP) In Ottawa 1984, ten states pledged to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by thirty percent and had twenty-one states sign that became known as the Helsinki Protocol in 1985. The Helsinki Protocol still lacked support from the U.S., Great Britain, and Poland who by themselves produced thirty percent of the world’s emissions. The second sulfur protocol came at Oslo in 1994. Twenty-eight countries signed this protocol and it set different requirements for each country. The aim was to get the greatest possible effect at the least possible cost. This protocol came into force on August of 1998. There were three different positions that came out of Oslo.

Austria, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, and West Germany advocated a thirty percent reduction, but the U.S. did not agree to these terms. Environmental organization called for a seventy-five percent reduction in ten years. The Sophia Protocol signed by twenty-three European countries, the U.S. and Canada in 1988, reflect compromise calling for a freeze of 1987 levels while postponing compliance until 1994, a U.S. demand. (UNEP) Four additional protocols have been adopted contributing significance on strengthening the regime. The VOC protocol had three different national positions and calls for a fifteen percent reduction in VOC’s. The protocol on Heavy Metals called for cut emissions from industrial sources, combustion and incineration. The protocol on persistent organic pollutants (Pops) focused on eleven pesticides, two industrial chemicals, and three by-products. Protocol to Abate Acidification, Eutrophication, and Ground Level Ozone set regulations on all four pollutants.