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  • Writer's pictureDr. Minna Allarakhia

Climate Education Series: We Need to Care about Pollution-It's Affecting our Health

Updated: Mar 3

In this module, we will discuss how pollution impacts our health, and that of our community. We will think about air pollution, which can be exacerbated by global warming, water-based pollution, and the impact of plastic based waste on our ecosystems, as well as how plastic can actually affect our food chains.

Climate Change and Greenhouse Gases Climate change is caused by the release of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, into the atmosphere, that is gases that come from sources such as the burning of fossil fuels including coal, oil and gas, industrial processes, and the decomposition of organic waste in our landfills, respectively. (NASA) These gases then get caught in the Earth’s atmosphere, trapping extra heat near the Earth's surface, causing global temperatures to rise (or global warming). NASA suggests that we can think of these heat-trapping gases as a blanket, wrapped around Earth. (NASA)

Ozone Ozone is a gas composed of three atoms of oxygen and occurs in the Earth's upper atmosphere, and at ground level. Ground-level ozone, is a harmful air pollutant, being a major component of smog. (EPA) According to the EPA, ozone is created by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen, and volatile organic compounds. This occurs when pollutants emitted by cars, power plants, chemical plants, and other sources chemically react, in the presence of sunlight. (EPA) As the temperatures rise, ground-level ozone also increases. Warmer temperatures lead to earlier and longer pollen, and allergy seasons, from an increase in frost-free days and earlier and longer flowering seasons. Higher temperatures also increase ozone production, which increases the impact of allergens. (Center for Climate Change and Health)

Water Pollution Water pollution occurs when substances such as plastic waste, oil spills, chemicals, nutrients, sewage, and other suspended matter, enter water bodies such as lakes, rivers, and our oceans. (WWF) Water pollutants can also enter the water supply through soil and from rain. Water pollution not only affects marine ecosystems, but the pollutants could potentially enter our households, and drinking water. (WWF)

According to the NRDC, point source pollution occurs when the pollution originates from one course including wastewater (also called effluent), discharged by a manufacturer, oil refinery, or wastewater treatment facility. (NRDC) Commercial, industrial, and agricultural activities can result in the release of metals, solvents, and toxic sludge into our water supply. (NRDC) While wastewater treatment facilities, try to reduce the amount of pollutants, a significant portion of wastewater flows back into the environment without being treated or reused. (NRDC)

Plastic Pollution: A Global Challenge for All According to the National Geographic, plastic pollution has become a global challenge, particularly with the production of disposable plastic products. (National Geographic) In countries where garbage collection is ineffective, non-existent, or in countries with low recycling rates, plastic pollution is overwhelming and disheartening. Single-use plastics account for 40 percent of the plastic produced annually and only have a lifespan of mere minutes to hours. These plastics can remain in our environment for hundreds of years. (National Geographic)

Millions of animals are killed by plastics every year, from birds to fish, to other marine organisms. (National Geographic). We have all seen the pictures of animals that have become entangled in, and then strangled by plastics. A closer look shows that animals are also dying of starvation. Plastics have been found to have blocked digestive tracts, or punctured organs, that then cause death. In other cases, when an animal's stomach becomes so packed with plastic, this can reduce the urge to eat, leading then to starvation. (National Geographic)


Humans are also being impacted by microplastics and nanoplastics. Sunlight, wind, and water, can break down plastic waste into smaller particles. Humans can end up consuming them through eating food, drinking water, and even breathing them in from the air. (Guardian, 2020) Scientists are now trying to look at human organs and tissues, to see if and how much our lungs, livers, spleen and kidney tissue, have been exposed to microplastics. (Carrington, Guardian, 2020)

Assignment 8: Students will list, and assess the health problems associated with pollution across age groups, including children, adults, and older adults. The teacher will assign key geographic areas for analysis. The goal is to assess the specific pollution related challenges associated with each geographic area, and then retrieve population data, that is, numbers of people across each age group in the selected area. Using a map of the selected area, students can indicate the severity of health issues likely to affect the area given type of pollution, and population segment, creating essentially a heat map of the area. A heat map will enable students to represent their data as colours.

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