Global Pollution: Everyone's Problem

by Brion Foster

Research for the 21st Century - Spring 2001

- a WAOL course


"Leaving a sound environmental legacy depends upon the individual citizen's ability to understand how everyday choices, made by individuals, by families, and by businesses, affect the health of our current and future environment. As tradeoffs between environmental, social, and economic values become in sharper conflict and more substantial, each of us will be called upon to change the effects our activities have on the air, water, and land." By Tom Fitzsimmons, Director of Washington State Department of Ecology


The focus of my research project is Pollution on a Global scale. Mounting air pollution--Uncontrolled garbage--Water scarcity--Global climate change--Although global awareness of these issues is high, this awareness often does not translate into action. If your habits resemble those of average Americans, you generate about 4 pounds of solid trash per day, about 200 million tons per day and this just America. This adds up to big trouble for the environment. Americans are generating waste products faster than nature can break them down and using up resources faster than they can be replaced. How can we find ways to meet our current economic and social needs without compromising the ability of our children, and our children's children, to do the same? Our success will depend on understanding the difference between Sustainable practices: practices that provide ongoing economic and social benefits without degrading the environment, Unsustainable practices: "quick fixes" that fill an immediate need for resources. Over time, however, these practices deplete or damage natural resources so they cannot be used or enjoyed by future generations.

The average college student produces 640 pounds of solid waste each year, including 500 disposable cups and 320 pounds of paper. We generated 222 million tons of waste during the year 2000. Currently about 130 million tons of MSW ends up in landfills each year (NSWMA). In a recent survey of World Wastes subscribers, of those owning landfills, 53% expect their site to remain open 10+ years; 12% said 5 to 9 years; 7% reported 3 to 4 years and a whopping 26% said less than 3 years. It involves the use of composite liners and having an elaborate monitoring system. The costs of the regulations will result in a regionalized approach for volume-based business and a dramatic decrease of publicly owned facilities. It also specifies that landfill obtain an amount sufficient to close and cap the site and perform care and maintenance for 30 years after closure.

People can become ill through exposure to hazards in the environment. Many diseases are linked to environmental problems such as polluted drinking water, poor waste disposal and air and exposure to mosquitoes and other carriers of disease. Some pollutants, such as pesticides, traffic emissions and industrial solvents, are created by human activities. Others, including arsenic or ultraviolet radiation, occur naturally in the environment, although exposure can be made worse by human activities. These pollutants can undermine health in various ways, by causing diseases such as bronchitis or asthma, contributing to cancer or birth defects or perhaps by damaging the body's immune system, which makes people more susceptible to a variety of other health risks.


Academic Disciplines

LC Subject Headings


Important Databases and Periodical Indexes



Greenpeace International

Greenpeace began in 1971 and is the leading independent campaigning organization that uses non-violent direct action and creative communication to expose global environmental problems and to promote solution that are essential to a green and peaceful future. For 30 years Greenpeace has tackled the most critical environmental issues. They have six main objects which are: Saving ancient forests, Stopping global warming, Exposing toxic menaces, Protecting our oceans, Eliminating the threat of genetic engineering and Ending the nuclear age.

Greenpeace USA

720 H Street, NW Suite 300

Washington DC 20001

Department of Ecology

The mission of the Department of Ecology is to protect, preserve and enhance Washington's environment and promote the wise management of air, land, and water for the benefit of current and future generations. Some of the agencies primary functions are; Environmental Monitoring, Enforcement, Funding, Human Resource Management, and Natural Resources.

Washington State Department of Ecology

P.O. Box 47600

Olympia, Washington 98504


The United States is sinking under a tidal wave of waste. Americans generate more waste every year, growing from 340 million tons of non-hazardous waste in 1997, to 390 million tons in 1999 - nearly a 50 million ton increase in two years, according to Biocycle magazine, an industry publication. Although 30% of municipal waste is recycled, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated in 1988 that municipal waste was only 2% of all waste generated. We don't know the total amount of waste generated, recycled, or disposed.


"Pollution"  Britannica Online.  Version 2000 Encyclopedia Britannica Opinion lab, 

There was no author credited with article. I found this article very informative on all subjects of pollution. Air pollution, climactic effects of pollution, radioactive contamination of the air, water pollution, land pollution, noise pollution, and chemical pollution. It gave breakdowns of the individual groups and stated what was within these groups that classified as pollution. It gave ecological considerations and some examples of ways of advanced planning. It also tells of some of things that we are now doing that can and will help with this potentially devastating problem of "Global Pollution."

"Pollution" Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 1997-2001 Microsoft Corporation.

This article did not give credit to any author in particular. It was a very good article pertaining to biodegradable and nondegradable pollutants. It states what some of these pollutants are and also some of the major impacts of these pollutants. It makes note of the types of pollutants, some that many of us are probably not even aware of. It gives specifics on air pollution, water pollution, soil pollution, solid waste, hazardous waste, and noise pollution. It gives specifics about the history of pollution and what we are doing and what we can do to help control pollution.


Fagin, Dan, and Lavelle, Marianne. Toxic Deception: How the Chemical Industry
	Manipulates Science, Bends the Law, and Endangers Your Health. 
	2nd edition. Common Courage Pr, April 1999

Fagin and other investigative reporters, with funding by the Center for Public Integrity, show chemical companies successfully working to keep known health threats profitably on the market. The authors suggest one industry method for prosperity: nearly half the top officials who left the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the last 15 years now work for these companies, directly or indirectly--which might explain why the industry is essentially responsible for testing the toxic effects of its own chemicals and then reporting the results to the EPA. The authors find numerous discrepancies between the work of industry and that of independent scientists. Chemical companies also resort to obfuscation, lawsuits both threatened and real, propaganda, and borderline fraud. The result is that their products continue to contaminate our air, water, and food.

Popov,V. and Power, H. Landfill Emission of Gases into the Atmosphere: Boundary 
	Element Analysis, Vol. 4 Boston: WIT Press, ComputationalMechanics 
	Publications, January 1999

In this volume a mathematical model for the solution of convection-diffusion flow of a mixture of gases in a multi-layer porous media is described. This is applied to the problem of gases generation and migration inside a landfill and their release into the atmosphere. The authors present two different boundary element formulations, based upon the dual reciprocity method (DRM), to transform the resulting domain integrals into surface integrals. The first method treats the whole problem domain as a single one, while the second, the dual reciprocity method - multi-domain decomposition (DRM-MD), divides the initial domain into a large number of sub domains.


Claussen, Eileen."Global Environmental Governance.(role of the United States in the 
	international arena)" Environment Jan. 2001:  41- 49

This article deals with the most important challenges the new president of the United States will face. These will be addressing high-stakes environmental issues, such as global climate change, biodiversity loss, and marine conservation--issues that pose serious problems for the United States and the rest of the world in the decades ahead. But the United States and other countries will not be able to deal effectively with these issues without a better system of global environmental governance. I found this article to be very informative on this particular issue. This article was found through with the keywords "Global Environment."

Polakovic, Gary. "Satellite findings reveal massive global pollution" Seattle Times 
	May 31, 2001: pg. A4 Proquest Direct, Bell & Howell Learning and Information.

This article is a great one in the fact that it really shows the entire picture on a global scale. The findings, beamed back to Earth from a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) satellite in orbit for two years, depict the global reach of air pollution. Scientists have known for years that human-made pollutants spread, but this is the first time they have watched it from space over a long period. "Much of the air pollution that humans generate comes from natural sources, such as large fires that travel great distances and affect areas far from the source," said John Gille, principal investigator at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado. "With these new observations, you clearly see that air pollution is much more than a local problem. It's a global issue." Smoke and dust in the sky can dramatically influence climate on Earth. Some pollutants, including soot, nitrates and sulfates from fossil fuel burning, coat the planet in a fine, aerosol haze. Scientists say too many particles floating around can reflect sunlight, impair crop production and contribute to lower temperatures. I found this article through Proquest with the keywords "Global Pollution."

Reitan, Paul and Reitan, Eric. "Our Unsustainable Present: Why, and What Can We Do 
	About It?" Green Journal Issue 11 Dec. 1998:  25-28.

This article sums up the entire problem of what we as humans are doing to destroy our Earth, our home. Human societies are facing a crisis of destruction and disruption of Earth systems upon which they depend for their survival. Human population is already three times the size that can be comfortably sustained on Earth. But beyond sheer numbers, we can see the evidence of the huge impact on Earth systems resulting from the way we live. We are significantly changing the composition of the atmosphere with broad ranging effects, from local health damage caused by urban and industrial air pollution, to regional acidification of precipitation and its destruction of ecosystems, to polar extreme reduction and global thinning of the ultraviolet-shielding stratospheric ozone, to global climate change with its host of adverse effects that are growing in magnitude in response to elevated levels of greenhouse gases.


The United States Environmental Protection Agency Home Page. Envirofacts Data 
	Warehouse and Applications. Vol. 2, Issue 9.1 May 2001

This site is a single point of access to select U.S. EPA environmental data. It offers help to first time users, queries, maps and reports. Technical users can take advantage of open access to envirofacts to create queries and applications, or link to existing applications.

Oneworld Home Page. Center for Science and Environment. Down to Earth.  Vol. 8. 
	No. 17 January 7, 2000

This is a great article that focuses on just one part of the world; imagine if you were to add the rest of the world to this equation. Mumbai generates the maximum waste: 5,335 tons per day. The waste content in India is highly organic. Solid waste management (SWM) involves managing activities associated with generation, collection, transport and disposal of solid waste in an environmentally compatible manner, adopting principles of economy, aesthetics, energy and conservation. The urban population was 217 million in 1991 and the total quantity of solid waste generated in urban areas was estimated at 20.71 million tons per year.


"Natural Waste Water Treatment" Ecology Workshop Series Video Cassette. Produced by 
	Hans-Ernst Weitzel. Bullfrog Films. Oley, Pa. March 1987

This video shows an excellent alternative to sewage treatment plants. To protect our groundwater and rivers from impurities, wastewater has to be cleaned properly. Our modern sewage treatment plants are expensive, inefficient, and not very effective. NATURAL WASTE WATER TREATMENT features small-decentralized sewage treatment facilities, which use the natural purifying characteristics of marsh plants. These facilities are operating successfully in Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. In the U.S. there are now several natural wastewater treatment facilities, notably one in Arcata, California.

REVIEW of my Research Process

The research process that I have experienced has been a definite learning process. I was not aware of all the information that was available on the Internet and everywhere else. It has been an extremely worthwhile experience for me. I learned a tremendous amount of strategies in which to find information, many of the ways I never would have thought of before this class. The World Wide Web is a very valuable learning tool, which every person in the world should be able to use efficiently.

The Government agencies have the most valuable information on the web in my opinion. They have information that is geared toward anyone and everyone. The Environmental Protection Agency is by far the best site that I found, with programs and information geared toward communities, organizations, and corporations. They have information on the current laws and regulations pertaining to the environment.

I found a tremendous amount of information in books and magazines. Information that can help even someone who does not have the time to recycle on a larger scale. In my opinion every little bit helps and if all one can do is a little bit, that is a lot better than none at all. Before this research class I was not aware of all the information that was available out there to someone who had a computer and Internet access, it is amazing.

In closing, I will say that this research has opened my eyes to a lot of things in this world that I would otherwise not be aware of. The fact that the Internet is so easily accessible is a good thing, but it also has its downfalls, those of which young children and unsuspecting people fall prey to. I myself am very glad for the Internet and will use it wisely in the future and will teach my children to do the same.

Please send comments to Brion Foster