Environmental pollution is taking our lives; World Environment Day

By: Anees Murtaza

Things have a price to pay; the more the essence, the more the cost and it usually is estimated as equal as the benefits gathered from the object. The same is true in case of the environment, the more we’re comforting ourselves from the natural environmental resources, the more we are paying in the form of health-compromising and there is a decline in the synchronization with the environment. The imbalanced, unchecked, mismanaged and careless usage of resources also causing to put a nearly-ending mark on the inherent relationship between humans and nature.

The first United Nations Conference on the Human Environment was held in Stockholm in 1972.  World Environment Day is the largest global platform for environmental public outreach and is celebrated by millions of people across the world on 5 June since 1973. On the 50th anniversary, Sweden is hosting “Stockholm+50” with the slogan of ‘a healthy planet for the prosperity of all – our responsibility, our opportunity.’

One report of the World Health Organization (WHO) showed that more than 12.6 million people are dying as a result of living or working in an unhealthy environment in a year– nearly 1 in 4 of total global deaths. According to WHO, Environmental risk factors; such as air, water and soil pollution, chemical exposures, climate change, and ultraviolet radiation, contribute to more than 100 diseases and injuries. Climate change disrupts the natural world in a number of ways that can impede health and increase vulnerability to disease; these include increases in the planet’s temperature and more frequent heavy rains and runoff. The various impacts may result in greater vulnerability to nervous and respiratory diseases, diarrhea, and more. Studies have shown that air pollution effects on humans are a significant public health concern, not only because of their role in climate change but also because exposure to air pollution can increase morbidity and mortality.

Air pollution and cigarette smoke can cause the damaging of tissues in the lungs which leads to inability in contraction and causes Emphysema. The sudden and unpredictable changes in weather can trigger pollutants and other chemicals in the air results in the asthmatic conditions. These include fibers from asbestos, cotton and hemp, and dusts from such compounds as silica, graphite, coal, iron, and clay. These particles can damage sensitive areas of the lung, turning healthy tissue into scar tissue. This condition is called Pneumoconiosis, or black lung. Chest pains and shortness of breath often progress to bronchitis, emphysema, and early death. According to the WHO, air pollution effects on humans are significant. For example, air pollution causes:29% of all global deaths from lung disease, 24% of all global deaths from stroke and 17 % of all global deaths and disease from acute lower respiratory infection. Heart diseases are the leading cause of death all over the world. Besides other factors, environmental chemicals also play a crucial role. Some of the chemicals that enter the body are converted into particles called free radicals that can react with proteins in the blood to form fatty deposits called plaques, which can clog blood vessels. A blockage can cut off the flow of blood to the heart, causing a heart attack. Cancer is the second death causing disease in the world. Cigarette smoke, radiation due to various industries and depletion of protective layers of the earth and natural and man made chemicals are the leading causes of cancer. Some chemicals and drugs can also weaken the immune system by damaging its specialized cells. When this occurs, the body is more vulnerable to diseases and infections. Lead and lead-contaminated water can lead into the body and damage the brain, kidneys, liver, and other organs. Severe lead poisoning can produce headaches, cramps, convulsions, and even death. Even small amount can cause learning problems and changes in behavior. When nerve cells are damaged by toxic chemicals present in the polluted air, the nerve conduction breaks down. This can result in disorders ranging from mood changes and memory loss to blindness, paralysis and death. Our eyes are especially sensitive to the environment. Gases found in polluted air can irritate the eyes and produce a burning sensation. Tiny particles from smoke and soot can also cause redness and itching of the eyes. Too much exposure to the sun’s rays can eventually produce a clouding of the lens called a cataract. Even our clearest streams, rivers, and lakes can contain chemical pollutants. Heavy metals like lead and mercury can produce severe organ damage. Some chemicals can interfere with the development of organs and tissues, causing birth defects. Others can cause normal cells to become cancerous. Some of our waterways also contain human and animal wastes. The bacteria in the wastes can cause high fever, cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Beginning in the late 1940’s, many women who were in danger of losing their unborn babies were prescribed a synthetic female hormone called DES (diethylstilbestrol). In 1971, scientists discovered that some of the daughters of these women were developing a very rare cancer of the reproductive organs. Since then, the use of DES and other synthetic hormones during pregnancy has been discontinued. NIEHS and other agencies are studying the possibility that some natural chemicals and man-made pesticides may cause similar problems. They are finding that some of these chemicals are so similar to female estrogen that they may actually ”mimic“ this important hormone. As a result, they may interfere with the development of male and female reproductive organs. This can lead to an increased risk of early puberty, low sperm counts, ovarian cysts, and cancer of the breast or testicles. Many other diseases are reported with the underlying cause of environmental factors such as tooth decay due to fluorides containing water, zinc poisoning, uranium poisoning,skin diseases, kidney damage and many more.

The world organizations responsible for health and environment have played a significant role in the impediment of the environmental issues. The Government of Pakistan in the past has launched many projects regarding environmental issues such as man-made forest in Punjab known as Changa Manga, the One Billion Trees Tsunami and many other regional programs in the past but disappointingly the combine effects of these programs couldn’t bring a remarkable change and betterment in the concerning areas which is highly needed attention.

The solution for these environmental issueis pretty clear: we need to plant more trees, ensuring chemical safety, water sanitation and sewerage system improvement, proper waste disposals and conserve our remaining forests to reduce air and soil pollution. The agricultural sector of the country also needs to reduce its use of pesticides and fertilizers, as these harmful chemicals can easily find their way to water bodies and lead to pollution. More importantly, the government must take steps to ban individuals and companies from disposing of their waste and rubbish into lakes, rivers, and oceans. Furthermore, it is imperative to take action to reduce the number of diesel vehicles that emit excessive carbon in the air.  The high content of lead in petrol should be checked and balanced and there is need of shifting toward electrical vehicles across the world that can  play a crucial role in saving our environment from greenhouse gas emissions.We can minimize land pollution by adopting a zero-waste lifestyle and reducing use of plastic. Other ways to help tackle this ecological problem of Pakistan include recycling and reusing things, buying organic products, and avoiding using harsh chemicals such as industrial cleaners and bleach solutions. Industrial areas and pollution caused by industries should be highly monitored.

On an individual level, we can put our efforts by various ways i.e by reducing the number of trips or using Public transport, by minimizing the use of firewood and wood stoves especially people living in Northern areas. Furthermore, we should ban the somewhat common practice of burning leaves and garbage along with other materials to help protect the environment in Pakistan. We should take cautions while disposing liquid and solid wastes.

These measures can endow with incalculable propitious outcomes by directly reducing the pollution causing by various means thus resulting in unpolluted environment. A pollution-free environment will directly reduce the occurrence and intensity of environmental associated diseases and the quality of life will increase by many folds. The morbidity and mortality rate will be decreased in notable manners.

Besides many problems associated with the environmental issues, the indispensable outcomes are severely deteriorating health quality which is strongly need an attention to curb these determinants in order to make the world eco-friendly and disease free. The initiative must be taken on the governmental and individual level.