A load of organic and inorganic pollutants is increasing continuously in the environment. To meet the needs of the exponential human population, industries are generating material by using hazardous substances. The pollution load on the environment is increasing in the industrial era. A large number of pollutants are released into the atmosphere every second. Some of them go to water bodies, some in air and soil. The micropollutants have the ability to change the overall ecosystem because they become part of the air, water, and soil and cannot be observed readily. This article will give a brief overview of micropollutants in air and water. Furthermore, the health impacts of micropollutants will be discussed.
Before getting into the topic, let’s understand why the particles are named so, their types, and their composition.
The particles of PM 2.5 are too small and can enter the body through skin pores and become part of the bloodstream.
Natural and anthropogenic substances in the environment that are small enough to be seen with the naked eye are micropollutants. The particles of pharmaceutical waste, pesticides, fertilizers, and industrial chemicals are termed micropollutants. They are classified as heavy metal pollutants and organic pollutants. Pollutants are anything that alters the natural makeup of a system. Macro pollutants are those which can be seen with the naked eye. Hence, they are easy to observe and remove. On the contrary, micropollutants are extremely fine particles that are formed by the breakdown of large molecules. Dust particles, plastics, and pharmaceutical waste are released into the environment. When these particles increase to limit the dilution capacity of the system, they cause pollution. The micropollutants are released into the atmosphere as well as in water bodies. The environmental and health impacts of micropollutants are huge. The impacts of pollutants on the environment and human health is discussed following:
When released into the atmosphere, extremely fine particles combine with other particles and make a large size molecule. This molecule absorbs the incoming solar radiation and becomes a causative agent of global warming. Global warming is a serious issue around the world that leads to extreme environmental conditions – floods, heatwaves, and forest fires.
When entering into water bodies, micropollutants cause severe damage to the ecosystem. The pollutants are a source of food for algae and bacteria in water. An excessive amount of nutrients increases algae’s growth, and the oxygen level of water could decrease. This leads to the death of aquatic animals. Microplastics are another type of pollutants that also cause organ damage and the death of aquatic fauna. The environmental footprint of micropollutants is HUGE. Accumulation of micropollutants in water bodies causes the extinction of one species every ten years.
The pollutants in the air come down with rain and affect the buildings, plants, and soil. These pollutants travel a long distance with air currents and settle on mountains as well. The dark surface of the mountain absorbs sunlight and melt as a result. Consequently, the sea level is rising that increasing the floods. This way, micropollutants alter the normal functioning of the ecosystem.
As for the micropollutants in water bodies, this water when is used for agriculture purposes. Being rich in heavy metals, this water retards the growth of plants, and some of the pollutants are taken up by plants as well, which become part of the food chain. Heavy metal analysis of vegetables has shown that all samples have a minute concentration of heavy metals in them.
Micropollutants are small enough that humans can inhale them, ingest them, or expose them through the skin. A study conducted by French National Institute for Agriculture Research has explained that although the exact impacts of each pollutant are not clear, their effects are not deniable. The particles of PM 2.5 are too small and can enter the body through skin pores and become part of the bloodstream. These particles form a layer around vital organs – heart and lungs – and also lead to death. When inhaled, the particles damage the respiratory tract of humans. There is an increase in inborne asthma among the population. Other respiratory diseases prevailing among populations are lung cancer and irreversible asthma.
As the pollutants become a part of the food chain, they lead to various other diseases as well. Bioaccumulation of micropollutants in humans leads to reproductive damage, neurological damage, and cardiovascular disease. Heavy metals such as lead, mercury, and arsenic are hazardous and can lead to serious health damage. Microplastics are also accumulated by fish and enter into the human body when they eat those fish. Plastics in the body alter the endocrine system of humans. Furthermore, microplastics cause oxidative stress and cytotoxicity. Microplastics act as a vector for microorganisms, thus posing health risks. Rivers and streams are the source of water for a large number of people. Any pollutant in water is hazardous to the human population. Flint water crisis in America is an example of water pollution that creates a panic situation among people.
How to Minimize the Emissions
Aggressive industrial activities cause environmental degradation. But the impacts can be minimized if energy sources are transformed from non-renewable energy towards renewable energy sources. Additionally, using organic products instead of synthetic materials – biofertilizer and compostable bags – can make the condition a little better. Treatment of water bodies can also help to restore the water sources.
Micropollutants are tiny particles in the atmosphere and water that cause pollution. They are so small and can be taken up by humans and animals. When released into the environment, micropollutants cause global warming and lead to adverse environmental conditions. When discharged into water bodies, these pollutants alter the food chain and degrade the whole ecosystem. Humans are exposed to pollutants through inhalation, ingestion, and dermal exposure. Micropollutants cause endocrine disruption, reproductive damage, and neurological disorders. The best way to minimize pollutants is to shift towards sustainable economic practices. Furthermore, green practices can minimize the impacts.