Oil - Indirect Impact on Environment
Oil is the foundation upon which the industrial civilization is built and around which it operates. So oil has to share some responsibility for all the environmental catastrophes occurring today.
Wild Life Damage
Studies of the Exxon Valdez oil spill have shown that the environmental damage caused by oil spills can be greater than was previously thought. Petroleum-based hydrocarbons can negatively impact marine life at concentrations as low as one part per billion.
The lighter fractions of oil, such as benzene and toluene, are highly toxic, but are also volatile and evaporate quickly. Heavier components of crude oil, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) appear to cause the most damage; while they are less toxic than the lighter volatiles, they persist in the environment much longer. A heavy oil spill can also blanket estuaries and shoreline ecosystems such as salt marshes and tidal pools, preventing gas exchange and blocking light. The oil can mix deeply into pebble, shingle or sandy beaches, where it may remain for months or even years.
Seabirds are severely affected by spills as the oil penetrates and opens up the structure of their plumage, reducing the insulating ability of their feathers, making the birds more vulnerable to temperature fluctuations and much less buoyant in the water. The oiled feathers also impairs birds' flight abilities, making it difficult or impossible to forage and escape from predators. As they attempt to preen, birds typically ingest oil that coats their feathers, causing kidney damage, altered liver function, and digestive tract irritation. The limited foraging ability coupled with the ingestion of the oil quickly causes dehydration and metabolic imbalances. Most birds affected by an oil spill will die without human intervention.
Marine mammals exposed to oil spills are affected in many of the same ways as seabirds. Oil coats the fur of Sea otters, seals, reducing their furs natural insulation abilities, leading to body temperature fluctuations and hypothermia. Ingestion of the oil also causes dehydration, and impaired digestion.
Once part of the largest intact wilderness area in the United States, Alaska's North Slope now hosts one of the world's largest industrial complexes, spanning some 1,000 square miles of once-pristine Arctic tundra. All of this industrial activity is taking place in an exceptionally fragile region. Because of the very short summer growing season, extreme cold at other times of the year, and nutrient-poor soils and permafrost, vegetation grows very slowly in the North Slope. Any physical disturbance -- bulldozer tracks, seismic oil exploration, spills of oil and other toxic substances -- can scar the land for decades.
Oil related pollution is damaging life forms, both on water and land. On various highways around the world, many creatures get killed or maimed by speeding vehicles. Just in one state of America, Pennsylvania, deer-vehicle accidents account for more than $130 million in insurance claims. In addition, it is estimated that more than 150,000 deer-vehicle collisions likely occur in New York and Pennsylvania annually.
In India, in the last decade, several dozens of elephants were killed and many more injured by speeding trucks and trains, mainly in foothills areas.
Disposing cars is another problem. Heaps of smashed cars is a common sight and an increasing problem all over the world.
The annual disposal of about 8 - 9 million cars in Europe has severe negative impacts on the environment. In addition to the environmental problems of car use, the disposal of cars is a major source of hazardous waste and toxic emissions.
Current waste management of end-of-life vehicles is focused on the recovery of ferrous metals in steel works. Cars are shredded and then separated into various fractions but only the metal fractions can be recycled. The remaining non-recyclable light fraction amounts to approximately 2 million tons of hazardous waste annually, which is equivalent to 10% of the total amount of hazardous wastes generated in the European Union. This waste is contaminated with heavy metals, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic, plasticizers and hazardous oils. Most of this is disposed of in landfills, where leaching can lead to contamination of soil and groundwater. The presence of PVC plastics and other chlorinated materials poses particular hazards, such as dioxin formation, if this waste is incinerated, or accidentally catch fire. PVC plastic residue in steel scrap also leads to dioxin emissions from steel recycling plants. Almost none of the PVC parts used in cars can be recycled.
The huge amounts of hazardous wastes and the toxic emissions generated by the disposal of end-of-life vehicles illustrate the environmental problems that arise in an industrialized setup.
Our trash is not only taking up land but is destroying resources, animals and their way of life.
Lot of chemicals and processes which leave hazardous waste are intimately related to petroleum. Toxic waste is a waste material, often in chemical form, that can cause death or injury to living creatures. It usually is the product of industry or commerce, but comes also from residential use, agriculture, the military, medical facilities, radioactive sources, and light industry, such as dry- cleaning establishments. As with many pollution problems, toxic waste began to be a significant issue during the industrial revolution. The term is often used interchangeably with “hazardous waste,” or discarded material that can pose a long-term risk to health or environment. Toxins can be released into air, water, or land.
Toxic waste can pollute the natural environment and contaminate groundwater. In US, Love Canal is a famous incident in which homes and schools were built near an area where toxic waste had been dumped, causing epidemic health problems.
A number of toxic substances that humans encounter regularly may pose serious health risks. Pesticide residues on vegetable crops, mercury in fish, and many industrially produced chemicals may cause cancer, birth defects, genetic mutations, or death.
Exotic chemicals such as dioxins and PCBs are not the only source of danger. Common heavy metals like lead, nickel, mercury, chromium, and cadmium all have poisonous effects on humans. For example, lead, found in old house paint and water pipes, is known to cause anemia, decreased intelligence, and other health problems in children. When trash is burned, poisonous heavy metals go into the air, and when trash is buried in landfills the heavy metals often migrate into human drinking water.
Bubbling, oozing, slimy, stinky, the United States has at least 36,000 hazardous waste sites containing used oil, battery acid, PCB's, heavy metals, detergents, pesticides, old paint, plastics, radioactive wastes and more. In 1980, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set up a “Superfund” for cleaning up the country’s most hazardous toxic waste sites. Superfund sites are the nation's worst toxic waste sites: 1,305 are scheduled for cleanup on the National Priorities List (NPL). So far only 35 appear to have been cleared. Sometimes toxins stored at some of these sites leak out of their containers and make their way into ground water, soil, lakes and rivers. Accidents, such as train derailments or crashes involving tanker trucks transporting toxic wastes or oil spills from ships, can also release large quantities of these dangerous chemicals into the environment. Build-up of toxins can also result from release of small amounts over a large area and/or a long time. An example of this is the runoff of excessive fertilizers and pesticides applied to lawns and farm fields. Cleaning up these toxic wastes has cost $20 billion over the past 15 years in the United States. Cleanup of the rest of the toxins already in the environment (in the U.S.A.) is expected to cost between $100 and $500 billion (that is about $500 to $2500 per person in the United States.)
About 11 million people in the U.S., including 3-4 million children, live within 1 mile of a federal Superfund site and face potential public health risks. As of 1993, Germany had 140,000 known sites where toxic wastes had been dumped illegally, and officials estimated another 240,000 sites unknown. Three Superfund toxic waste sites in and around New Orleans were flooded by Hurricane Katrina and one remains underwater, Environmental Protection Agency officials suspect that hazardous materials are leaching into the environment.
In November 1998, nearly 3,000 tons of Taiwanese toxic waste were dumped in a field in the southern port of Sihanoukville, Cambodia. Dumped in an open field, the waste was scavenged by poor villagers, many of whom later complained of sickness; several died. Local people panicked: thousands fled the city.
Another problem with the chemical industry is the occurrence of major accidents. In 1985, a valve broke at the Union Carbide chemical plant at Bhopal, India, allowing 30 tons of lethal methyl isocyanate gas to escape. More than 3,000 people living nearby were killed, and another 17,000 received permanent injuries. Many others died later on.
Gujarat, India, is a state hugely affected with fluoride contamination that poses major problem for drinking water. With the water intensive industries — like chemicals, dye, pharmaceutical and textile—- concentration in the State, an irreparable damage to the environment has been caused by disposing toxic waste.
We can conclude our discussion here with one last fact: over 1.1 billion pounds of pesticides costing over 25 billion dollars are used every year in the United States, the world's leading consumer of pesticides. That's over four pounds of pesticide per person!
Such dangers should make us think whether do we really need industries to lead a sane and happy life.
Greenpeace has documented hundreds of cases where developed countries have traded or transferred toxic waste problems to developing countries. Instead of receiving clean technologies, too often developing countries receive toxic waste, products and technologies.
This type of trade is immoral and environmentally destructive for the receiving countries and their people. It also prevents developed countries from investing in real solutions to pollution, and developing future markets in more appropriate technologies or products.
The most blatant offence has been the export of toxic wastes from developed to developing countries. Greenpeace has sought a ban on this type of toxic trade and achieved it through an international treaty called the Basel Convention. The convention came into force in 1992 but it was a weak treaty.
In August 1986, the city of Philadelphia (USA) loaded 15,000 tons of toxic ash from its trash incineration plant onto an oceangoing freighter, the Khian Sea. This ship spent 18 months in the Caribbean, looking unsuccessfully for a place to dump its dangerous cargo. Five continents and three name changes later, the ship allegedly found a place to legitimately offload the toxic ash, but Greenpeace says the waste was actually dumped illegally in the Indian Ocean in November of 1988.
In January 2008, in the wake of the Christmas electronic gadget buying season, with many buying new flat screen TVs, cell phones and computers and facing the problem of disposing the old ones, the Basel Action Network (BAN) and the Electronics TakeBack Coalition (ETBC) cautioned consumers not to be fooled by the majority of businesses nationwide calling themselves electronics recyclers who in fact don’t do any recycling at all, but instead ship old equipment to developing countries.
India gets ships from countries like Bermuda, Panama and even land-locked Mongolia to dismantle at Asia's biggest ship breaking yard, Alang. But scratch the surface and it appears that these small countries are a front for rich nations to send their dirty cargo ships to India. The poor countries come handy for countries like Germany and Greece to circumvent international laws. The catch being that international laws prevent 'the rich' from shipping their hazardous waste directly to India. 'The poor' are not barred from dealing in this lucrative international scrap trade with another 'poor country'. The "Blue Lady" was more than a 2,000 plus capacity luxury cruise liner run by the world famous Star Cruise Limited. But after it became unusable, it shipped through various countries before being 'officially' sold to a company based in Liberia for a mere US $10. Sailing under the Liberian flag, it was sold to an Indian company.
The idea of striving to create life-giving foods while simultaneously dousing them with deadly poisons is inelegant and illogical.
To keep profit margins high, factory farming routinely uses chemical pesticides to protect crops from insects and animals. A pesticide may be a chemical substance, biological agent (such as a virus or bacteria), antimicrobial, disinfectant or device used against any pest. Pests include insects, plant pathogens, weeds, mollusks, birds, mammals, fish, roundworms and microbes.
Over 98% of sprayed insecticides and 95% of herbicides reach a destination other than their target species, including nontarget species, air, water, bottom sediments, and food. Pesticide contaminates land and water when it escapes from production sites and storage tanks, when it runs off from fields, when it is discarded, when it is sprayed aerially, and when it is sprayed into water to kill algae.
The many good biological, nonchemical, and nontoxic methods are seldom used. The pesticide industry vigorously markets its products and promises vast savings for growers.
Insecticides are not crop-pest specific. They pose a serious risk to farm labour and farm animals, and most other animals in the environment as well. They all suffer from insecticide poisoning, by dermal contact, inhalation or ingestion. The lack of target specificity and an indiscriminate and excessive insecticide application has disturbed large components of biodiversity of agricultural lands.
Most insecticides are not completely degraded and so leave residues in the food, feed, other agricultural produce, soil and water. These residues are poisonous when the food or feed from sprayed crops are consumed without proper cleaning. In the process entire natural food chain gets contaminated.
The nature and intensity of insecticidal toxicity depends upon the chemical structure of the insecticide and the mode of its action and not on whether it is natural or synthetic. The level of exposure and the concentration of the insecticide or its residue in the body are critical factors.
In developed countries, many dangerous pesticides are banned but their manufacturing for export purposes is allowed. Almost one third of the pesticides exported by US companies are banned for use within US. But what goes out, comes back in. Many of the fruits and vegetables imported in US are sprayed with the very same banned pesticides.
Most of the pesticides contribute to global warming and the depletion of the ozone layer.
In the United States, pesticides were found to pollute every stream and over 90% of wells sampled in a study by the US Geological Survey. Pesticide residues have also been found in rain and groundwater. Studies by the UK government showed that pesticide concentrations exceeded those allowable for drinking water in some samples of river water and groundwater.
The World Health Organization and the UN Environment Programme estimate that each year, 3 million workers in agriculture in the developing world experience severe poisoning from pesticides, about 18,000 of whom die. According to one study, as many as 25 million workers in developing countries may suffer mild pesticide poisoning yearly. These are associated with acute health problems for workers that handle the chemicals, such as abdominal pain, dizziness, headaches, nausea, vomiting, as well as skin and eye problems. Additionally, many studies have indicated that pesticide exposure is associated with long-term health problems such as respiratory problems, memory disorders, dermatologic conditions, cancer, depression, neurologic deficits, miscarriages, and birth defects.
Children have been found to be especially susceptible to the harmful effects of pesticides. A number of research studies have found higher instances of brain cancer, leukemia and birth defects in children with early exposure to pesticides, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Soil Depletion And Damage
Pesticides and chemical fertilizers are wreaking havoc on topsoil in the fields around the world. Franklin Roosevelt said, “A nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.” And like the old bumper sticker says, “Stop treating your soil like dirt.”
In recent years the problem of soil contamination has become increasingly acute. Soil contamination is frequently caused by spillage of petroleum hydrocarbons from oil wells or storage tanks, or leakages from cross-country piping and storage networks utilized in the oil and process industries. Inland oil spills and leakages can cause localized death of agricultural and natural vegetation and extensive soil damage.
Accidental influxes of salts to the soil can devastate most vegetation in the spillage area and stop biological activity in a matter of days, rendering the land unproductive for farming or growth of any type of vegetation. Whether the high influxes of sodium chlorides in the soil result from years of irrigation, brackish water usage or an industrial process-related accident, the results are the same: almost all vegetation within the salt-contaminated area dies, and this in turn may also adversely affect the surrounding ecological balance.
Atina Diffley says, “All life depends on soil. When you kill the soil by destroying the biological life and organic matter, it is no longer soil, it is dirt.”