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Controlling pollution


Environmental Pollution
Types of pollution
Air pollution
Water pollution
Soil pollution
Controlling pollution
Government action
Scientific efforts
Business and industry
Environmental organizations
The growth of pollution
Progress in controlling pollution
Current environmental issues
The Clean Development Mechanism
Global warming
Reducing emissions (REDD)
Swine Influenza
Heart Attack


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Controlling pollution

Controlling pollution depends on the efforts of governments, scientists, business and industry, agriculture, environmental organizations, and individuals.

Government action. In many countries around the world, governments work to help clean up pollution. Such environmental efforts come from both local and national governments. In addition, a number of international efforts have been made to protect Earth's resources.

Local efforts. Many local governments have enacted laws to help clean up the environment. For example, in 1989, California adopted a 20-year plan to reduce air pollution in the Los Angeles area, which had the worst air quality in the United States. The plan includes measures to restrict the use of gasoline-powered vehicles and to encourage the use of mass transportation.

National efforts. Most countries have national pollution control agencies. In the United States, for example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets and enforces pollution control standards. It also assists state and local governments with pollution control.

Many national governments pass legislation to help limit and prevent pollution. Some pollution control laws limit or ban the release of pollutants into the environment. In the United States, the Clean Water Act of 1972 and its amendments have reduced the discharge of untreated water and harmful chemicals into rivers and other waterways. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 requires that hazardous wastes be specially treated before disposal. The act also requires landfills to be constructed with double liners and collection systems to prevent hazardous chemicals from entering water supplies.

Some pollution prevention laws require that polluters be issued an emission permit. Such a permit limits the amount of a pollutant a facility can legally release. The Clean Water Act of 1972 requires facilities releasing pollutants into surface water to do so within the limits of a permit. If a facility releases pollutants without a permit or above the limits of its permit, it may receive a fine or be shut down.

Other laws are designed to clean up pollution. In 1980, for example, the U.S. Congress enacted the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act. This act, also known as "Superfund," began a government cleanup of hazardous waste dumps in the United States. This law and others hold polluters responsible for repairing the environmental damage they cause.

National governments may also levy taxes on the release of pollutants or substances that create pollution. Beginning in 1990, the United States imposed taxes on the use of CFC's to help phase out their production. High taxes gave companies an incentive to develop alternatives to CFC's in their processes. By 1996, the production of CFC's had ended in the United States. High gasoline taxes may encourage people to drive less, to carpool, and to use public transportation, thus reducing air pollution from automobiles.

The forces of a free market can be used to help control pollution. A national government may set a total amount of pollutant emissions allowed over all industries and permit companies to trade emissions credits. For example, 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act established tradable emission credits for the release of sulfur dioxide from such major sources as power plants. A facility was allowed to release only as much sulfur dioxide as it had credits for. But it could buy credits from a facility whose emissions were so low that it had unused credits. To avoid buying emission credits, many power plant operators decided to burn cleaner fuels or to install pollution control devices.

Some government regulations simply require businesses to tell the public how many pollutants they release into the environment. This type of regulation has caused some companies to find ways to reduce pollution so that consumers do not develop an unfavorable impression of them and perhaps refuse to purchase their products. The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, established in the United States in 1986, is an example of such a regulation.

Global efforts. Many types of environmental pollution have been difficult to control because no single person or nation owns Earth's global resources-that is, its oceans and atmosphere. To control pollution, the people of the world must work together.

Since the 1970's, representatives of many nations have entered into environmental treaties. The treaties aim to control such problems as acid rain, the thinning of the ozone layer, and the dumping of waste into oceans.

In 1992, representatives of member countries of the United Nations (UN) met in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the UN Conference on Environment and Development, also known as the Earth Summit. UN members there signed agreements on the prevention of global warming, the preservation of forests and endangered species, and other issues. In 2002, UN countries met for the World Summit on Sustainable Development, in Johannesburg, South Africa. At that meeting, UN members committed themselves to reversing environmental damage. They set target dates by which to complete the restoration of depleted fisheries and to end the production of certain hazardous chemicals.

In 2001, 127 countries formed a treaty to ban or phase out the use of 12 persistent organic pollutants (POP's). These chemicals, which include the pesticide DDT, are carried across national boundaries by air and water, and they threaten the health of human beings and other animals. The treaty is expected to promote cooperation between scientists, industries, and government to reduce presence of POP's in the environment.

Marian R. Chertow, M.P.P.M., Director, Industrial Environmental Management Program, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.
Source :
World Book 2005

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