The Sources of Pollution in the United States of America

May 15, 2020 in Research Paper

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The current research paper seeks to identify the sources of pollution in the United States. The combustion of fossil fuels emits air pollutants such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and carbon dioxide. Agricultural wastes, sewage, industrial wastes, and chemicals cause land and water pollution. Noise pollution emanates from loud noise from music, transport systems like aircraft and vehicles, and industrial activities. Light pollution mainly comes from advertising boards, spotlights, street lights, and vehicle headlights. 

Keywords: sources of pollution, the United States 

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The Sources of Pollution in the United States of America


Living organisms require a clean natural environment free from pollutants. However, human activities generate many pollutants that contaminate the environment. Pollution is the contamination of the natural environment with chemical substances and energy such as light, noise, and heat among others (Bradford, 2015). Pollution in the United States (US) is a primary concern for individuals, governmental agencies, and most importantly, environmental organizations. There are numerous sources of land, air, water, noise, and light pollution in the US. 

Air Pollution

Most of the sources of air pollution range from fossil fuels to agricultural emissions. Doney et al. (2012) explain that industrial and agricultural activities, as well as the burning of fossil fuels, result in the accumulation of gas pollutants such as carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and carbon monoxide, which interfere with the chemical composition of the atmosphere. Some of the gases generated by the burning of fossil fuels come from vehicles, trains, airplanes, and the combustion of coal in coal plants. For example, having a population of more than 18 million people, Los Angeles experiences the worst levels of air pollution due to the burning of fossil fuels caused by the use of motor vehicles and diesel engines as well as industrial and agricultural activities (US Environmental Protection Agency, n.d.). In the home environment, the burning of fuel while cooking contributes to the accumulation of greenhouse gases polluting the environment. Furthermore, incineration of garbage contributes to air pollution. The growth and development of agricultural and industrial sectors together with urbanization contribute to the clearance of vegetation, which purifies air to prevent pollution of the atmosphere with carbon dioxide. Vegetation stores carbon and helps in purifying the air by releasing oxygen and absorbing carbon dioxide (Anderson & Bows, 2008). Sometimes, people clear forested lands using fire that releases smoke and greenhouse gases into the environment. Dumping of garbage also pollutes the air, especially when rotting occurs. 

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Water Pollution

Water pollution occurs when contaminants such as chemicals get their way into the water bodies. Bradford (2015) explains that some of the sources of water pollution in the US are fertilizers and pesticides from agricultural runoffs, sewage, industrial and agricultural chemicals, and metals such as mercury and lead. The level of water pollution is high, especially in the rivers and lakes. In the US, 46% of the lake water is polluted due to fishing, aquatic life, and swimming so that every year, the country is compelled to close about 25% of its beaches because of water pollution (Hearn, n.d.). 44% of the assessed stream miles, 30% of the estuarine and bay areas, and 64% of lakes in the country are not clean enough for swimming and fishing since most of the contaminants like bacteria, nitrogen, phosphorus, and mercury penetrate these water bodies (Bradford, 2015). Notwithstanding this, septic systems in the country are failing, something that causes untreated waste materials to flow into lakes, rivers, and streams resulting in severe water pollution. Hearn (n.d.) further asserts that more than 1.2 trillion gallons of untreated industrial waste, sewage, and groundwater are discharged into the US water bodies every year. Furthermore, 73% of different types of pesticides have gained access to the US groundwater, which is dangerous for the human population because people are drinking this water (Hearn, n.d.). The burning of fossil fuels also contributes to water pollution through water acidification because the acidic greenhouse gases find their way to the water bodies through rainwater.

Land Pollution

Most sources of land pollution come from the dumped waste materials from human activities. For instance, Americans produced more than 250 million tons of garbage comprising of grass clippings, clothing, food scraps, paint, batteries, appliances, newspapers, product packaging, bottles, and furniture of which more than 54% is gathered in landfills (Bradford, 2015). These wastes are comprised of organic materials from paper, food, and garden-related wastes, plastics, metals, rubber, leather, textile, wood, and other dangerous wastes. Excessive soil erosion is another source of not only water pollution but also land pollution. Bradford (2015) explains that hazardous materials including medical ones such as surgical gloves, discarded needles, surgical instruments, and bandages are dangerous sources of land pollution both to humans and other living organisms. Paints, solvents, motor oil, and ammunition are also hazardous wastes that cause soil pollution across the country.

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Light Pollution

Although artificial light has transformed the life of the human race and its activities, light pollution has become a serious threat to the health and behavior of living organisms. Although the invention of artificial lighting has been one of the most significant technological discoveries, its excessive use causes light pollution that is recognized as having severe adverse effects (Hölker et al., 2010). Glenn Phillips, the New York City Audubon Society’s Executive Director, explained that more than 10,000 birds die or sustain serious injuries after crashing into skyscrapers and tall buildings because of light pollution (Chepesiuk, 2009). Furthermore, Phillips asserts that about 98 million birds die from light pollution in North America. It is also clear that this kind of pollution causes sleeping problems among humans. Sources of this type of pollution in the US include advertising boards, street lights, vehicle headlights, and spotlights. Leaving lights on at night in most American homes also causes photo pollution. 

Noise Pollution

Noise pollution is a nuisance to the human population because of its effects on the environment. Tens of millions of the American people suffer from numerous health conditions such as hearing loss and heart diseases because of this type of pollution (Hammer, Swinburn, & Neitzel, 2014). Light pollution occurs when the sound from planes, industries, and many other sources reaches harmful levels. There has been established a link between noise pollution and health problems including stress-related conditions, speech impairment, and high blood pressure. For instance, the World Health Organization conducted a research study on the contribution of noise pollution to the environmental burden of disease in which it found that hundreds of people die every year because of the escalating rates of coronary heart diseases (Bradford, 2015). In the US, most environmental or outdoor noise pollution is caused by machines and transportation systems which include vehicles, trains, and aircraft. Noise pollution also occurs in oceans, especially from ships and this kind of pollution upsets whales, and kills many aquatic organisms (Bradford, 2015). As for animals, this kind of pollution can increase the risk of death since it affects the ability of the prey to detect and avoid predators. Furthermore, industries are among the leading causes of noise pollution in the country. Loud music and work-related noise such as welding are among the causes of pollution.


The US has many sources of soil or land, air, water, noise and light pollution that adversely affect the health, lives, and behaviors of living organisms. The burning of fossil fuels in homes, such engines as those of vehicles, airplanes, trains, and factories substantially contribute to air pollution. At the same time, clearance of forests and other forms of vegetation in the country not only releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere but also depletes the air purifiers. Untreated industrial wastes, sewage, agricultural wastes such as pesticides and fertilizers pollute the water. Moreover, the dumping of garbage in landfills that include domestic wastes and industrial wastes are a severe cause of land pollution in the country. These wastes also find their way into the water bodies causing water pollution. Noise pollution from the American transport system such as vehicles, trains, and aircraft as well as music and industrial noise are a menace to the population. Finally, excessive lighting from vehicle headlights, spotlights, advertising boards, and home lighting at night causes light pollution.

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