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In the first photograph, the fire produces smoke that pollutes the air. It has also destroyed the habitats of many plants and animals. In the second photograph, the improper disposal of rubbish has polluted and choked the water channel, possibly causing the water to stagnate and allowing pests like mosquitoes to breed.
Human activities can be the causes of these environmental damages. In the first photograph, people may have set fire to agricultural plantations and forests to clear the land. Such a scenario is common in countries like Indonesia. However, it is also possible that the fire is caused by natural events like hot weather and drought. In the second photograph, people have irresponsibly disposed of their rubbish and caused water pollution.
Smog is increasingly enveloping the city of Hong Kong. Sometimes the air quality is so bad that visibility declines to only a few metres. What could have caused the smog to occur and what consequences does it have on people and the environment?
Pollution is the introduction of substances into the environment such that it results in unpleasant or damaging effects on people, animals, plants and buildings. Human activities and natural events cause pollution.
Waste refers to materials that are useless and no longer wanted. Households, agricultural and industrial activities generate waste.
Vehicle emissions,contain harmful gases like carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides. Manufacturing industries emit large amounts of dust and smoke into the air. Construction work pollutes the air with dust and smoke particles.
Water pollution occurs when pollutants are discharged directly into water bodies such as rivers, lakes and seas.
It also occurs when air and land pollutants are blown by wind or washed by rain into water bodies.
Urban settlements discharge many forms of pollutants into canals, drains and sewer pipes which eventually find their way into the rivers and seas. Sources of pollutants include factories, sewage treatment plants, runoff of chemicals from agricultural plantations and live-stock farms.
Oil spills threaten the fishing industry and fishermen’s livelihood.
Oil spills can also pollute beaches and affect tourism.
Cleaning up oil spills requires an international effort and is a very expensive task. Scientists have estimated that no more than 15 percent of the oil from a major oil spill is recovered in a cleanup operation.
The cheapest way and the most effective approach is to prevent oil pollution.
Pollution can become a regional problem. Therefore, governments and international organisations like the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) need to work together to resolve the problems associated with pollution.
For example, after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, many countries have made it compulsory for oil tankers to have double hulls to prevent oil spills.
The United States has implemented the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 which requires all oil tankers to have double hulls by 2015. The European Union has also voted to ban single hull oil tankers from their waters by 2010.
• Sewage treatment plants can be built to treat waste water before releasing it into the environment.
Developing proper waste disposal methods
• There are two methods to carefully manage the disposal of waste — landfill and incineration. For example, Singapore has built the Pulau Semakau Landfill to manage solid waste. However, landfills are expensive to build and maintain and not a long-term sustainable solution to solid waste management.
• By 2009, Singapore will have five incineration plants to burn solid waste. Although incineration plants can produce electricity and reduce the volume of waste, they still emit air pollutants and are very costly to build.
• The government, under the Singapore Green Plan 2012, has decided to reduce the amount of solid waste generated. This is done by reducing waste going through incineration plants and landfills and by promoting waste recycling and minimisation.
Laws and regulations can be enforced to regulate the acceptable noise levels produced by vehicles, workplaces, industries and construction sites.
Various noise reduction methods like erecting sound barriers, planting trees and shrubs, covering walls with sound-proofing materials and installing mufflers in vehicle engines can be used to reduce noise pollution.
Special/Express stream only Mufflers can be installed in noisy equipment or in vehicles to absorb noise.
The Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) is responsible for the state of environmental cleanliness in Singapore.
The National Environment Agency (NEA), a statutory board under the MEWR, protects and enhances Singapore’s clean living environment by monitoring, reducing and preventing environmental pollution, through waste management, waste recycling and energy conservation.
The NEA also ensures a high standard of public health, cleanliness and hygiene in Singapore.
Efficient and effective waste disposal and reduction methods are developed to ensure Singapore’s residential, commercial and industrial areas remain waste and rubbish free. Waste in Singapore is mainly incinerated and the ash remains buried in landfills.
By 2012, under the SGP2012, Singapore aims to:
1. increase overall recycling rate from 44 percent to
2. extend the lifespan of Pulau Semakau Landfill to 50
years and strive for ‘zero’ landfill and
3. reduce the need for new incineration plants to one
The SGP2012 aims to reduce air pollution by encouraging industries and individuals to reduce energy consumption and use less polluting fuels like natural gas in power stations and vehicles.
Singapore has increasingly used natural gas to generate electricity in all its power stations. In 1999, natural gas stood at about 20 percent of fuel composition of the total electricity generated. In 2004, the number rose to about 69 percent.
A major review of the entire transportation system is also underway to encourage more people to use public transport in the future.
Apart from foreign partners, Singapore also actively engages other local governmental and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as nature societies and environmental clubs, in environmental issues and protection.
When the people of Bhopal breathed in the toxic gases, they coughed, vomited and their eyes became inflamed. Some of the people were not able to communicate with each other. Some lost their sight. Many people also lost consciousness.
An accident like the Bhopal disaster could happen in Singapore if we are not vigilant in protecting our environment. To prevent such an accident from occurring, the government needs to enforce stringent laws to regulate the manufacturing process of toxic chemicals like pesticides. In addition, the manufacturing factories of toxic chemicals should be located away from residential and commercial areas.
No. In an event of a disaster, many people living near the pesticide factory will lose their lives and experience severe health damage.