Pollution is not a new phenomenon. In fact, it is older than most people realize. Archeologists digging through sites of Upper Paleolithic settlements (settlements of the first modern humans, between forty thousand and ten thousand years ago) routinely find piles of discarded stone tools, and the litter from the making of these tools. One could even argue that the first use of wood-burning fire ushered in the era of air pollution. Lead pollution from Roman smelters can be traced all across Europe. Yet all this early pollution was limited in its effects on the environment. As humans moved from nomadic to settled societies, however, pollution increased in magnitude, becoming a real problem for the environment and its human and nonhuman inhabitants.
Although pollution of major proportions has been a problem since the centuries preceding the Middle Ages, it is worth noting that after World War II, the type of pollution involved changed significantly. Industries began manufacturing and using synthetic materials such as plastics, polychlori-nated biphenyls (PCBs), and inorganic pesticides like dichlorodiphenyl trichloroethane (DDT). These materials are not only toxic, they also accumulate in the environment—they are not biodegradable. Thus, increased rates of cancers, physical birth defects, and mental retardation, among other health problems, are now being observed. A worrisome loss of biodiversity
exists in the environment—animal and plant species become extinct at an alarming rate. There is an increased risk of catastrophic industrial accidents, such as the one that occurred in Bhopal, India. The tremendous cleanup costs of hazardous waste dumps, and the difficulty in disposing of these chemicals safely, assure that water, land, and air pollution will continue to be a problem for generations to come. Throughout history and to this day, pollution touches all parts of the environment—the water, the air, and the land.
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