Fossil Fuels Harm the Environment and Human Health

Since the beginning scientists have been pondering ways to dispose of waste so that it does not damage the environment. As of the recent centuries the health of the environment was not considered when disposing of solid and liquid bi-products from the production of energy from fossil fuels. Nearly everything you interact with in the world today is made from a bi-product of fossil fuels. For example, fossil fuels have helped create, “medicines, cosmetics, plastics, synthetic fabrics, and lubricants” (Fossil, 2011, para. 1). Surprisingly, fossil fuels account for 82% of the energy demand in the United States, regardless of the negative byproducts and the difficulties with storage/disposal (IER, 2014).

Fossil Fuels create energy through steam and makes the industrial mass production via factories and other facilities possible (IER, 2014). Fossil fuels may seem to be the top pick for the world today for energy production, but the negative consequences damage the environment in several ways. The storage and disposal of these wastes like those from fossil fuels can damage the environment for centuries. For example, petrochemical companies dumped, “70 million gallons of industrial wastes from petrochemical companies and disposed of it on the property, from 1966 to 1971” (EPA, 2015). This contaminated all areas in the 55 acre portion of land in Crosby, Texas. Initially, the dumping was thought the be clean for the environment, however with time, “the groundwater, surface water, soil and sludge became contaminated with hazardous chemicals and heavy metals” (EPA, 2015) and the location is currently still being cleaned and analyzed.

The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and the Texas Water Commission are currently involved in the cleanup along with an agency formed from the combination of all the companies involved in the chemical dumping (EPA, 2015). The site is considered to be a superfund cleanup, and was first used for sand mining, which is damaging to the environment to begin with. Sand is such a high commodity this day in time because it is used to create our roads for transportation.

However, this can cause damage to the local community and affect generations for decades. Sand mining can affect the environment physically, ecologically, and also the area’s water supply (Issues, 2004). Superfund cleanup sites are large abandoned pieces of land, and usually cleanup “starts when anyone discovers or reports a waste site or the possible release of hazardous materials” (EPA, 2015). Companies stopped sand mining in the area, and “from 1962 until 1973, an industrial waste facility operated at the site under a permit issued by the Texas Water Quality Board for petrochemical waste disposal” (EPA, 2015). This was later determined to be very damaging to the environment and was shut down in late 1973. Currently, the area is experiencing many different environmental concerns.

Concerns with exposure to these volatile chemicals that have been exposed to the 55 acre area in Crosby, Texas range from one’s personal health to the animals in the environment. The “ingestion or touching of contaminated soil, sludge, groundwater or surface water” (EPA, 2015) can cause poisoning and could ultimately cause death. In 2013 the EPA took samples of some groundwater in the area exposed and determined that  the water is getting better,  and that “in most areas the plumes are stable or declining” (EPA, 2015).

It was also determined that there would be yearly samples taken from the groundwater to ensure continued positive advancements in water quality. Tests on the groundwater in 2014 and 2015 also indicated that plumes were stable or declining. Removal programs and emergency response teams ensure the environment around this exposed area in Texas remain healthy and productive. They also ensure that the areas surrounding the exposure zone remain uncontaminated. Currently, the area that was exposed to the petrochemical wastes is considered ‘under control’.

The long term solution for these types of chemical dumpsites include, “extraction and treatment of contaminated groundwater, excavation and treatment of contaminated soil and sludge, and finally the stabilization of treatment residues and groundwater monitoring” (EPA, 2015). During extraction and treatment of contaminated groundwater, groundwater is removed from the environment and treated, then reintroduced a little bit cleaner that the time before. This process takes a long time, but eventually the water will be clean enough for exposure to humans, and animals. Several chemicals have been shown to be particularly harmful to the environment when exposed to these petrochemical toxins including, “benzene, arsenic, organics and even pesticides” (EPA, 2015). Regardless how contaminated,  the soil is still treated in the same way and then they are all monitored closely.

A plan was proposed in July of 2014 that insisted it had the best way the deal with the petrochemical ‘spill’. This plan stated the following: “First, contain the groundwater contaminant plumes in two shallow ground water zones. The groundwater cleanup levels for selected chemicals within a defined boundary cannot be achieved.Preventing exposure to contaminated groundwater above acceptable risk levels can be contained by implementing Institutional Controls (ICs) to restrict access to, or use of, contaminated water within the defined boundary.

Also, installing additional monitoring wells and conducting short-term monitoring to verify the proposed defined boundary is critical; conducting long-term monitoring to ensure that the plume is not expanding would ensure the evaluation of data periodically” (EPA, 2015). This process is critical to the development of the environment to what it once was. Although many other things are being done in addition to the above plan, much experience has been gained about the damaging effects of hazardous wastes when exposed to the environment.

When a spill happens, steps and procedures are already in place to effectively reduce the risk of damage to the environment. For example, three questions are generally asked during a spill or pollutant damage on the environment. First, you should establish what type of chemical was spilled. Without knowing what type of chemical you are going to be dealing with, you will be unable to take the proper steps to ensure your safety and that of others. Next, establishing the extent of the damage and type of exposures are possible in order to get a scope of the clean up process. Finally, a barrier should be established, “ to determine the risk of pollution at the site. This will be a combination of the probability of the event and of the consequences (nature and magnitude) of the release” (Risks, 2015).

Currently, many things are currently affecting the world in measurable and defining ways. Global warming, for example, can be backed up by credible data and studies by the majority of scientists in the research community insisting that climate change is real, and that this “leads to rising temperatures of the oceans and the earth’ surface causing melting of polar ice caps, rise in sea levels and also unnatural patterns of precipitation such as flash floods, excessive snow or desertification”  (15 Current, 2014). Polar ice caps have started to melt at alarming rates and has damaged many species who consider the arctic home. One of the biggest risks associated with global warming would be depletion of the ozone layer and continued damage to the environment. Also, water shortage and water cleanliness have become a serious issue and should be addressed immediately.

General pollution has been affecting the environment since the beginning of time. The soil, water, and air that we breath is vital for our survival. Any contamination or spill can affect the environment for generations, and cause the animals in the environment to lose their homes. According to recent research, “water pollution is caused by oil spill, acid rain, urban runoff; air pollution is caused by various gases and toxins released by industries and factories and combustion of fossil fuels; soil pollution is majorly caused by industrial waste that deprives soil from essential nutrients” (15 Current, 2014).

Overpopulation and depletion of resources on our Earth are directly related. This overpopulation causes the shortage of water, food, and even sources of energy production. Since fossil fuels are used so commonly, these resources are quickly disappearing from our natural environment. It can take millions of years to produce these precious types of resources, and when they are depleted, then they will be completely gone.

Plastics are notably one of the most damaging types of solid waste, and is very damaging to the environment (15 Current, 2014). Research should be done on other forms of packaging that are biodegradable and healthy for the environment. There are many different agencies and associations that deal with hazardous wastes or other chemicals on a daily basis. The most commonly known include the CDC, EPA, NHEC. and the NIOSH. WHO is more commonly recognized as an international entity, establishing guidelines and principles that will protect the environment globally.

The CDC, or Center for Disease Control, runs the NHEC and ensures, “a national program to maintain and improve the health of the American people by promoting a healthy environment and by preventing premature death and avoidable illness and disability caused by non-infectious, non-occupational environmental and related factors” (CDC, 2015). The EPA states that, “although we can do a lot to clean up pollution after it’s in the environment, preventing pollution in the first place is even better”(EPA, 2015). This is indicative of the type of work they do for the continued health of the environment. The EPA manages cleanup, storage, and stabilization of hazardous waste and creates laws and guideline to ensure the safety of the environment.

Since learning more information about waste disposal and storage in this class, I have realized that this is one of the most important and crucial aspects of environmental health is the proper treatment, storage of forms of pollution, the elimination of pollution by the development and continued use of clean energy sources. Without the development of different ways to deal with energy production and the storage/treatment of hazardous waste, the environment will continue to be damaged and will create everlasting damage to our World.