The number of fish in the ocean is declining rapidly. At first, scientists blamed overfishing, especially by poorer countries. Now they blame pollution, mostly from rich countries. And the U.K. has discovered that air pollution from the U.S. is blowing their way, which may be the cause of a rise in lung disease. The wars and military threats of the future may be over pollution.
A country can have strong anti-pollution laws in place, but that won’t help if a neighboring country is a heavy polluter. The spread of pollution first came to public attention in the U.S. when acid rain caused by Northeastern power plants caused tree damage in other parts of the country. Next we realized that polluted dust from China blows around the world every year. Now we know that pollution is a worldwide phenomenon.
One thing it’s doing is changing fish from male to female. Estrogen from hormone replacement therapy and birth control pills is getting into bodies of water and feminizing fish. Steve Connor writes in the Independent that one-third of the male fish caught in the U.K. have female reproductive tissues and organs. These “intersex” fish were first seen about ten years ago, in rivers near sewage-treatment plants (since the polluting hormones are excreted in urine). Birth control pills and HRT are mostly used in first-world countries, but this contamination will eventually affect the ocean fish that many third-world countries depend on.
But wealthy countries don’t all have the same standards when it comes to pollution control. Scientists think that airborne chemicals from the U.S. that are blowing into the U.K. and western Europe may be to blame for a rise in lung disease there.
Dr. Alastair Lewis plans to track and test the air coming across the Atlantic, looking for chemicals emitted from U.S. car exhausts and power plants. He says, “It’s highly likely that air leaving the States contains a cocktail of nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons, which are emitted from vehicle exhausts and power stations. We want to know how these will react together on the way to Europe and notably whether they will form ozone and particles, both of which can be harmful in humans?Although we know that some of this pollution [is] produced locally in the UK, we still don’t know what the contribution [is] from other countries. The more you look at ozone the more you understand that it is a global pollutant.”
Malcolm Green of the British Lung Foundation says, “Unfortunately we know that pollution is an international problem. We know in the U.S. air pollution is a significant problem. The U.S. consumes 25% of the world’s fossil fuels?mostly oil?and it’s predominantly the consumption of fossil fuels that creates pollution. It’s perfectly plausible that they are exporting air pollution to us. The predominant wind is from the south west.”
If we don?t clean up our pollution soon, other countries may declare war on us.
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