Pollution: Point Sources


Environmental pollution is one of the foremost ecological challenges. Pollution is an offshoot of technological advancement and overexploitation of natural resources. From the standpoint of pollution, the term environment primarily includes air, land, and water components including landscapes, rivers, parks, and oceans. Pollution can be generally defined as an undesirable change in the natural quality of the environment that may adversely affect the well being of humans, other living organisms, or entire ecosystems either directly or indirectly. Although pollution is often the result of human activities (anthropogenic), it could also be due to natural sources such as volcanic eruptions emitting noxious gases, pedogenic processes, or natural change in the climate. Where pollution is localized it is described as point source (PS). Thus, PS pollution is a source of pollution with a clearly identifiable point of discharge that can be traced back to the specific source such as leakage of underground petroleum storage tanks or an industrial site.

Some naturally occurring pollutants are termed geogenic contaminants and these include fluorine, selenium, arsenic, lead, chromium, fluoride, and radionuclides in the soil and water environment. Significant adverse impacts of geogenic contaminants (e.g., As) on environmental and human health have been recorded in Bangladesh, West Bengal, India, Vietnam, and China. More recently reported is the presence of geogenic Cd and the implications to crop quality in Norwegian soils.14

The terms contamination and pollution are often used interchangeably but erroneously. Contamination denotes the presence of a particular substance at a higher concentration than would occur naturally and this may or may not have harmful effects on human or the environment. Pollution refers not only to the presence of a substance at higher level than would normally occur but is also associated with some kind of adverse effect.

Nature and Sources of Contaminants

The main activities contributing to PS pollution include industrial, mining, agricultural, and commercial activities as well as transport and services (Table 1). Uncontrolled mining, manufacturing, and disposal of wastes inevitably cause environmental pollution. Military land and land for recreational shooting are

TABLE 1 Industries, Land Uses, and Associated Chemicals Contributing to Points, Non-Point Source Pollution


Type of Chemical

Associated Chemicals



Aviation fuels


Particularly aluminum, magnesium, and chromium

Asbestos production and disposal


Battery manufacture and recycling


Lead, manganese, zinc, cadmium, nickel, cobalt, mercury, silver, and antimony


Sulfuric acid



Ethanol, methanol, and esters

Chemicals manufacture and use


Mercury (chlor/alkali), sulfuric, hydrochloric and nitric acids, sodium and calcium hydroxides


Polyvinyl acetate, phenols, formaldehyde, acrylates, and phthalates


Chromium, titanium, cobalt, sulfur and nitrogen organic compounds, sulfates, and solvents


Acetone, nitric acid, ammonium nitrate, pentachlorophenol, ammonia, sulfuric acid, nitroglycerine, calcium cyanamide, lead, ethylene glycol, methanol, copper, aluminum, bis(2-ethylhexyl) adipate, dibutyl phthalate, sodium hydroxide, mercury, and silver


Calcium phosphate, calcium sulfate, nitrates, ammonium sulfate, carbonates, potassium, copper, magnesium, molybdenum, boron, and cadmium



Foam production

Urethane, formaldehyde, and styrene


Carbamates, copper sulfate, copper chloride, sulfur, and chromium


Ammonium thiocyanate, carbanates, organochlorines, organophosphates, arsenic, and mercury


Arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, lead,

Heavy metals

manganese, mercury, selenium, and zinc


Titanium dioxide


Toluene, oils natural (e.g., pine oil) or synthetic


Arsenic, lead, organochlorines, and organophosphates

Active ingredients

Sodium, tetraborate, carbamates, sulfur, and synthetic



Xylene, kerosene, methyl isobutyl ketone, amyl acetate, and chlorinated solvents


Dextrose and starch


Acetone, cyclohexane, methylene chloride, ethyl acetate, butyl acetate, methanol, ethanol, isopropanol, butanol, pyridine methyl ethyl ketone, methyl isobutyl ketone, and tetrahydrofuran


Hydroquinone, pheidom, sodium carbonate, sodium sulfite, potassium bromide, monomethyl paraaminophenol sulfates, ferricyanide, chromium, silver, thiocyanate, ammonium compounds, sulfur compounds, phosphate, phenylene diamine, ethyl alcohol, thiosulfates, and formaldehyde


Sulfates, carbonates, cadmium, solvents, acrylates, phthalates, and styrene


Carbon black

Pollution: Point Sources


TABLE 1 (Continued) Industries, Land Uses, and Associated Chemicals Contributing to Points, Non-Point Source Pollution


Type of Chemical

Associated Chemicals



Potassium compounds, phosphates, ammonia, alcohols, esters, sodium hydroxide, surfactants (sodium lauryl sulfate), and silicate compounds


Sulfuric acid and stearic acid



Palm, coconut, pine, and tea tree




e.g., BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene)



e.g., trichloroethane, carbon tetrachloride, and methylene chloride

Defense works

See Explosives under Chemicals Manufacture and Use, Foundries, Engine Works, and Service Stations

Drum reconditioning

See Chemicals Manufacture and Use

Dry cleaning

Trichlorethylene and ethane Carbon tetrachloride Perchlorethylene


PCBs (transformers and capacitors), solvents, tin, lead, and copper

Engine works







Ethylene glycol, nitrates, phosphates, and silicates



Particularly aluminum, manganese, iron, copper, nickel, chromium, zinc, cadmium and lead and oxides, chlorides, fluorides and sulfates of these metals


Phenolics and amines coke/graphite dust

Gas works


Ammonia, cyanide, nitrate, sulfide, and thiocyanate


Aluminum, antimony, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, copper, iron, lead, manganese, mercury, nickel, selenium, silver, vanadium, and zinc


Benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene, total xylenes, coal tar, phenolics, and PAHs

Iron and steel works

Metals and oxides of iron, nickel, copper, chromium, magnesium and manganese, and graphite

Landfill sites Marinas

Methane, hydrogen sulfides, heavy metals, and complex acids Engine works, electroplating under metal treatment

Antifouling paints

Copper, tributyltin (TBT)

Metal treatments



Nickel, chromium, zinc, aluminum, copper, lead, cadmium, and tin


Sulfuric, hydrochloric, nitric, and phosphoric


Sodium hydroxide, 1,1,1-trichloroethane, tetrachloroethylene, toluene, ethylene glycol, and cyanide compounds




Sodium, cyanide, barium, chloride, potassium chloride, sodium chloride, sodium carbonate, and sodium cyanate

Mining and extracting industries

Arsenic, mercury, and cyanides and also refer to Explosives under Chemicals Manufacture and Use

TABLE 1 (Continued) Industries, Land Uses, and Associated Chemicals Contributing to Points, Non-Point Source Pollution


Type of Chemical

Associated Chemicals

Power stations

Asbestos, PCBs, fly ash, and metals

Printing shops

Acids, alkalis, solvents, chromium see Photography under Chemicals Manufacture and Use

Scrap yards

Service stations and fuel storage facilities

Hydrocarbons, metals, and solvents Aliphatic hydrocarbons

BTEX (i.e„ benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene) PAHs (e.g., benzo(a) pyrene)



Sheep and cattle dips

Arsenic, organochlorines and organophosphates, carbamates, and synthetic pyrethroids

Smelting and refining

Metals and the fluorides, chlorides and oxides of copper, tin, silver, gold, selenium, lead, and aluminum

Tanning and associated trades


Chromium, manganese, and aluminum


Ammonium sulfate, ammonia, ammonium nitrate, phenolics (creosote), formaldehyde, and tannic acid

Wood preservation


Chromium, copper, and arsenic


Naphthalene, ammonia, pentachlorophenol, dibenzofuran, anthracene, biphenyl, ammonium sulfate, quinoline, boron, creosote, and organochlorine pesticides

Source: Barzi et al.|n|

also important sites of PS contamination. The contaminants associated with such activities are listed in Table 1. Contamination at many of these sites appears to have resulted because of lax regulatory measures prior to the establishment of legislation protecting the environment.

Contaminant Interactions in Soil and Water

Inorganic Chemicals

Inorganic contaminant interactions with colloid particulates include: adsorption-desorption at surface sites, precipitation, exchange with clay minerals, binding by organically coated particulate matter or organic colloidal material, or adsorption of contaminant ligand complexes. Depending on the nature of contaminants, these interactions are controlled by solution pH and ionic strength of soil solution, nature of the species, dominant cation, and inorganic and organic ligands present in the soil solution.121

Organic Chemicals

The fate and behavior of organic compounds depend on a variety of processes including sorption- desorption, volatilization, chemical and biological degradation, plant uptake, surface runoff, and leaching. Sorption-desorption and degradation (both biotic and abiotic) are perhaps the two most important processes as the bulk of the chemicals is either sorbed by organic and inorganic soil constituents, and chemically or microbially transformed/degraded. The degradation is not always a detoxification process. This is because in some cases the transformation or degradation process leads to intermediate products that are more mobile, more persistent, or more toxic to non-target organisms. The relative importance of these processes is determined by the chemical nature of the compound.

Implications to Soil and Environmental Quality

Considerable amount of literature is available on the effects of contaminants on soil microorganisms and their functions in soil. The negative impacts of contaminants on microbial processes are important from the ecosystem point of view and any such effects could potentially result in a major ecological perturbance. Hence, it is most relevant to examine the effects of contaminants on microbial processes in combination with communities. The most commonly used indicators of metal effects on microflora in soil are: (1) soil respiration, (2) soil nitrification, (3) soil microbial biomass, and (4) soil enzymes.

Contaminants can reach the food chain by way of water, soil, plants, and animals. In addition to the food chain transfer, pollutants may also enter via direct consumption or dust inhalation of soil by children or animals. Accumulation of these pollutants can take place in certain target tissues of the organism depending on the solubility and nature of the compound. For example, DDT and PCBs accumulate in human adipose tissue. Consequently, several of these pollutants have the potential to cause serious abnormalities including cancer and reproductive impairments in animal and human systems.

Sampling for PS Pollution

The aims of the sampling system must be clearly defined before it can be optimized.131 The type of decision may be to determine land use, how much of an area is to be remediated, or what type of remediation process is required. Because sampling and the associated chemical and statistical analyses are expensive, careful planning of the sampling scheme is therefore a good investment. One of the best ways to achieve this is to use any ancillary data that are available. These data could be in the form of emission history from a stack, old photographs that give details of previous land uses, or agricultural records. Such data can at least give qualitative information.

As discussed before, PS pollution will typically be airborne from a stack, or waterborne from some effluent such as tannery waste, cattle dips, or mine waste. In many cases, the industry will have modified its emissions (e.g., cleaner production) or point of release (increased stack height), hence the current pattern of emission may not be closely related to the historic pattern of pollution. For example, liquid effluent may have been discharged previously into a bay, but that effluent may now be treated and perhaps discharged at some other point. Typically, the aim of a sampling scheme in these situations is to assess the maximum concentrations, the extent of the pollution, and the rate of decline in concentration from the PS. Often the sampling scheme will be used to produce maps of concentration isopleths of the pollutant.

The location of the sampling points would normally be concentrated towards the source of the pollution. A good scheme is to have sufficient samples to accurately assess the maximum pollution, and then space additional samples at increasing intervals. In most cases, the distribution of the pollutant will be asymmetric, with the maximum spread down the slope or down the prevailing wind. In such cases more samples should be placed in the direction of the expected gradient. This is a clear case of when ancillary data can be used effectively. A graph of concentration of the pollutant against the reciprocal of distance from the source is often informative.141 Sampling depths will depend on both the nature of the pollution and the reason for the investigation. If the pollution is from dust and it is unlikely to be leached, only surface sampling will be required. An example of this is pollution from silver smelting in Wales.151 In contrast, contamination from organic or mobile inorganic pollutants such as F compounds may migrate well down to the profile and deep sampling may be required.[6,71


In order to assess the impacts of pollution, reliable and effective monitoring techniques are important. Pollution can be assessed and monitored by chemical analyses, toxicity tests, and field surveys. Comparison of contaminant data with an uncontaminated reference site and available databases for baseline concentrations can be useful in establishing the extent of contamination. However, this may not always be possible in the field. Chemical analyses must be used in conjunction with biological assays to reveal site contamination and associated adverse effects. Toxicological assays can also reveal information about synergistic interactions of two or more contaminants present as mixtures in soil, which cannot be measured by chemical assays alone.

Microorganisms serve as rapid detectors of environmental pollution and are thus of importance as pollution indicators. The presence of pollutants can induce alteration of microbial communities and reduction of species diversity, inhibition of certain microbial processes (organic matter breakdown, mineralization of carbon and nitrogen, enzymatic activities, etc.). A measure of the functional diversity of the bacterial flora can be assessed using ecoplates (see http://www.biolog.com/section_4.html). It has been shown that algae are especially sensitive to various organic and inorganic pollutants and thus may serve as a good indicator of pollution.181 A variety of toxicity tests involving microorganisms, invertebrates, vertebrates, and plants may be used with soil or water samples.191

Management and/or Remediation of PS Pollution

The major objective of any remediation process is to (1) reduce the actual or potential environmental threat; and (2) reduce unacceptable risks to man, animals, and the environment to acceptable levels.1101 Therefore, strategies to either manage and/or remediate contaminated sites have been developed largely from application of stringent regulatory measures set up to safeguard ecosystem function as well as to minimize the potential adverse effects of toxic substances on animal and human health.

The available remediation technologies may be grouped into two categories: (1) ex situ techniques that require removal of the contaminated soil or groundwater for treatment either on-site or off-site; and (2) in situ techniques that attempt to remediate without excavation of contaminated soils. Generally, in situ techniques are favored over ex situ techniques because of (1) reduced costs due to elimination or minimization of excavation, transportation to disposal sites, and sometimes treatment itself; (2) reduced health impacts on the public or the workers; and, (3) the potential for remediation of inaccessible sites, e.g., those located at greater depths or under buildings. Although in situ techniques have been successful with organic contaminated sites, the success of in situ strategies with metal contaminants has been limited. Given that organic and inorganic contaminants often occur as a mixture, a combination of more than one strategy is often required to either successfully remediate or manage metal contaminated soils.

Global Challenges and Responsibility

The last 100 years has seen massive industrialization. Indeed such developments were coupled with the rapid increase in world population and the desire to enhance economy and food productivity. While industrialization has led to increased economic activity and much benefit to human race, the lack of regulatory measures and appropriate waste management strategies until early 1980s (including the use of agrochemicals) has resulted in contamination of our biosphere. Continued pollution of the environment through industrial emissions is of global concern. There is, therefore, a need for politicians, regulatory organizations, and scientists to work together to minimize environmental contamination and to remediate contaminated sites. The responsibility to check this pollution lies with every individual and country although the majority of this pollution is due to the industrialized nations. There is a clear need of better coordination of efforts in dealing with numerous forms of PS pollution problems that are being faced globally.


  • 1. Mehlum, H.K.; Arnesen, A.K.M.; Singh, B.R. Extractability and plant uptake of heavy metals in alum shale soils. Commun. Soil Sci. Plant Anal. 1998,29,183-198.
  • 2. McBride, M.B. Reactions controlling heavy metal solubility in soils. Adv. Soil Sci. 1989,10,1-56.
  • 3. Patil, G.P.; Gore, S.D.; Johnson, G.D. EPA Observational Economy Series Volume 3: Manual on Statistical Design and Analysis with Composite Samples; Technical Report No. 96-0501; Center for Statistical Ecology and Environmental Statistics: Pennsylvania State University, 1996.
  • 4. Ward, T.J.; Correll, R.L. Estimating background concentrations of heavy metals in the marine environment, Proceedings of a Bioaccumulation Workshop: Assessment of the Distribution, Impacts and Bioaccumulation of Contaminants in Aquatic Environments, Sydney, 1990; Miskiewicz, A.G., Ed.; Water Board and Australian Marine Science Association: Sydney, 1992,133-139.
  • 5. Jones, K.C.; Davies, B.E.; Peterson, P.J. Silver in welsh soils: physical and chemical distribution studies. Geoderma 1986,37,157-174.
  • 6. Barber, C.; Bates, L.; Barron, R.; Allison, H. Assessment of the relative vulnerability of ground- water to pollution: a review and background paper for the conference workshop on vulnerability assessment. J. Aust. Geol. Geophys. 1993,14 (2-3), 147-154.
  • 7. Wenzel, W.W.; Blum, W.E.H. Effects of fluorine deposition on the chemistry of acid luvisols. Int. J. Environ. Anal. Chem. 1992, 46, 223-231.
  • 8. Megharaj, M.; Singleton, I.; McClure, N.C. Effect of pentachlorophenol pollution towards microalgae and microbial activities in soil from a former timber processing facility. Bull. Environ. Contam. Toxicol. 1998, 61,108-115.
  • 9. Juhasz, A.L.; Megharaj, M.; Naidu, R. Bioavailability: the major challenge (constraint) to bioremediation of organically contaminated soils. In Remediation Engineering of Contaminated Soils; Wise, D., Trantolo, D.J., Cichon, E.J., Inyang, H.I., Stottmeister, U., Eds.; Marcel Dekker: New York, 2000; 217-241.
  • 10. Wood, P.A. Remediation methods for contaminated sites. In Contaminated Land and Its Reclamation; Hester, R.E., Harrison, R.M., Eds.; Royal Society of Chemistry, Thomas Graham House: Cambridge, U.K., 1997; 47-73.
  • 11. Barzi, F.; Naidu, R.; McLaughlin, M.J. Contaminants and the Australian soil environment. In Contaminants and the Soil Environment in the Australasia-Pacific Region; Naidu, R., Kookana, R.S., Oliver, D., Rogers, S., McLaughlin, M.J., Eds.; Kluwer Academic Publishers: Dordrecht, the Netherlands, 1996; 451-484.
< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >