Pollution, Pollution Everywhere so not a Drop to Drink

Kaitlin Dryburgh– 4th November 2022

Quite often when it comes to climate change we are reminded of what could be, what the future could hold for us if we don’t change or ways. The animals that could go extinct, the places that will be under water if we continue to raise the Earth’s core temperature and the threat of our summers getting hotter and hotter. Of course we already have extreme weather events happening around the world, and many of those with their heads in the sand struggle to link this to climate change or believe that this will end up affecting them too. We are always reminded that this will get worse, this isn’t quite affecting you now so just you wait, in many years to come this will be a problem (less time than you think).

Yet there are climate issues affecting us right now, making life harder for many and subsequently causing deaths. Air and water pollution issues have been hitting the headlines slowly and steadily over the past couple of weeks/months/years, and it turns out we don’t have that clean Scottish air and water that is often portrayed in a Highland springs advert. And it looks like not much is being done to tackle this issue.

This isn’t a “in five years’ time we can expect people to start dying” unfortunately Scotland already has approximately 2,500 people prematurely dying every year due to air pollution. Although we may have better air quality than our English neighbours, it isn’t overwhelmingly better. As it stands there is too much nitrogen dioxide in our air, and little is being done by government and councils to alleviate the high count. The problem is that the government etc can’t decide to just tackle the air pollution they need to invest in better transport for Scotland, better industry and housing legislation, an overall plan to reduce our carbon output.

As it stands there will be four planned low emission zones through-out cities in Scotland, the aim is that these will be established by 2024, a whopping four years after it was reported that Scotland breached the legal limits for diesel pollution.

The effect of excess nitrogen pollutants in our air cannot be understated, it is a silent killer that is sneaking into our everyday lives. It affects us in numerous ways, more specifically if you have respiratory issues. With bonfire night approaching Asthma and Lung UK has warned citizens with lung conditions to be careful around this time of year, due to the higher amount of smoke in the air. Of course bonfire night happens every year, but it’s further exasperated by the fact our air isn’t clean in the first place, making it much more dangerous. A terrifying study conducted worldwide but in partnership with Aberdeen University found that pollution particles were making their way into the lungs and brains of unborn babies, via their mothers. This is the first time the likes of which have ever been confirmed. Making pollution much harder to hear about it when it starts to effect unborn babies. Humans are one thing but this hike in air pollution takes its toll on our natural environment too, the vulnerable natural eco-systems up and down the country are also having to put up a fight to survive. A report by Plantlife found that over a third of sensitive habitats within conservation areas have intolerable levels of nitrogen. Sure this would be less of an issue if there wasn’t an overabundance of grouse moors that do absolutely nothing to help air quality, and only exacerbate the situation.

Although Scotland has signed on to the EU’s limits and targets of pollutants in the air we continue to exceed and miss these and remain living in cities, towns and villages that allow us to breath in poisonous air.

Air pollution is one thing and needs a well-rounded green deal that dramatically reduces our carbon output. Water pollution in some ways is perhaps easier to fix in the short term, but as in the case of air pollution water pollution needs a reduction in green house gases.  

Up and down the UK the truth is emerging about the state of water pollution, just when you thought you left the Erin Brockovich stories in the 90’s there’s been some sneaky billionaires and lazy water companies making their disgusting mark on the UK and Scotland’s rivers, seas and lochs. A revolting figure reveals that the amount of untreated sewage that has leaked into Scotland’s waterways is enough to fill 56,000 Olympic sized swimming pools. Again this doesn’t really fit in with the marketing of Highland Spring. It was revealed that in 2021 there were 10,000 sewage leaks up and down Scotland with one of the biggest hit bodies of water being Loch Leven. Loch Leven often has signs up warning of the toxic green and blue algae and its dangers to both humans and animals. The algae blooms are constantly reoccurring due to the near by water works leaking sewage, agriculture chemical waste running off into the water and the warming of the waters due to climate change. This lovely mix of elements is making one of Scotland’s most famous lochs toxic.

Compared to five years ago, the problem is only getting worse, however it may be worse that what we currently know, as the reporting requirements and the responsibility to make note of sewage spills in Scotland is woefully low, laughable in fact.

The situation in Engoland also makes for a shocking read. A report found that there is not one river in the country untouched by pollution and that only 14% have been deemed to be of “good ecological status”. This week a video captured on a Cornish beach quite clearly shows what’s happening, turquoise blue water is infiltrated by murky brown water. Lifeguards noted the horrendous smell and the toilet roll floating on top, it could be anything but a near by sewage spill. If you haven’t seen it and aren’t currently eating I would suggest watching it. Campaigners state that the funding cuts to the Environmental Agency means that incidents like this are less likely to be stopped, recorded and have those responsible held to account.

So why is this happening in Scotland, well the reasons given is rather simple. With the increased rainfall (due to climate change) the sewage system can’t cope with the extra stress and surplus sewage is running into near by bodies of water in order to avoid a “flood”. Now water bosses have unequivocally rejected any suggestions that we can expand the sewage system to meet this higher demand, simply stating that it doesn’t work like that and hey a little sewage never hurt nobody, so just suck it up. However, there are most definitely ways that the sewage system could be changed to keep up with the higher demand, better technologies to treat water faster and better management of the system. Not an overnight fix, but an important one, nevertheless. This is another symptom of climate change and funding cuts to add to list.

On our current path this will only be getting worse, if the air we breathe and the water we drink or live around is no longer safe, what do we have? These are the pillars on which life is upheld by and I’d quite like it if the people in charge actually treated it as such. Yeah we can’t see pollution in the air, and we don’t need to wear space helmets to go outside (yet), but it’s there, it’s effecting people and our natural habitat now. The only way to fix and reverse this issue is of course to dramatically reduce our carbon output in all areas of our life.

In contrast water pollution isn’t exactly an invisible enemy, nor is it odourless. The sewage infrastructure we currently have is at risk of becoming completely defective. Instead of just issuing fines, force those responsible to ensure it doesn’t continue to happen, instead of accepting that sewage leaks are just what occasionally happens during the water treatment cycle invest in new systems and technology to get the job done more efficiently and most importantly safer.

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