For nearly 200 years, American consumers have relied on industrial processes to create the products we use every day. From the smallest electronic devices to the largest vehicles, industrial methods of production have revolutionized modern life. Unfortunately, such progress often comes at an environmental cost. A major side effect of increased industrial production is pollution. Industries create various types of pollution that can affect the air we breathe, the water we drink, the ground we walk on and even the light we see and sounds we hear.
The image of smokestacks belching black, noxious fumes into the air often comes to mind when people think of industry. While visible air pollutants are dangerous, industrial processes also create invisible gasses that can pollute our air supply. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas used in the production of polyurethane and other plastics. Even "light" industry can emit toxic gasses; dry-cleaning plants, for example, use perchlorethlyene, a chemical linked to liver damage, skin irritation and respiratory failure. Perchloroethylene can leak into the atmosphere when dry-cleaner workers transfer clothes from the washer to the dryer and when the dryer exhaust is vented into the air outside.
Industrial processes can also contribute to water pollution. Since many industrial methods use fresh water for various purposes, industrial facilities must dispose of the toxic runoff from these methods. The runoff frequently flows into other fresh water sources, such as rivers, lakes and groundwater wells, which local residents use for drinking and bathing. Phosphorus runoff from fertilizers used by farmers near Lake Champlain in Vermont prompted the Environmental Protection Agency to react to water pollution problems there in 2015.
Many industrial processes also produce waste products that can have devastating effects on the health of those exposed to them. Toxic waste can be difficult to recycle and poses serious problems for disposal. Such waste products can include substances that pose biological hazards, risk exposure to radioactivity or contain chemicals that can contaminate soil and water supplies. An ongoing river dredging project in New York's Hudson Valley seeks to remove soil contaminated with toxic PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, generated by a General Electric plant
Industrial pollutants are not strictly limited to the solid, liquid and gaseous states of matter. Industrial processes can also cause loud noises. Noise pollution occurs when the sounds of industrial tasks impair the hearing of workers, bystanders or residents in nearby neighborhoods. A study by the National Institutes of Health published in 2004 found that up to 23 percent of corn mill workers who were exposed to sounds above 85 decibels suffered noise-induced hearing loss. Local residents can also be affected by noise pollution from machinery, safety alarms and heavy truck traffic at industrial facilities.