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Pollution

The generation of biological, chemical or physical waste in the environment that is beyond said environment´s capacity to eliminate it, is one of the most serious threats affecting our planet today. The transmission and spreading of all types of energy forms or "junk" substances is causing damages and imbalances in our environment, and affecting the quality of the air, water and soil. In addition, acoustic or noise pollution - which refers to excessive noise - damages our ears, while visual pollution soils the beauty of the landscape. Thermal pollution- which is caused by hot water entering into natural water systems - is another type of harmful pollution to the environment, especially for freshwater species. Other types of pollution include light, radioactive, electromagnetic, advertising and cultural pollution. All these forms of environmental pollution are constantly increasing in many cities and their suburbs, in many countries around the world. They are caused by modern society which, with its technological progress and irresponsible actions, changes the physical balance of the planet. Integrated and coordinated actions are required immediately, as it is unacceptable that more than three million people die every year due to pollution, as indicated by a recent study by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Air pollution
Aquatic pollution
Soil pollution
Bajos de Haina, a severe case of environmental pollution

Air pollution

Currently, the most devastating types of pollution are atmospheric (air), aquatic (fresh and salt water) and soil or ground. Air pollution is the result of gas exhaust from vehicles, industrial emissions of toxic substances - including mercury and lead - and smoke as a result of forest fires. All these factors cause increasing air pollution, which adversely affects the health of ecosystems, their flora and fauna, and ultimately the welfare of human beings. Urban smog is becoming increasingly common in crowded cities such as Mexico City, where a cloud of smoke covers the greater metropolitan area almost every day. As a result, our health is compromised, as infections affect the respiratory system due to the irritation of the eyes, nose, etc. At present, the biggest culprit in air pollution is power generation by means of burning organic materials such as fossil fuels, both in electrical power plants and in automobile engines. Furthermore, gases produced by these activities not only pollute the air, but also contribute significantly to the problem of climate change, through the accumulation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the atmosphere, which in turn causes global warming.

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Aquatic pollution

Water pollution is mainly the result of the deposit of waste by humans in streams, rivers, lakes, seas and oceans, in a direct or indirect way. In fact, rivers have served as sewers for human societies since ancient times. Fecal waste and sewage have been dumped into rivers for thousands of years, increasing the amount of fecal coliform bacteria, which alter water quality, thereby causing disease in humans. Although rivers do have some ability to purify themselves, by bringing the waste into the oceans where concentrations of pollutant particulates are diluted, unfortunately not all wastes are biodegradable, and so they remain in the environment for centuries. This is the case of certain types of plastics, heavy metals, many pesticides, and various detergents.

Over the past 100 years, the amount of waste that humans have dumped into river waters has exceeded their load and self-cleaning capacity, causing damage and loss of biodiversity and other natural resources. Fish that feed in these rivers become contaminated and may die. In turn, human beings get poisoned by eating these contaminated fish (with lead, even).

In addition, rivers and lakes could lose their ability to maintain a rich flora and fauna due to the loss of oxygen resulting from the large production of bacteria and seaweed. This takes place when there is an abundance of organic waste that is degraded by these microorganisms. This process, known as water eutrophication, is causing a reduction in the quality of biodiversity. It happens quite often in lakes and lagoons in the temperate industrial and agricultural areas of Europe and North America, where organic waste accumulates and disrupts the balance of the ecosystem in general, and the food networks in particular. It is in these waters, that plants and fish disappear as a result of a lack of the oxygen they need to sustain their lives. The end results are dead continental waters, which are lifeless, and serve only as sewer to mankind.

Pollution of freshwater resources is one of the greatest threats to drinking water supply in large cities. In order to be used for drinking purposes, water has to be totally clean, colorless and odorless, without microbes which could cause diseases. It is key that streams, rivers, lagoons and lakes are kept clean, especially because artificial purification in order to make their water drinkable is extremely expensive. By letting nature purify the water in harmony with the environment, large investments in expensive water purification plants can be reduced dramatically; especially considering that pure water should be a renewable resource.

In the Dominican Republic, water pollution is already affecting many places. The Ozama River is one of the most polluted rivers in the country, due to the fact that numerous industries and a lot of homes are located on its banks. Similarly, Santo Domingo is already suffering from a very serious pollution problem, which threatens both the environment and households in the capital city. One of the main issues is the lack of sanitation drainage systems. A recent study reports that this results in 70% of business and residential discharges draining underground. Moreover, it is reported that many citizens have connected their sanitary systems to the storm drainage, which creates an even more complex situation. Many industries, such as car and engine workshops also have their industrial sewage systems connected to the sanitary system, according to a study by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARENA). Generally, they deposit oil indiscriminately underground, without any technical criteria, polluting rivers and groundwater systems.

Another study reports that the Jimenoa and Las Palmas rivers and their affluents are already heavily polluted. Various types of plastics, waste and fish poison are dumped into the rivers without any scruples. In addition, more than 150 homes dump their sewer waste into these water streams. As an indirect result, Constanza’s real estate activity is affected. Fortunately, the Amigos Verdes foundation, teamed with neighborhood associations, schools, colleges, the church and other social groups, celebrated the week of ecological literacy for children and young people in the affected communities, removing trash from the rivers. Thus, they were able to increase awareness about the responsibility of each one in keeping the environment clean.

Oceans do not escape the pollution produced by man. Plants, animals and coastal and marine microorganisms have been affected by substances or energy entering the marine environment. First, polluted rivers that flow into the seas and oceans bring organic and inorganic waste which affects mangroves, manatees, coral reefs, fish, sea turtles, dolphins and whales, causing major consequences for their populations. The poisoning of these and other species, in turn, affects the health of ecosystems, and ultimately, fishing production from coastal towns which depend on this activity for their daily income.

Pollution of the seas is also caused by ships, especially oil tankers which sometimes have accidents at sea, contaminating large areas with crude oil. A particular case is the Exxon Valdez tanker which, in 1989, while carrying a load of 11 million gallons of crude oil, spilled 37, 000 tons of hydrocarbon in Alaska, that spread over more than 2,000 miles of coastline. This so-called 'black tide', killed thousands of birds and other coastal and marine species. This ecological disaster created a great awareness among the public worldwide, leading to the adoption of new environmental legislation in the United States of America.

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Soil pollution

The contamination of soils, in turn, is mainly due to industrial activities, urban landfills for solid waste, illegal landfills for solid waste, and agrochemicals products such as fertilizers and pesticides. These factors negatively affect the productivity of soil, water quality, palatability of vegetables, as well as the prices of land parcels in the areas where said contaminants are dumped.

In 2009, it was reported that garbage had become the main contamination problem in the Dominican Republic. In fact, nowadays, the country is producing more than 6,000 tons of solid waste per day, which are being dumped in the open. Fortunately, there are some efforts that have been helpful in controlling this situation, including training programs for representatives of the Municipal Environmental Management Units (UGAM for its acronym in Spanish) of various towns in the country.

Taking into consideration that the main problem in environmental handling is the management of solid waste, conducting training workshops in its integrated management for environmental advocates is a very interesting alternative. That is why, in 2003 the Red Giresol program was established, with support from German Cooperation (GTZ). This network is devoted to arranging training workshops as an essential activity to achieve a more integrated and sustainable management of these and other contaminating wastes. The main focus of the Red Giresol program is to create awareness and the ability to convert solid waste into a source of renewable energy, gas and other raw materials, as is done in developed countries. One step forward, in this context, is the creation of regional sanitary landfills to replace the many municipal landfills that are under the open sky.

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Bajos de Haina, a severe case of environmental pollution

A place that suffers from severe contamination of soil, water and air in the Dominican Republic is the municipality of Paraíso de Dios, in Bajos de Haina, where close to 90,000 people live, 32% of them in low income households. There, for 20 years, a massive industrial complex has been running, its chimneys seriously polluting the environment, causing severe damage to human health. The Dangerous Pollutant Emission Inventory, conducted in 2004 in this industrial area, by the Secretariat of the Environment (SEMARENA) reveals that more than 100 factories producing pharmaceuticals, manufactured goods, metal items, electrical appliances, electronics and oil refineries are responsible for the annual emission of 9.8 tons of formaldehyde, 1.2 tons of lead, 416 tons of ammonium and 18.5 tons of sulfuric acid into the air. The study reports that, among these emissions, 84 hazardous substances were identified, 65 of which are in the highest degree of toxicity. A great quantity of solid waste in the area remains in the environment and does not degrade. Heavy metals such as lead and copper, as well as phosphoric acid, chlorine and ammonia are accumulated in the soils of the area, wreaking havoc on the health of the inhabitants of this city. Currently, many residents of Bajos de Haina are suffering from bronchitis, asthma and acute diarrheal infections. In addition, there are poor children who have heavy metals such as lead in their blood system due to a car battery recycling plant which was established there. This makes the municipality of Paraíso de Dios, in Bajos de Haina, one of the most polluted cities in the world.

Now, more than ever, it is vital that the human population of The Hispaniola, as of other parts of the world, take precautions to reduce environmental pollution. In this respect, the recommendations to the planet´s citizens are: 1) reducing vehicle use and keeping vehicle engines clean; 2) not throwing away non-degradable harmful substances such as paint, batteries, plastics, electronic waste and medicines in inappropriate places, and 3) sorting their garbage, recycling materials such as paper and cardboard, glass, aluminum (cans) and green waste (fruits, vegetables).

Very specific actions in the Dominican Republic, such as the proposal entitled Towards a participatory environmental management policy, seek to "unleash wills, research, future actions of city life, towards the preservation of our environment, our health, and the preservation of the world’s natural resources." This sort of joint effort, in association with national and municipal government entities, and with the support of private companies, non-governmental organizations and civil society in general, will help increase awareness and encourage the implementation of clean development practices, in order to stop environmental pollution and restore our environment, so that future generations may live in a cleaner, safer and healthier world.

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