It really depends on what type of pollution. Pollutants such as PCBS and dioxin persist in the environment for tens if not hundreds of years. For example, dioxin chemicals were used as the defoliant, “agent orange” during the vietnam war. Those chemicals are still causing high levels of mutation in the human population over forty years later. Similarly, PCBs released in the 1970s may still be found in the fish of the great lakes region.
In addition to the type of pollution, the concentration of the pollution and the nature in which it is dispersed play an important role in breaking down pollutants. This is especially important in aquatic systems when the microorganisms that are trying to break down pollutants run out of oxygen. A river or lake can handle a certain amount of pollution, but when there is way too much of it in too small a space, our wonderful biological systems that naturally clean the environment for us cease to function. If you want to read more about water pollution, this is a good place to start 🙂
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