AP Environmental Science : Pollution

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for AP Environmental Science

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Example Questions

Example Question #21 : Pollution

Which of the following would be best defined as a secondary pollutant?

Possible Answers:

Sulfur dioxide that is released into the atmosphere from burning coal that has high sulfur content

Chemical fertilizers provide a needed source of nitrogen for growing crops, but one of the consequences is that some of the nitrogen is released into the atmosphere as nitrous oxide

Ozone that is formed in the atmosphere when hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides interact and form a new molecule when exposed to sunlight

Ash and various other gases and organic particles that were released directly into the atmosphere from the Mount St. Helens eruption

Carbon monoxide is released into the atmosphere by automobiles from burning fossil fuels

Correct answer:

Ozone that is formed in the atmosphere when hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides interact and form a new molecule when exposed to sunlight

Explanation:

A secondary pollutant is the product of a primary pollutant already present in the atmosphere that has reacted with another substance in the open air. "Ozone" is a secondary pollutant because it is a product of hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides (i.e. primary pollutants) that have reacted with one another in sunlight. "Carbon monoxide" from an automobile or "sulfur dioxide" from burning coal are primary pollutants, because they are released into the air by combustion, not by interacting with other molecules in the atmosphere.  

Example Question #22 : Pollution

Which of the following would be the best example of non-point source pollution?

Possible Answers:

A textile company has a discharge pipe that expells wastewater containing toxic solvents into a public waterway. 

Paper production in the United States takes part largely in East Coast cities, where their sulfur compound emissions create a horrible smell and deteriorate air quality. 

Millions of cigarette butts are discarded on public beaches, parks and waterways that harm fish and waterfowl that mistake them for food. 

In the early days of oil discovery in America (i.e. the late nineteenth century), kerosene was in high market demand, while gasoline was considered a byproduct and regularly discarded into the nearby watershed. 

The noise pollution associated with the take-off and landing of commercial jets that proves a nuissance for residents nearby international and municipal airports. 

Correct answer:

Millions of cigarette butts are discarded on public beaches, parks and waterways that harm fish and waterfowl that mistake them for food. 

Explanation:

Point-source pollution is defined as pollutants that are derived from a specific source, such as a discharge pipe, ditch, canal, or smokestack. Pollutants sourced from a textile mill, paper mill, or oil refinery would fit this definition because the pollutants are originating from a specific source. Cigarette butts differ from the other possible answers because there is no specific point-source for their disposal. Millions of cigarette butts are discarded on beaches and waterways by millions of different people, and since there is no single point source for the pollution, this would be considered non-point source pollution. 

Example Question #22 : Pollution

Tim is the Director of U.S. Operations atop a multinational oil and petroleum company, Company X. The United States refining facility is producing a liquid byproduct and Tim has made the executive decision to dispose of the waste product in the river that runs alongside the facility. To abide by federal law, Company X will need to apply for a discharge permit through the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). Which specific federal law imposes the permitting system for point-source discharge of pollutants into "navigable waters"?

Possible Answers:

NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act)

CERCLA (Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act)

ESA (Endangered Species Act)

RCRA (Resource Conservation and Recovery Act)

CWA (Clean Water Act)

Correct answer:

CWA (Clean Water Act)

Explanation:

ESA (Endangered Species Act) bans the sale and transport of endangered species and protects critical habitat but does not specifically focus on water pollution or permitting. RCRA (Resource Conservation and Recovery Act) addresses the permitting of waste storage and transport, while CERCLA (Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act) establishes a superfund for polluted sites and holds polluting parties accountable. Regardless, neither of those two laws directly address the issue of point-source discharging into waterways. NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) requires federal agencies to prepare Environmental Assessments and Impact Statements for federally-funded projects, but does not address the private sector.

The Clean Water Act (CWA) allows the EPA to regulate point-source discharge of pollutants into U.S. waterways and all "navigable waters." This piece of legislation also introduced the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (BPDES), which is responsible for point-source discharge permits. Any company operating in the United States that commits point-source discharge is held by these regulations outlined by the Clean Water Act.

Example Question #21 : Pollution

Small fish eating bacteria and phytoplankton, which both contain relatively high levels of mercury, is an example of:

Possible Answers:

biomagnification

phytoremediation

phytoextraction

bioaccumulation

bioremediation

Correct answer:

bioaccumulation

Explanation:

When small fish eat bacteria and phytoplankton which contain relatively high levels of mercury, they accumulate the mercury into their tissues. This describes the process of bioaccumulation.

Example Question #1 : Ecological Impacts

Why is acid rain so harmful to marine species?

Possible Answers:

Their skin or exoskleton becomes thin and easily punctured, usually leading to death from blood loss

Marine species become weak and disoriented in waters with higher levels of acidity, making them easier prey

Water takes on a more opaque quality when contaminated with pollutants such as sulfuric and nitric acids, making food difficult to find

Many fish species will produce a thick mucus lining over their gills to protect themselves against the lower pH; however, this can result in eventual suffocation

Microbes and viruses thrive in waters with a lower pH; marine species eventualy succumb to disease and die off

Correct answer:

Many fish species will produce a thick mucus lining over their gills to protect themselves against the lower pH; however, this can result in eventual suffocation

Explanation:

"Acid shock" typically occurs during the spring time, when snow (which has retained and accumulated pollutants) begins to melt and runoff into lakes and rivers. Another detrimental effect of acid shock occurs during the spawning/developing stages of aquatic animals. For example, some salamanders and frogs prefer to lay eggs in "vernal pools", or temporary puddles of water only present in the spring. Acid shock can cause these pools to become too acidic; the eggs cannot properly develop, and they die off.

Example Question #2 : Ecological Impacts

Which definition best describes the process of eutrophication?

Possible Answers:

Nitrogen-rich agricultural runoff enters aquatic ecosystems, with exponential increases in aquatic vegetation growth resulting from increased nutrient availability in the watershed. Oxygen is consumed when when the bloom of aquatic vegetation dies off and decomposes, resulting in hypoxia and die-off of aquatic wildlife.

Nitrogen-rich agricultural runoff results in exponential growth of aquatic flora, which provides a more abundant food source for aquatic wildlife. The resulting overpopulation by aquatic wildlife creates a hypoxic environment, which causes fish and other aquatic animals to suffocate.

Nutrients from agricultural runoff enter the watershed and the resulting algal bloom limits availability of sunlight and oxygen production, resulting in a hypoxic aquatic ecosystem and wildlife die-offs.

Nitrogen-rich agricultural runoff enters aquatic ecosystems, resulting in increased nutrient availability and algal blooms. The now-overpopulated aquatic plants consume most of the oxygen available in the watershed, resulting in hypoxia and die-off of aquatic wildlife.

Nitrogen-rich agricultural runoff enters aquatic ecosystems, with exponential increases in aquatic vegetation growth resulting from increased nutrient availability in the watershed. Oxygen is consumed when when the bloom of aquatic vegetation dies off and decomposes, resulting in hyperoxia and die-off of aquatic wildlife.

Correct answer:

Nitrogen-rich agricultural runoff enters aquatic ecosystems, with exponential increases in aquatic vegetation growth resulting from increased nutrient availability in the watershed. Oxygen is consumed when when the bloom of aquatic vegetation dies off and decomposes, resulting in hypoxia and die-off of aquatic wildlife.

Explanation:

The algal blooms that result from agricultural runoff do not consume oxygen when they are living. The resulting die-off from overcrowding and lack of sunlight availability and decomposition process is what consumes oxygen in the ecosystem, causing fish to suffocate. 

It is also important to recognize that hypoxia is the result of insufficient oxygen in the ecosystem, while hyperoxia is when there is too much oxygen. (Consider the meanings of the prefixes "hypo-" and "hyper-".)

Example Question #21 : Pollution

In the United States, garbage—municipal solid waste—most commonly exists in which of the following forms?

Possible Answers:

Plastic

None of these

Paper

Textiles

Correct answer:

Paper

Explanation:

As of 2013, paper products made up 27 percent of the United States' municipal solid waste.

Example Question #21 : Pollution

Reducing the occurrence or frequency of a disaster or issues is best defined as? 

Possible Answers:

Preservation

Mitigation

Remediation 

Restoration

Correct answer:

Mitigation

Explanation:

Mitigation is defined as actions taken to prevent or reduce the occurrence of natural disasters and damage to an environment. Restoration is the renewal of an environment or ecosystem after it has been almost or completely destroyed. Preservation is a collection of efforts aimed at sustaining a vulnerable or unstable ecosystem. Remediation is often the clean up or removal of contaminants from an environment. 

Example Question #3 : Ecological Impacts

The clean up of chemical in a polluted area is representative of which kind of sustainability effort? 

Possible Answers:

Mitigation

Remediation

Restoration

Preservation

Correct answer:

Remediation

Explanation:

Mitigation is defined as actions taken to prevent or reduce the occurrence of natural disasters and damage to an environment. Restoration is the renewal of an environment or ecosystem after it has been almost or completely destroyed. Preservation is a collection of efforts aimed at sustaining a vulnerable or unstable ecosystem. Remediation is often the clean up or removal of contaminants from an environment. 

Example Question #411 : Ap Environmental Sciences

Efforts to sustain a susceptible environment or organisms population most closely resembles which kind of human ecological action? 

Possible Answers:

Remediation

Restoration

Mitigation

Preservation

Correct answer:

Preservation

Explanation:

Mitigation is defined as actions taken to prevent or reduce the occurrence of natural disasters and damage to an environment. Restoration is the renewal of an environment or ecosystem after it has been almost or completely destroyed. Preservation is a collection of efforts aimed at sustaining a vulnerable or unstable ecosystem. Remediation is often the clean up or removal of contaminants from an environment. 

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