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I run Green Way International, a conservation group that campaigns against and conducts research into environmental pollution. The data that we receive from all corners of the globe give us no cause for optimism -- the results of our studies and the minimal success of our crusades testify to the fact that we are fighting a losing battle.

Of course, environmental pollution is not a modern phenomenon. It began ever since people began to congregate in towns and cities. The ancient Athenians removed refuse to dumps outside the main parts of their cities. The Romans dug trenches outside their cities where they could deposit their garbage, waste and even corpses. These unhygienic practices undoubtedly led to the outbreak of viral diseases.

Unfortunately, Man refuses to acknowledge or correct his past mistakes. As cities grew in the Middle Ages, pollution became even more evident. Ordinances had to be passed in medieval cities against indiscriminate dumping of waste into the streets and canals. In sixteenth century England, efforts were made to curb the use of coal to reduce the amount of smoke in the air. These, however, had little effect on the people's conscience.

I think that the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century was the point of no return. It heralded the mushrooming of industries and power driven machines. True, the standard of living increased, but it was achieved at a great environmental cost.

In Cubatao of Brazil, for instance, industrial plants belch thousands of tons of pollutants daily and the air contains high levels of benzene, a cancer causing substance. In one recent year alone, I discovered 13,000 cases of respiratory diseases and that a tenth of the workers risked contracting leukaemia. Green Way International hoped to seek the assistance of Brazil's government officials but we were sorely disappointed. Unwilling to lose revenue from the factories, they blamed the high mortality rate on poor sanitation and malnutrition. We continue to provide medical assistance to the inhabitants of Brazil's "Valley of Death", but there is little else that we can do to alleviate the suffering.

Our planet has its own mechanisms to deal with natural pollutants. Decay, sea spray and volcanic eruptions release more sulphur than all the power plants, smelters and industries in the world do. Lightning bolts create nitrogen oxides and trees emit hydrocarbons called trepans. These substances are cycled through the ecosystem and change form, passing through plant and animal tissues, sink to the sea and return to earth to begin the cycle all over again.

However, can the earth assimilate the additional millions of tons of chemicals like sulphur, chlorofluorocarbons, carbon dioxide and methane that our industries release each year? If the dying forests in Germany, Eastern Europe, Sweden and Norway give any indication, then the answer must be a resounding "No!". Oxides of sulphur and nitrogen from the power plants and factories and motor vehicles have acidified the soil. This has destroyed the organisms necessary to the nutrient cycle as well as injured the trees' fine root systems. The weakened trees become more vulnerable to drought, frost, fungi and insects.

Many a time; my staff have returned from their research tours around the world, lamenting the slow but sure destruction of our cultural treasures. The carvings on the Parthenon, a magnificent building in Athens, have been eroded by acid deposition. The Roman Colosseum, England's Westminster Abbey and India's Taj Mahal have also fallen victim to insidious chemicals that float in the air. The stained glass windows of cathedrals from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries have been corroded to barely recognizable images as well.

Years earlier, I had studied a secluded island in the Pacific and found its undisturbed ecosystem in complete balance and stability. In despair, I once contemplated living the rest of my days on the island in solitude. Pollution, however, is no respecter of boundaries - when I reached the island, the beaches were awash with trash and dead marine life while the once-lush foliage were sparse and limp. It was then that I realised this dying planet needs allies and not fatalism and resignation. I returned to resume my crusade and I hope others will join me...

Answer the following questions using complete sentences.

1. Why does the author say that the data Green Way International receives gives "no cause for optimism"?

2. Why do you suppose the ancient cities of Athens and Rome were prone to viral outbreaks?

3. What does the author mean by the statement "These, however, had little effect on the people's consciences"?

4. Explain how Brazil's government's officials "disappointed" the activists of Green Way International.

5. Explain how trees in the various European nations have fallen victim to environmental pollution.

6. Show how pollution has destroyed the world's cultural treasure?

7. Why did the writer change his/her mind about retreating to a remote island?

Fill in the blanks with one correct word from the passage.

8. He ______ migrating to the United States of America to seek better employment but changed his mind.

9. Junita suffered from ill health and poor strength for most of her life after ______ malaria.

10. The residents of Sweetwater Creek ______ at the town centre each year to celebrate the founding of their town.

 
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Comprehension 1

 

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