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Common Error: "Contamination" vs. "Pollution"

Welcome again to Mistake Monday! Today we’ll at a Common Error that’s easy to correct. We’ll examine when to say “contamination” and when to say “pollution.”
Is this river contaminated or polluted? Or is it both? Read on to find the answer! (Image)
Common Error: Contamination vs. Pollution
DON’T say this: “There is a lot of contamination in the streets of San José.”
“Don’t contaminate! Put your trash in the trash cans!”
“I wasn’t wearing rubber gloves in Biology lab, so I may have polluted our experiments.”
WHY? Contaminate is often used in a technical sense. For example, if you’re in a Chemistry class, you may talk about a sample of a liquid being contaminated. In this case, contaminated means impure, and is often used to describe liquids or things that are not clean, but the effects are often invisible:

I need to go to the doctor to give another blood sample. The first one got contaminated in the lab.

The water in some countries is not potable; That means it is contaminated, and you need to boil water or drink bottled water.

The passengers on the cruise ship got food poisoning. They got sick when they ate contaminated steaks.

If there are visible substances in liquid, or even if there is just trash in an area, it’s more common to say that it’s polluted. The verb is pollute, and the noun is pollution. It’s similar to contamination, but when something is polluted the effects are usually visible:

We really need to stop polluting so much before the trash problem in this city gets out of control.

The tire factory emits a lot of pollution into the air.

Yuck! Look at all those plastic trash bags and other trash in the river –it’s really polluted!

INSTEAD, SAY THIS: -“There’s a lot of pollution in the streets of San José.”
-“Don’t pollute! Put your trash in the trash cans!”
-“I wasn’t wearing rubber gloves in our Biology lab, so I may have contaminated our experiments.”

What about you and where you live:
Is there a lot of pollution in your town or city?
Can you think of any examples of types of pollution?
Does your country have more air pollution or general trash?
What is the most polluted place you’ve been to?
Is the water where you live potable, or is it contaminated?

Please feel free to answer any of these questions in the comments section below!

A photo of the former Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, taken from the town of Pripyat. In 1986 there was a meltdown at the power plant, which spread radiation over the town of Pripyat and over many thousands of kilometers. Today Pripyat is an abandoned city, and still dangerous due to radiation. Radiation is one of the most dangerous kinds of contamination (radiation could also be considered “pollution,” but since it’s invisible, “contamination” is a more appropriate word). For more information about Chernybyl, click here. (Image)

So, that’s it for today. If you have questions or comments, please leave a comment or contact me. Thanks for reading, and have a great week!

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