In this article, we look at the various effects of environmental pollution on human health. Environmental pollution can be defined as the introduction of pollutants or harmful substances into our environment.
This can have a huge negative impact on our health as humans, it can also directly affect the environment and economy.
Environmental pollution is a global problem, every country is facing the issue of environmental pollution. While some countries have it worse, a few countries have low environmental pollution and are taking measures to ensure they reduce their environmental pollution.
Based on Stats from World Health Organization, 99% of the world breathes air that exceeds the guideline set by WHO, and this contains high levels of pollutants. Some people undermine the effect of environmental pollution, mostly because they fail to recognize the physical effects. Air pollution causes over 7 million premature deaths every year and is the number 1 environmental risk to health.
As I stated earlier on, some countries top the table when it comes to heavy environmental pollution. These countries include:
One important point to highlight is that most countries whose environments are least polluted are typically high-income countries. They pass strict environmental laws and ensure their citizens abide by these laws; they prioritize sustainable development. Some of the countries with the least environmental pollution problems include:
- New Zealand
Several countries are implementing policies that will help them to reduce environmental pollution and its effects. Some of these countries and the policies they have implemented include:
- USA: The United States government has implemented policies like the fuel efficiency standards, the clean power plan, and the clean air act, to help reduce emissions and improve environmental health.
- India: Some of the policies the Indian government has implemented include a nationwide tree planting program, a ban on construction during winter in Delhi, and a program that helps provide clean cooking stoves to poor families.
- China: China has implemented several policies to combat environmental pollution and some of these include banning coal-fired boilers in urbanized areas, nationwide emissions trading scheme, and a cap-and-trade system for emissions.
- European Union: The EU has several policies to aid in reducing environmental pollution and its effects. Some of these include the waste framework directive, the water framework directive, and the emissions trading systems.
Recommended: Top 10 Effects of Air Pollution on Human Health
Common Environmental Pollutants and Their Sources
Below are some of the common environmental pollutants that have a negative impact on human health:
- Plastics and Microplastics: This can be in the form of microbeads found in personal care products, discarded items, and single-use plastics.
- Perfluorinated Compounds (PFCs): This can be in the form of firefighting foam, water-resistant fabrics, and non-stick coatings.
- Radon (Rn): This can be in the form of soil and rock formations and can seep into buildings.
- Heavy Metals: This can be in the form of copper, chromium, nickel, etc. coming from industrial waste, electronic waste, mining runoff, etc.
- Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs): This can be in the form of pharmaceuticals, personal care products, plastics, etc.
- Pesticides and Herbicides: These can be from agricultural runoff, water sources, or contaminated soil.
- Dioxins and Furans: This can be from burning plastics, industrial processes, or waste incineration.
- Benzene (C6H6): This can be from vehicle exhaust, industrial emissions, gasoline, etc.
- Formaldehyde (CH20): This can be found in industrial emissions, building materials, and household products.
- Volatile organic compounds (VOCs): These can be from vehicle emissions, cleaning products, solvents, and paints.
- Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs): These can be found in cigarette smoke, incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, and vehicle exhaust.
- Cadmium (Cd): This can come from industrial discharges, electronic waste, rechargeable batteries, etc.
- Arsenic (As): This can come from industrial waste, wood preservatives, or pesticides.
- Particulate Matter (PM2.5 and PM10): This comes from dust, industrial waste, combustion emissions, etc.
- Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2): this can come from industrial emissions, vehicle exhaust, fossil fuel combustion, etc.
- Carbon Monoxide (CO): This can be from vehicle exhaust and incomplete combustion of fossil fuel.
- Ozone (O3): sources include photochemical reactions including volatile organic compounds and sunlight.
- Lead (Pb): sources include old paint, electronic waste, and lead-acid batteries.
- Mercury: sources include industrial emissions, fluorescent lamps, and electronic waste.
The Effects of Environmental Pollution on Human Health
The environmental conditions we live in affect our health in so many ways, but some people are not aware of the dangers of environmental pollution.
In this section of the article, I covered 25 effects of environmental pollution on human health.
Increased Health Costs
Health is wealth, so literally once you start becoming poor in health, you also become poor in health. This is because you tend to spend more money on medical expenses due to the damaging effects of environmental pollution on your health.
People who live in cleaner environments that are free from pollution tend to save more since they do not have to spend much on healthcare.
The effect of environmental pollution is heavier on marginalized communities, and this worsens the already poor health conditions of such places.
Urbanized communities can hire people who clear the gutters, sweep the roads, and perform some type of sanitation, whereas in marginalized communities they hardly have access to this. This ensures that they suffer the effects of environmental pollution more.
As I said earlier, over 7 million premature deaths are caused by water pollution each year and a part of this is children. They are more susceptible to falling ill due to their not-so-strong immune system.
They usually play out in the fields and meet pollutants that have been improperly disposed of. They also make frequent hand-to-mouth contact during their plays and activities, and this is an easy way for pollutants to get into their body.
Reduction in Medicinal Resources
Pollution can destroy biodiversity and natural habitats that grow herbs of medicinal value. This negatively affects the availability of medicinal plants used for traditional medicine.
This shows how serious environmental pollution can be as it not only threatens our health but is also the solution to our health problems.
If for example, we have oil spillage in water bodies or farmlands, this would kill the fish in that water bodies and make the land unfit for farming, in the end, it is humans that will fall into a shortage of food supply and possibly malnutrition due to environmental pollution.
It is important that we pay attention to environmental pollution and ensure wastes are disposed of properly so as not to destroy the source of food for mankind.
Disruption of the Food Chain
Environmental pollution negatively affects the natural environment and disrupts terrestrial and aquatic food chains. This also leads to the non-availability of safe and nutritious foods for mankind.
A good example is mercury poisoning fish, this heavy metal builds up in fish and causes several health problems for people including developmental delays, neurological damage, and birth defects.
Agricultural Worker Health
The people that work on farms are exposed to these pollutants. As you can recall, some of these pollutants are found in pesticides and other agro-based chemicals which can cause respiratory and skin issues, as well as cancer.
People that work in large industries are exposed to industrial emissions and are at risk of occupational diseases, chemical exposure, and respiratory issues.
Mental health disorders like anxiety, depression, extreme stress, etc. have been found to be related to living and working in polluted environments.
Disruption of Ecosystem
Environmental pollution can harm the ecosystem and cause irregularities that lead to their ability to carry out pollination, water purification, clean air, etc. and all of these has a direct impact on human health.
Ozone Depletion and Skin Cancer
The more the ozone layer gets depleted, the more we are exposed to ultraviolet radiation which is a well-known cause for skin cancer and cataracts.
Sources of noise pollution include but are not limited to traffic and industrial activities. This pollution leads to increased stress, cardiovascular issues, and sleep disturbances.
Air Quality and Cognitive Function
The air quality you breathe affects your mind, there are several studies that have shown that low-quality oxygen causes issues like cognitive decline, reduced productivity, and short attention span.
I previously listed pesticides and agricultural chemicals as sources of environmental pollutants. When these chemicals get into the food chain, they can cause hormonal changes, poisoning, and other serious health issues.
Not disposing of waste properly can create breeding grounds for mosquitoes and other disease-carrying vectors, which can lead to malaria, Zika virus, dengue fever, etc.
Several diseases due to water pollution that can affect human health include giardiasis, cholera, and dysentery.
Common sources of lead poisoning are contaminated soil, water, and dust. This can negatively affect your nervous system, cognitive development, and other general well-being, mostly in young ones.
Other effects of environmental pollution on human health include:
- Skin problems e.g., psoriasis, eczema, etc.
- Allergies and immunodeficiency
- Endocrine disruption
- Birth defects
- Neurological disorders e.g., Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, etc.
- Cancer e.g., skin, lung, and bladder cancer.
- Cardiovascular issues e.g., heart attacks, hypertension, stroke, etc.
- Respiratory diseases e.g., bronchitis, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, etc.
Ways to Reduce Environmental Pollution
Some ways to reduce environmental pollution include:
- Driving your car less
- Reduce, reuse, and recycle materials.
- Conserve water
- Use energy-efficient appliances.
- Support sustainable businesses.
- Dispose of hazardous materials properly.
- Get involved in your community.
Common NGO’s That Help Fight Environmental Pollution
Some NGO’s that you can join to help reduce environmental pollution and its effects include:
- World Wildlife Fund (WWF)
- Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
- Sienna Club