Health hazards of environmental pollution

Experimental visualization of narrower problems
Other Names:
Human exposure to hazardous environmental pollutants

Pollution concerns related to human health cover all aspects of the physical environment -- air, water (rivers, lagoons and sea) and land, including the effects of climate change. Human activities which are sources of pollution arise from domestic, commercial, industrial and military sectors and their effects are influenced by various issues, trends and public sector programmes, such as safe water and food, management of waste, increasing use of chemicals in agriculture, and urbanization. Types of pollutants which are negatively impacting health include, litter, toxic chemicals, nuclear waste, lead, spoil from mining, food and water contaminants; and the polluting effects of over-population.


The inadequate handling of industrial, agricultural, and other wastes has contaminated air, water, across the northern hemisphere, creating massive potential health problems, lowering productivity, and pushing the absorption capacity of the environment beyond its limit. Vast quantities of chemical and biological weapons sit in faulty storage units. Competing demands on scarce resources, widespread corruption, low morale, and uncertainty about how to proceed suggest a bleak future.


Estimates of human exposure are made at two levels. First level, based on the measurement of pollutant levels in environmental media (e.g. drinking water, food) and an assessment of intake from all exposure routes. Second level, based on measurement of chemicals or their metabolites in body tissues (e.g. adipose tissue, blood), secreta (e.g. breast milk) and excreta (e.g. urine, faeces), providing an indication of the integrated exposure to a pollutant. More indirect approaches involve monitoring associated indicators as opposed to the pollutants themselves ([eg] cigarette consumption).

In many developing regions, traditional environmental health problems are now exacerbated by emerging problems of pollution from industry and agriculture (Smith 1997). Chemical agents, particularly air-borne ones, are considered to be major factors in causing and worsening tuberculosis, bronchitis, heart disease, cancers and asthma.


Apart from bacterial and viral infections a central cause of the appalling ill health in Russia is the devastation wreaked on the environment in the race to become a nuclear superpower.

Related Problems:
Tobacco smoking
Problem Type:
C: Cross-sectoral problems
Date of last update
01.12.2017 – 16:47 CET