Environmental pollution

Experimental visualization of narrower problems
Other Names:
Environmental contamination
Dependence on pollution
Degradation of the environment through contamination

Human activities inevitably and increasingly introduce material and energy into the environment; when that material or energy endangers or is liable to endanger man's health, his well-being or his resources, indirectly or directly, it is called a pollutant. A substance may be considered a pollutant simply because it is in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and in the wrong quantity.

Pollutants can affect man with direct effects such as: acute effects from exposure to a toxic pollutant reaching man through air, water or food; long-term effects due to prolonged exposure to a pollutant at levels lower than those giving rise to overt toxic effects; synergistic interaction between pollutants or between a pollutant and malnutrition or disease; genetic effects that are manifested in future generations. Indirect effects on man may result from reduction of the food supply or deterioration of the environment. Such effects include: damage to plants and animals; disruption of ecological cycles such that a previously harmless species becomes a pest; damage to the human habitat (air pollutants that destroy forests and corrode buildings); water pollutants that destroy the recreational value of inland waters; alteration of the global climate (this is considered to be a future threat).


The emissions of sulphur and nitrogen oxides and concentrations of atmospheric ozone have increased, agricultural and industrial wastes have been accumulating, lake acidification has taken place, forests and water quality have been declining. The volume of garbage and waste is constantly increasing, due in particular to increases in population, changes in living habits, increases in packaging material and increases in consumption. The capacity of waste and garbage disposal installations has long been left far behind. Water resources are to an increasing extent being polluted by the constantly growing volume of waste water from households and industry. The river Vistula, which flows through Warsaw, annually disgorges into the Baltic Sea 5,000 tonnes of phosphorus, 90,000 tonnes of nitrogen, 130 tonnes of oil, three tonnes of phenol and lead, as well as unknown quantities of cadmium, mercury and zinc.

Technical progress and mechanization has in recent decades led to a rapid increase in noise. About every fifth worker in Germany is subjected to a noise level of 90 dB or over. The atmosphere is being polluted by dust, smoke and exhaust gases from industry, motor vehicles and domestic heating. In the former Soviet Union fifty million people live in areas where the air pollution levels are 10 times the minimum health standard. In the Urals the city of Nizhny Tagil, for example, industrial enterprises emit nearly 700,000 tons of poisonous substances into the air every year.

According to a recent study by the Lancet, and written by more than 40 international health and environmental experts, pollution killed an estimated 9 million people in the world in 2015.

"Pollution is the largest environmental cause of disease and premature death in the world today. Diseases caused by pollution were responsible for an estimated 9 million premature deaths in 2015—16% of all deaths worldwide—three times more deaths than from AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined and 15 times more than from all wars and other forms of violence. In the most severely affected countries, pollution-related disease is responsible for more than one death in four." (

[Developing countries] Although air, water and noise pollution are not yet matters of primary concern in urban areas of developing countries, such problems will grow more severe as these countries move toward their goals of economic development. Generally the devices and regulations presently in force to control pollution in developed countries are not applied to industrial processes in developing countries with equal efficiency or stringency. In an effort to provide increased economic well-being, environmental safeguards are neglected. Water supplies are not only contaminated with human wastes, but grow increasingly toxic as they receive the effluent from expanding industries. Air pollution increases with the material well-being of the urban population and emanates from power plants, industry, space heating and the growing number of motor vehicles.

World Nature Organization
United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment)
International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN)
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
Global Environment Facility (GEF)
Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS)
Sierra Club International Program
African Youth Initiative on Climate Change (AYICC)
Greenpeace International
International Union of Air Pollution Prevention and Environmental Protection Associations (IUAPPA)
Commission on the Protection of the Black Sea Against Pollution (Black Sea Commission)
International Action Centre for Pollution Incidents Response in the North-East Atlantic
International Commission on Atmospheric Chemistry and Global Pollution (ICACGP)
International Cooperative Programme on Integrated Monitoring of Air Pollution Effects on Ecosystems (ICP-IM)
Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Information and Training Centre - Wider Caribbean (REMPEITC-Carib)
Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution
International Oil Pollution Compensation Funds (IOPC Funds)
Centre of Documentation, Research and Experimentation on Accidental Water Pollution
Commission on Air Pollution Prevention of VDI and DIN - Standards Committee
Global Partnership for Oceans (GPO)
International Maritime Organization (IMO)
International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT)
International Institute of Noise Control Engineering (IINCE)
International Society of Indoor Air Quality and Climate (ISIAQ)
World Alliance for Low Carbon Cities (WALCC)
Powering Past Coal Alliance
Asian Clean Fuels Association (ACFA)
Balkan Environmental Association (BENA)
European Federation of Clean Air and Environmental Protection Associations (EFCA)
European Noise Barrier Federation (ENBF)
European Union Against Aircraft Nuisance
International Society for Environmental Protection (ISEP)
Regional Clean Sea Organization (RECSO)
Clean Air Institute (CAI)
Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities (Clean Air Asia)
Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC)
International Committee on Contaminated Land (ICCL)
International Office for Water (IOW)
Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles (PCFV)
Asia-Pacific Partnership for Clean Development and Climate (APPCDC)
Clean Air Initiative for Cities Around the World (CAI)
Global Network for Resource Efficient and Cleaner Production (RECPnet)
International Ocean Noise Coalition (IONC)
Blue Planet Foundation
Planetary Association for Clean Energy (PACE)
E3G - Third Generation Environmentalism
Global Community Monitor (GCM)
International Dark-Sky Association (IDA)
Ocean Arks International (OAI)
Plastic Change
Pure Earth
Starlight Foundation
International Research Network for Low Carbon Societies (LCS-RNet)
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 7: Affordable and Clean EnergyGOAL 10: Reduced InequalityGOAL 15: Life on Land
Problem Type:
C: Cross-sectoral problems
Date of last update
17.10.2021 – 05:51 CEST