Environmental hazards of industrialization

Experimental visualization of narrower problems
Other Names:
Pollution-intensive production
Environmental consequences of industrial processing
Industrial point-source pollution
Mining and burning fossil fuels (oil, coal etc) generate unsafe levels of many different pollutants causing acid rain, smog, ozone depletion, and global climate change, and contribute to environmental health problems such as learning disabilities, feeble immune systems, asthma, cancer, and developmental problems. The processing of certain other raw materials may have significant negative side effects on the environment, notably pulp and paper, mineral ores, chemicals manufacture, dying and leather treatment. The costs of such environmental damage, and of controlling or repairing it, tend to be hidden.

Industrial development in many developing countries is occurring within a context of scarce resources and ineffective structures to address issues of health and safety within the workplace. Poor countries are being squeezed between scarce financial resources, more competitive global markets, and an imperiled environment. In the developing world, it is not uncommon to find a concentration of heavy industries in particular locations, designated by governments as "export-processing zones" or "development poles". But the rapid introduction of technologically complex and potentially hazardous processes into a social context ill prepared to control the associated risks can result in serious consequences to the environment and the health of people.

In 1992, the head of Russia's Academy of Medical Sciences reported that after 70 years of industrialization programmes in the states of the former Soviet Union : life expectancy fell in 1992 to 69 years for women and 63 for men, a drop from the 1991 figures of 74 years for women and 64 for men; fifteen percent of Russia's territory has become unsafe for human habitation due to toxic waste dumping; in twenty-nine areas of Russia, deaths outnumber live births; bacterial and viral pollution in all major rivers exceeds permitted levels by between 10 and 100 times; eighty-five percent of city dwellers breathe heavily polluted air; disease in pregnant women will rise from 83 in 1000 to 110 in 1000 in the coming years; and if present trends continue, only fifteen to twenty percent of all babies born will be healthy by the year 2015.

From the 1950s onwards, centrally-planned regimes sought fast economic growth through state-managed industrialization plans. Systems of quotas and production targets were driven by political decisions rather than market efficiency and this led to excessive resource use and waste. The legacy of these forms of industrial production in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe has not only been economic dislocation but daunting environmental problems such as the death of the Aral Sea, nuclear contamination, and high levels of air and water pollution.

In the Soviet Union, industry had been allowed to operate with no regard to the damage it was causing all around it. In the second world war it was on emergency footing and exempt from controls, and afterwards the need to produce fast results overrode all other considerations.
Problem Type:
C: Cross-sectoral problems
Date of last update
25.06.2001 – 00:00 CEST