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.
Many of the emissions to the atmosphere resulting from industrial processes and the combustion of fossil fuels are not uniformly spread across urban areas but concentrated at particular points. These point sources include central heating plants serving large groups of buildings such as hospitals, and boiler plants supplying process heat to industry.
Industrial pollutants include compostible organic substances (which deplete receiving waters of oxygen), suspended solids (which create turbidity), temperature, acids and alkalis (which may change the pH of the receiving water), oil and grease, bacteria, ammonia, heavy metals, phenols and a host of other organic and inorganic substances. Sewage treatment works emit significant amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen into the environment and may also be responsible for bacterial pollution. Smelting operations are responsible for the majority of metals discharging into waters and air, including emissions of cadmium, lead and copper. Chlorine, chlorinated organics and polycyclic aromatic compounds are pollutants of particular concern arising from industrial processes.
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.