The Health Impacts of Environmental Pollution

 In Health, Intentions
sunrise, ocean, water, sun light

Many detractors of the environmental movement would have us believe that this struggle is a sort of contest which pits the rights and needs of the environment against the rights and needs of humans, with a gain on one side being a loss for the other.

Nothing could be further from the truth.
The fact of the matter is that when the environment is degraded, so too is human life and those who live in the most polluted places in the world must struggle to survive in an area where there is no clean air to breathe, no clean water to drink, prepare meals, or bathe and no clean soil in which to grow food. The peer-reviewed International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health estimates that 24% of the global disease burden and 23% of premature deaths worldwide are directly attributable to some form of environmental pollution. They also note that the disease burden is 15 times greater in developing countries. The diseases attributable to environmental degradation are too numerous to mention in one article, but below are examples of the human impact of air, water and soil pollution.

Air Pollution
According to analysis by the Environmental Protection Agency, exposure to air pollutants like ozone (O3) and particulate matter have a direct and negative impact on human health. Ozone, the main component of urban smog, decreases lung capacity and function due to an increase in pulmonary inflammation and this is even true for people with no history of respiratory illness. For those who have such a history – for example, a diagnosis of asthma – ozone exposure can greatly exacerbate symptoms already present. Particulate matter is of great concern to the medical community because of its ability to infiltrate even into the deepest portions of the lungs and this infiltration can lead to permanent lung scarring and damage, increase the risk of cancer and can also be fatal. Overall, the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health estimates that over 2 million people a year die due to some form of air pollution.

Water Pollution
Pollution of water due to uncontrolled/unmanaged dumping of human waste or agricultural runoff is a major problem in much of the developing world. This contaminated water must then be used for drinking, bathing, cooking and household cleaning. This can lead to the contraction of water-borne illnesses and the human cost for this is tremendous: it is estimated that every minute, 5 children die from malaria or diarrhea secondary to illnesses like cholera, both of which can directly or indirectly be attributed to unsafe water.

The dumping of sewage or agricultural runoff into lakes and waterways can lead to eutrophication, a term ecologists use when there are too many nutrients such as nitrogen or phosphorous in the water and the result is algal blooms which can deoxygenate a lake. This can kill of the fish and other animals that many people depend on as a food source and also release toxins into the water whose effects on humans is still not entirely understood.

Soil Pollution
One of the best examples of soil pollution is the problem in many areas of the world with soil that has become impregnated with lead, which can happen either from certain industries (like battery manufacturing) or because of certain agricultural practices (use of pesticides or similar chemicals which contain lead and other heavy metals). One of the problems with lead (and indeed with all heavy metals) is that it can accumulate in the soil and from there find its way into the food chain. Lead, once in the human body, can affect the bones, blood and soft tissues and is a causative factors for disease such as kidney disease/failure and anemia and neurological impairments like seizures, mental retardation and behavioral disorders.

This is no contest between humans and the environment. We are part of the environment and when it suffers, we humans can and do suffer with it. So just what kind of contest is it if both sides lose?

International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Centers for Disease Control
Environmental Protection Agency 

by The Great Gathering
Copyright The Great Gathering 2014©

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