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We’ve spoken at length about how different issues impact the environment, but what about the impact that environmental hazards also have on us, us humans. We know that different species of wildlife are becoming extinct, that the very genetic make up of fish is changing due to the micro plastics they are consuming, that our ice caps are melting because of climate change, but do we ever think about the health and social effects on our own population.

Health Problems

Pollution, toxins and contaminants all provide risks to our physical health, right from the manufacturing start to the end waste solution, and the logistics in-between. There have been well documented cases of whole communities impacted by problems such as polluted drinking water; one of the most well-known being that of Erin Brockovich, the activist for clean water who built a case in 1996 against PG&E (an American gas & electric company) which was eventually settled for $333 million. Her allegations that the company had contaminated the town of Hinkley’s (CA) drinking water with chromium 6 were proven to be true, and the pay out was the largest ever paid in a direct-action lawsuit at the time. Residents in Hinkley still report effects such as asthma, chronic coughs, recurring bronchitis, rashes, aches, pains and nosebleeds from the contamination to this day.


It isn’t just water pollution that’s a problem; there are many areas of our day to day lives where pollution is a problem.

  • Air quality – they say that London is one of the most polluted places in the UK, purely down to the pollution in the air from traffic and buildings.
  • Light pollution – Excess artificial lighting such as from floodlights, street lights and residential areas can impact our circadian rhythms, which control how well and how long we sleep.
  • Noise pollution – Noise from factories, manufacturing plants, roads, aircraft and other noisy areas can have effects on how well we rest or sleep, how well we concentrate, and in some cases can even impact our hearing altogether.
  • Plastic pollution – Plastic pollution impacts us all, humans and animals. This is largely due to microplastics which enter the body and can cause health problems such as necrosis, inflammation, and oxidative stress. Microplastics are so small that the human eye cannot see them and are released into the air as larger plastic items either degrade or are incinerated. Microplastics are also found in the oceans and in the food we eat.
Coolbox pollution
The effects of pollution
A model of circular production and consumption, where we look to recycle/reuse/repair/refurbish existing materials and products as long as possible
  • Thermal pollution – linked to water quality, this is where the quality of a natural body of water degrades as it is artificially heated. This in turn impacts health of the organisms that live in the water, as well as human health by the knock on effect of damaged water ecosystems, which lead to poorer quality water, which can lead to increased spread of infectious diseases such as jaundice and dysentery.
  • Visual pollution – visual pollution refers to how the landscape deteriorates as more and more man made structures are built – this includes housing estates, industrial units, factories and other infrastructure buildings. Visual pollution can also include advertising boards, litter and over head power lines. Visual pollution does not tend to impact physical health in the main, but does cause extra stress on the brain, which can manifest as or worsen health conditions such as depression, mania or other mental health conditions.


Toxins such as poisonous chemicals, chemical compounds and Dioxins (chemically-related compounds that are persistent environmental pollutants) all impact on human health in different ways. We have a lot more exposure to toxins than we think, as many are present in the background of our daily lives in the air we breathe, the items we touch, and even in the food we eat as the food chain is subject to toxins such as pesticides.

The impact that toxins have on our health are varied, but can include gastric issues, changes in metabolism, cancers, skin complaints and breathing problems – this is most definitely not a full list of potential health complaints.


There are different types of contaminants that we encounter in our every day lives such as:

  • Soil contamination – also known as land pollution, this is where human made chemicals leach into the soil and alter the natural soil environment. This is caused by multiple activities including industrial, agricultural and waste disposal.
  • Radioactive materials – Radioactive materials which contaminate the environment can have far reaching and serious health effects such as cancers, breathing problems and skin problems. These can pollute different environmental factors including water, air, surfaces, soil and buildings.
  • Waste – Waste as a contaminant causes toxins to leach into the environment, as well as visual pollution for those who have to look at the waste in question, especially if it is in a public place like a park or wood.

Social Effects

The social effects of poor environmental practices also have social effects on the population; depending on the hazard in question, these can impact different areas such as housing, working conditions, noise and conflicts within the community.

Dangerous working conditions

People who work with dangerous chemicals or toxins can be subject to dangerous or hazardous working conditions. These can impact the health of the worker and also the social conditions under which those concerned live, as their work environment may cause concern and stress for family and friends. Depending on the working conditions in question, they may also be at risk of bringing contaminants back into the home, impacting the health of those around them inadvertently. There have been cases where chemicals such as mercury, pesticides, PCBs and radioactive substances have been unwittingly spread through communities due to poor handling and decontamination procedures.

Poor housing conditions

If residential areas are subject to environmental issues such as poor waste disposal or high levels of industrial or manufacturing plants, then the quality of the housing area may decline as a result. There may be problems with vermin or community issues such as bad odours, air pollution or poor water quality, which in turn does then have an impact on both society and health. Noise may also be a problem; health issues aside, high noise levels can impact family wellbeing due to lack of sleep and increased stress.

When residents of a community are under risk of health problems and also have to contend with other issues such as vermin, odours or water quality, naturally this leads to poor morale, conflicts and lower quality of life for those concerned.

Further Reading