Health Hazards to Air and Water Pollution

Health Hazards Caused By Water And Air Pollution

Water is an essential element of life on earth. A human being can survive for only about one week without water. As the global population expands and increasing industrialization creates ever-growing demands for water, supply of this vital commodity has become endangered. Just as water, clean air is an essential element for the survival of life on earth. Air that is polluted can endanger our health and cause damage to trees, wildlife, and property. 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in US monitors and regulates substances that have surfaced in the water systems around the country, with the goal of prohibiting those that endanger public health. For example, in the 1990s, EPA imposed a new standard for perchlorate. This is a chemical found in explosives, rocket fuel, road flares. It had been reported that the substance was found in the drinking water of over 16 million people (C., 2016).

Critically, the many years of lack of action on the hazardous substances in water leaves many Americans at possible risk from substances that only a few can even realize to be found in their drinking water.

Hazardous Substances Found in Drinking Water 

A big number of water hazardous pollutants of water are found in groundwater. The substances include pesticides, metals and substances that leach from contaminated sites (WaterQuality and Pollution by Hazardous Substances, 2018).

Some of the nastiest water contaminants that may be pouring out from the sources of drinking water include Fluoride, Chlorine, Lead, Mercury, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), Arsenic, Perchlorate, Dioxins, Dichloro-Diphenyl-Trichloroethane (DDT), HCB (Hexachlorobezene), Dacthal and MtBE(methyl tertiary-butyl ether), (Group, 2016).

Inorganic trace elements are found in groundwater in high or low concentrations depending on the type of soil. The metals are naturally occurring in the groundwater. Their concentrations may however be raised by lowering of the ground water table and oxidation of metallic minerals.

Organic micro-pollutants also affect the quality of groundwater. They are derived whenever they have been used in large amounts, or having been dispersed in the environment. They particularly include hydrocarbons and chlorinated solvents.

Aromatic hydrocarbons are acquired from landfills, oil and petrol installations, tar enterprises and gasworks.

Chlorinated solvents are disposed from the metals industry and the paints and dyes industries, and dry cleaning activities.

Sodium Chloride (salt) is found in the waters located near the coast. Presence of salt (Sodium Chloride) restricts the abstraction of water for drinking water. Excessive abstraction of water causes the intruding salt water to contaminate the ground (Groundwater Quality and Quantity in Europe. Environmental Assessment Report No. 3, 2000). 

1,4-dioxane, which is a byproduct of plastics manufacturing have been found at troubling levels along the Cape Fear River basin, from Greensboro, which is recognized as a heart of the state to the city of Wilmington. EPA deemed this substance as a possible carcinogen to human (Detlef Knappe, 2013).

Impacts of Hazardous Substances found in Drinking Water on Human Health

High concentrations of metalloids like arsenic in the drinking water can be extremely harmful.

Fluoride which is added to drinking water to reduce tooth decay can harm the thyroid gland and calcify the pineal gland. Fluoride is a neurotoxin and endocrine disruptor, the reason as to why several countries have banned water fluoridation, including some U.S. cities which have started to reject fluoridation processes.

Chlorine which is a reactive metal is added to drinking water as a purification technique. The reactive Chlorine bonds with water, including the water in a person’s gut, to produce poisonous hydrochloric acid. It causes respiratory problems and cell damage. Memory loss and impaired balance become long term effects.

Lead is a major toxin causing Flint. In children, lead causes development issues, stunted growth, behavioral problems, learning disabilities, deafness and brain damage. Premature births occur when lead is injected during pregnancy.

Mercury can cause brain damage, blindness, cognitive disability, nerve damage, impairment of motor functions, headaches, skin rashes, memory loss and mood swings. Mercury vapor, a byproduct of mining and industrial processes, can linger in the atmosphere and ride the winds along the globe.

PCBs are chemicals used for industrial purposes like machinery, insulation, adhesives, electronics and fluorescent lights.  Tests on animals have found that PCBs cause cancer and negatively affect the immune, reproductive, endocrine and nervous systems.

Arsenic contamination may result from improper disposal, or from poorly-planed wells hitting a natural source. Arsenic poisoning can cause abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and even death (Brogan, 2016).

Making Water Safe for Human Consumption

Everywhere in the world, drinking water sources can become contaminated, causing sickness from waterborne germs and other pathogens. The sources therefore require appropriate treatment to eliminate the sickness causing elements (Community Water Treatment, 1999). 

Various water treatment methods are used by public drinking water systems for various groups of consumers, depending on the quality of the water entering the treatment plant.

  1. Coagulation and Flocculation 

They are usually the first steps in water treatment. Chemicals with positive charge are added to the water to neutralize the negative charge of the dirt, and other dissolved elements in the water. The particles bond with the chemicals to form floc, which are larger particles.

  1. Sedimentation

This process allows the floc to settle to the bottom of the water supply, because of the weight.

  1. Filtration

After the floc has settled at the bottom of the water supply, the clear water at the top is allowed to pass through filters with of different compositions (charcoal, Sand, and gavel) and pore sizes. This removes the dissolved particles like dust, viruses, bacteria, parasites and chemicals.

  1. Disinfection

This is done after filtering. Disinfectant such as chloramine is added to kill any remaining bacteria, parasites, and viruses, as well as to protect the water from germs when it is piped to homes and businesses for consumption.

Air Pollution and Daily Mortality; Epidemiological Analyses

According to the annual State of Global Air Report by the Health Effects Institute (HEI), over 95 percent of the world’s population breathes unhealthy air, and that long-term exposure to air pollution contributed to the deaths of 6.1 million people in 2016. Among the many causes of those deaths were strokes, lung diseases, heart attacks and lung cancer, (McCarthy, 2018).

Air pollution is currently the fourth-highest death cause in across the world, after smoking, high blood pressure and diet. Majority of these deaths are recorded in the poorer nations, (Health Effects Institute).

In India (2016), for example, the number of deaths attributed to air pollution was 1.61 million, whereas in China during the same period, the deaths by air pollution were recorded at 1.58 million.

From HEI’s report, deaths by air pollution in the Afghan capital have become very critical. The pollution comes from old power generators burning woods, and plastic belching out smoke that mixes with lead-filled emissions coming from motor vehicles clogging the streets.

The problem of death by air pollution has also been mentioned in epidemiological analyses as occurring in rural areas where people burn solid fuels for cooking and warming in their homes. This problem occurs in poor countries across the world.

In Asia, it is stereotypically imaged that air pollution comes from smog, factories and traffic in Asia’s economic behemoths. The fact is however that much of the pollution emanates from the simple rural stove or generator.

Comparisons of death rates between developed nations and the developing world illustrate a striking gap between the most and least polluted air on the planet. Whereas the developed nations have been taking stern actions to clean their airs, the larger part of the developing world has fallen behind such efforts.

Greenhouse Gases and the Greenhouse Effect

Greenhouse gases are a set of gases that absorb infrared radiation (IR) and radiate heat in all directions. In the earth’s atmosphere, greenhouse gases absorb IR from the sun and release it (Rouse, 2013).

Examples of the greenhouse gases on the earth include carbon dioxide, water vapor, nitrous oxide, methane, ozone and any fluorocarbons. These greenhouse gases cause the greenhouse effect.

The gases trap and hold heat in the atmosphere. By doing so, they become responsible for the greenhouse effect, which ultimately leads to global warming.

Greenhouse effect is a natural process warming the earth’s surface. It occurs when the sun’s energy reach the earth’s atmosphere and some of it get reflected back to space as the rest gets absorbed and re-radiated by greenhouse gases.

The energy which is absorbed warms the atmosphere and the surface of the earth, thus maintaining the earth’s temperature at around 33°C warmer that it would otherwise normally be. This allows life on earth to exist.

Global Warming

Global warming is a protracted rise in the normal temperature of the earth’s climate system, which is an aspect of change of the climate, exhibited by temperature measurements and a number of other effects of the warming. 

It occurs when Carbon dioxide and other pollutants of air and greenhouse gases collect in the atmosphere, and absorb sunlight and solar radiation that have bounced of the earth’s surface. 

Evidence of Global Warming

Recent history on the atmosphere show that the amount of gases in the atmosphere has skyrocketed. Atmospheric Carbon dioxide fluctuated between about 180 parts per million during the ice ages and 280 ppm during interglacial warm times, before the Industrial Revolution. After the industrial revolution, the amount of CO2 increased 100 faster than the rate at the period thee ice age ended  (Lallanilla, 2019).

The warming observed affects circulation of the atmosphere, impacting rainfall patterns globally. This leads to big environmental changes, and challenges, for people across the globe (Josef Werne, Dep. of Geology and Planetary Science at the University of Pittsburgh)

Throughout history, the earth’s climate has changed. Over the last 650,000 years, there have been seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat, and modern climate era-and of human civilization taken over (NASA).

Satellites of earth orbiting and other technological advances have enabled scientists to see the big picture about the planet, and they have been able to collect many different types of information about the Planet Earth and its climate on the global scale (NASA).

Environmental Outcomes Attributed to Global Warming

  1. Global temperature rise

The change in the planet’s average surface temperature by about 0.9°C since the late 19th Century has been driven by increased CO2 and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere.

  1. Warming oceans

Since 1969, the oceans have absorbed much of the increased heat with the top 700 meters of the ocean showing warming of more than 0.4°C.

  1. Shrinking ice sheets

The Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets have decreased in mass.

  1. Glacial retreat

Almost everywhere around the world, glaciers are retreating, including the Alps, Alaska, Africa and Rockies.

  1. Decreased snow cover

With the satellites, it has been known that the amount of spring snow cover in the Northern hemisphere has decreased in the last five decades.


Community Water Treatment. (1999). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

(2000). Groundwater Quality and Quantity in Europe. Environmental Assessment Report No. 3. 

WaterQuality and Pollution by Hazardous Substances. (2018, November 07). European Environment Agency.

Brogan, K. (2016, February 10). Toxicological Profile of Chlorophenols. Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease registry.

C., P. N. (2016, June 10). Many Chemicals are Regulated, but Many Aren’t in U.S. Drinkin Water. Heath and Science.

Group, E. (2016, May 03). Toxins in Your Drinking Water. Global Health Center.

Lallanilla, M. (2019). Greenhouse Gases: Causes, Sources and Environmental Effects. 

McCarthy, N. (2018). Air Pollution Contributed to More than 6 Million Deaths in 2016. Infographic.

Rouse, M. (2013, September). Greenhouse Gas.

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