What is Industrial Pollution and How Does it Affect Us?

Industries are the leading cause of pollution worldwide and our increased demand for goods continues to escalate industrial pollution.

This article will explain what industrial pollution is, how it affects our environment, and how it impacts human health and quality of life.

What is Industrial Pollution?

The environmental deterioration that occurs as a result of industries and factories is known as industrial pollution.

Industrial pollution impacts our environment by introducing contaminants into our natural resources and affecting our environment through:

  • Water
  • Air
  • Land
  • Destruction of ecosystems

Contaminants from industrial processes include:

  • Emissions
  • Chemical substances
  • Byproducts and solid waste

Industrial pollution can also come from the consumption of resources that industries use to create their products, such as deforestation for paper products and energy emissions, like the heat, light, and noise that disturb the surrounding people and environments.

While we rely on industries for the goods and necessities they provide, they also have extreme impacts on our environment and human health when not properly managed.

What is Industry?

Industry is the process or processes of harvesting and refining raw materials into manufactured goods, and the distribution of those goods. Manufacturing industries include:

  • Metal production and refinement
  • Petroleum, chemicals, and plastics
  • Textile, clothing, and footwear
  • Electronics and machinery

Manufacturing industries are one of the most significant drivers of the economy and provide jobs and economic growth worldwide. However, due to their environmental impacts and often poor working conditions, industries can have substantial effects when not managed responsibly.

Read more in our case study of industrial pollution: How the Paper Industry Impacts Farmers in an Indian Village

How Does Industrial Pollution Affect the Environment?

When industries don’t properly manage their impacts and externalities, the resulting pollution can create significant damage to the environment. Some of the significant impacts include:

  • Contaminated drinking water
  • Airborne toxins
  • Contaminated soils

As well as less direct impacts such as:

  • Contributions to climate change
  • Resource consumption

Read more: What are Industry Externalities?

Chemical Waste

Chemical wastes come from the improper disposal of chemicals that contaminate water and soil, polluting drinking water and potential farming lands.

These types of pollutants not only pose a major threat to human health but can be considerably difficult and expensive to clean. The major contributors to industrial chemical waste include:

  • Chemical manufacturing
  • Paint manufacturing
  • Petroleum refinement
  • Paper manufacturing

Solid Waste

Solid wastes can be similarly hazardous and often come in the form of byproducts that are left over from production and manufacturing. Landfills across the world are filled with solid waste from packaging materials, fabric and metal scraps, and unused resources. In countries without proper disposal facilities, these byproducts consume waterways and large swaths of land, and can result in further chemical seepage into the water and soils. The top contributors to solid waste include:

  • Construction
  • Textiles and leather

Climate Change

Industries are the leading cause of climate change worldwide. In 2019, the EPA listed industries as emitting 23% of the greenhouse gases in the United States, and 65% of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide. Greenhouse gas emissions from industries primarily come from burning fossil fuels in factories to produce oil, plastics, and other products that are refined from raw materials. The top industrial contributors to climate change include:

  • Coal and gas
  • Transportation
  • Textiles and leather
  • Mining
  • Agriculture

Read more: How Industries Contribute to Climate Change

Resource Consumption

Industrialization is the leading cause of deforestation worldwide. Timber is used as a resource for common products like paper and furniture, and when not harvested by sustainable practices, can result in permanent loss of natural resources. Industries that contribute to resource consumption include:

  • Lumber
  • Mining
  • Agriculture
  • Oil and gas extraction

Expansive supply chain networks make production of commodities a complicated multilevel process, with environmental pollution and resource consumption occurring at every step.

Read more: How Supply Chains Impact the Environment and Human Health

How Does Industrial Pollution Affect Human Health?

Not only does industrial pollution result in environmental degradation, but it also has severe effects on human health through air and water pollution, as well as poor working conditions in factories.

Air Pollution

Air pollution caused by high emissions of carbon dioxide and other hazardous gases is a leading cause of childhood asthma and other lung conditions. Long-term exposure to air pollutants can result in chronic respiratory and cardiovascular diseases such as lung cancer and high blood pressure. The World Health Organization states that 4.2 million deaths occur every year as a result of air pollution, from strokes, acute and chronic lung diseases, and cancers.

Read more: How Do Industries Affect Global Air Quality?

Water Pollution

Polluted water can have devastating effects on human health as well, and contaminated drinking water can lead to diseases like:

  • Cancers
  • Kidney and cardiovascular conditions
  • Damage to immune systems

Vulnerable populations are especially susceptible to the effects of industrial pollution, including children, elderly, and communities near factories. 

Read more: How Do Industries Affect Water?

Industrial pollution is a significant contributor to worldwide pollution, leading to substantial problems in human health. Across the globe, people are affected by polluted waterways and hazardous breathing conditions due to industrial waste and factory emissions.

Read more: How industrial pollution affects human health.

Factory Working Conditions

While the health risks of living in the vicinity of industrial pollution are high, factory working conditions can also have an extreme impact on human health. Working conditions in factories vary across the world, with many providing safe conditions for their workers, and others neglecting worker health and safety.

Working heavy-labor jobs for many hours a day can lead to back injuries and repetitive stress injuries that develop over time, as well as more immediate injuries from heavy machinery like broken bones, burns, and nerve damage. In factories that process chemicals and other raw materials, workers may develop conditions from airborne toxins including:

  • Cancers
  • Respiratory diseases
  • Skin disorders
  • Vision impairment

Poor working conditions pose substantial hazards to factory workers, and can result in permanent injuries, chronic health conditions, and in most extreme conditions, death.

Read more: How factory conditions affect the health of workers.

Factory conditions and pollution have improved substantially since the industrial revolution, but many places across the world still struggle with sustainable and ethical industrialization.

Read more: The Evolution of Factory Working Conditions.

What Drives Industrial Pollution?

The majority of industrial pollution is caused by factories that do not abide by environmental safety measures. Harmful airborne toxins emitted into the atmosphere and liquid effluents released into water bodies can have extreme impacts on local environments and human health, but are preventable with proper safety precautions.

In many countries where industrial growth outpaces environmental policies, industrial pollution severely impacts human health and environmental conditions. Pollution causes an average of 16% premature deaths every year, with 95% of those deaths occurring in low and middle economic class countries.

One of the biggest drives of industrial pollution is our own demand for new products. When we buy new products like clothes, shoes, toys, and other commodities, it allows companies to increase their production, which further continues their emissions and byproduct waste.

By limiting our consumption of unethically manufactured goods, we can limit our contributions to industrial pollution.

Read more: How Does Consumerism Drive Industrial Pollution?

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