How Does Industrial Pollution Affect Human Health?

Industrial pollution can result in devastating effects on our environment through air, water, and land pollution.

This pollution can also result in significant impacts to human health through pollution and poor working conditions.

This article will explain how industrial pollution affects air, water, and the health of factory workers.

What is Industrial Pollution?

Industrial pollution is the environmental deterioration that occurs as a result of industries and factories. It is one of the leading sources of pollution across the world, and can cause significant impacts on the air, water, and land.

Environmental impacts from industrial pollution create substantial hazards to the environment, which in turn affects human health through:

  • Decreases air quality
  • Unsafe drinking water
  • Poor worker conditions

The environmental impacts caused by industrial pollution pose significant dangers to human health, and are among the leading causes of decreased living conditions worldwide.

How Industrial Pollution Affects Air

Air pollution is the leading pollutant worldwide. Many industrial processes result in emissions of greenhouse gases and other hazardous chemicals that pollute the air we breathe.

Air pollutants create significant hazards to human health worldwide. In many developed countries, including the United States, air pollutants are well controlled through environmental policies and are steadily decreasing in their potency. However, in developing countries and countries that lack substantial environmental policies, these still pose extreme risks to human health. In Asia, where air pollution is at its most extreme, approximately 30% of premature deaths are a direct result of air quality.

According to the World Health Organization, the leading health concerns related to air pollution include:

  • Stroke
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Heart disease
  • Lung cancer
  • Pneumonia

Air pollution can both aggregate existing conditions and cause new conditions in people. The six primary sources of air pollution are:

  • Nitrogen oxides
  • Ozone
  • Carbon monoxides
  • Particulate matter
  • Lead
  • Sulfur dioxide

Read more: How Industrial Pollution Affects Global Air Quality

Nitrogen Oxides

Nitrogen oxides are created primarily through fuel combustion, which occurs from vehicle emissions and factories. Many industries worldwide use coal-burning as a fuel source, which results in high amounts of nitrogen oxide emissions.

In high concentrations, nitrogen oxides can irritate existing lung conditions, particularly asthma, and lead to more severe respiratory infections in cases of long-term exposure.

Ozone

Ozone is a crucial part of our atmosphere that filters harmful ultraviolet radiation from the sun. It primarily exists in the upper atmosphere, but can be found in the ground-layer through ozone pollution.

Ground-level ozone comes from vehicle exhaust, chemical solvents, and most prominently from industrial emissions. It’s primarily potent in the summertime, as nitrogen molecules react with sunlight to create ozone.

While atmospheric ozone is an essential part of our environment, ground-level ozone can pose extreme threats to human health, including:

  • Increased asthma attacks
  • Airway inflammation
  • Increased risk of lung infection

Carbon Monoxides

While carbon monoxide is generally considered an indoor pollutant, it can also be a major risk in outdoor environments, particularly in concentrated urban areas that are heavily impacted by industrialization. 

Industrial emissions can result in high concentrations of carbon monoxide in heavily industrialized areas, and while these are not known to be directly lethal, long-term exposure can cause severe health problems, including:

  • Damage to the brain and nervous system
  • Seizures
  • Impaired brain functionality

Also at risk are those who work in factories with poor ventilation, who suffer long-term exposure to low levels of carbon monoxide.

Particulate Matter

Particulate matter is an umbrella term for the complex mixture of airborne particles that pollute heavily urbanized areas. Particulate matter is made up of: 

  • Liquid particles
  • Solids including dust, smoke, and dirt
  • Metals
  • Acids

Particulate matter can vary in size with varying health risks when inhaled. Fine particulate matter (smaller than 2.5 micrometers) can settle deeper into lungs and respiratory ways, while coarse particulate matter (larger than 2.5 micrometers) can cause severe heart and lung irritation.

Health effects of long-term exposure to particulate matter can include:

  • Heart attacks
  • Inhibited lung development in children
  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Bronchitis
  • Stroke

Industrial processes emit a variety of particulate matter, primarily smoke, metals, and acids, through emissions. Areas in close vicinity to industrial facilities, as well as those working in poorly ventilated factories, are at high risk of long-term exposure to particulate matter.

Atmospheric Lead

Atmospheric lead is a major concern in developing countries that lack substantial regulations. In the United States, airborne lead pollution was a prominent health risk due to the usage of lead in vehicular gasoline, which resulted in dangerous levels of atmospheric lead concentrations. The use of lead in gasoline was phased out by the EPA in 1973; however, many other products require lead processing, and many countries around the world still use minimally-regulated lead production in their industries.

While atmospheric lead has decreased by 89% in the United States since 1980, lead still poses health concerns in areas surrounding lead smelters and processing facilities. Countries including Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and North Korea still use lead in gasoline, and many others use it in other forms of liquid and solid materials.

Airborne lead can create significant health risks, even at low concentrations and short-term exposure. Effects of atmospheric lead include:

  • Neurological effects in children, including learning deficiencies and lower IQ
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Mood disorders
  • Miscarriages, premature birth, and birth risks
  • Loss of memory and concentration
  • Seizures

Due to the severity of health concerns related to lead, industrial regulations and standards are improving worldwide.

Sulfur Dioxide

Sulfur dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere through the burning of oils, diesel, and coal. It can be prominent near busy roadways, as well as industrial factories that burn these materials as a fuel source and perform ore extraction processes.

The release of sulfur dioxide is not only a primary contributor to acid rain, but also poses major health risks, including: 

  • Difficulty breathing, especially in people with asthma and other underlying respiratory conditions
  • Irritation of lungs and eyes
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Increased risk of tract infections

Production of sulfur dioxide is steadily decreasing in the US, but is still being produced at an average of 1.8 million tons per year. People who live near or work in fossil fuel burning factories are particularly susceptible to these effects; however, sulfur dioxide can be blown hundreds of miles by the wind and affect areas far from industrialization.

How Industrial Pollution Affects Water

Industrial pollution is a significant source of water pollution and consumption worldwide. Currently, 6% of the world’s population lacks clean drinking water. Industrial pollution is a leading cause of limited drinking water due to improper waste disposal and extreme water consumption.

Water Pollution

In many areas of heavy industrialization across the world, factories dispose of their raw waste in waterways. This is a cheap solution for factories that create substantial amounts of waste and lack access to inexpensive waste treatment facilities. However, it causes significant amounts of water pollution and severely limits the availability of clean drinking water to surrounding communities.

Water pollution comes in several forms, including:

  • Chemical waste and heavy metals
  • Microfibers from synthetic clothing
  • Solid waste

Byproducts from industrial manufacturing are a major source of pollution, with factories dumping their solid waste in waterways. These solids can break down into chemical waste from dyes, paints, metals, and other materials.

Read more: How Industrial Pollution Affects Global Waters

This type of pollution is prominent in developing countries that lack proper wastewater treatment facilities, and can result in pollutants directly affecting drinking water. Health effects from polluted drinking water include:

  • Gastrointestinal diseases
  • Cancers
  • Infections and waterborne diseases (cholera, typhoid, hepatitis, etc.)
  • Damages to nervous systems
  • Damages immune systems

Many of the toxins that pollute waterways are not visible or outwardly obvious, and can result in people unknowingly drinking contaminated water. In addition, many areas with polluted waterways lack wastewater treatment, leading to an inability to treat contaminated water, even when detected.

Water Consumption

In addition to water pollution, industrial manufacturing contributes heavily to water consumption. This is primarily used for the purpose of growing resources, such as timber, cotton, and other natural materials, but is also used in the extraction processes for oils, ores, and metals. 

Industry currently accounts for 19% of all water usage on the planet, and often diverts freshwater away from people who lack access to drinking water. Extreme water consumption can result in water deserts, where the majority of freshwater is dedicated to industry instead of people.

Lack of drinking water is a major threat to human health, and can result in people relying on drinking contaminated water.

How Worker Conditions Affect Human Health

In addition to pollutants, industries can have significant impacts on the health of their workers. Factory conditions have improved substantially since the Industrial Revolution, but continue to pose risks around the world.

Read more: The Evolution of Working Conditions in Factories

The majority of our products, including our clothes, electronics, and other day-to-day items, are produced in factories with very limited workers’ rights. Many companies, primarily those in Asia and India, lack basic workers’ rights and exploit poverty conditions by giving their workers:

  • Long hours with minimal breaks, if any
  • Low wages
  • Unstable job security
  • Dangerous working conditions

Long hours and physically taxing working conditions can lead to a multitude of health problems in workers. Many workers develop back and stress injuries, and minimal breaks can lead to exhaustion when working with heavy machinery. In many places around the world, factories require shifts of up to 16 hours, with little to no rest in between.

Dangerous working conditions also pose a significant threat to workers. Many factories in Asia and India use heavy machinery with overcrowded conditions, leading to frequent accidents that can cause limb damage and even death. Other facilities, primarily those that process chemicals, dyes, and plastics, can have poorly ventilated working areas, exposing workers to toxic fumes that can cause:

  • Lung and respiratory conditions
  • Cancers
  • Cardiovascular conditions
  • Irritation of the skin and eyes

Poor factory working conditions can lead to serious health risks for workers, leading to significant chronic illnesses and physical injuries. Working conditions vary across the world, with countries and organizations acting to improve workers’ rights.

Read more: How Factory Conditions Are Improving

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