BlessWorld Foundation International

Affecting the World Through Health
A Global Health Initiative

Global Health and Pollution



Pollution is a major environmental health problem which affects both developed and developing countries. It may be defined as the contamination, or introduction into the environment, of substances and particles that are harmful or poisonous, thereby negatively affecting human health and the ecosystem. The first time I heard the word pollution, I was a child- I’m pretty sure the same is the case for every one because being a consequence of man’s existence, the history of pollution is as old as the human race itself and has persisted since time immemorial. Pollutants enter the environment through a number of natural and/or anthropogenic activities- consequently; increased combustion of fossil fuels in the last century is the reason for the present change in the atmospheric composition.

Different kinds of pollution include Air, Water, Soil, Thermal, Radioactive, Noise and Light pollution- the most common being Air and Water pollution. Frequent pollutants of air are carbon-monoxide, lead, nitrogen oxides, ozone, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide while water can be polluted by sewage, microorganisms, chemicals, suspended matter and oil spillage. Most people experience pollution-related symptoms such as watery eyes, coughing, wheezing and respiratory irritation, in the case of air pollution. However, the actual risk of health deterioration from pollution depends on an individual’s current health status, type and concentration of the pollutant, and the length of exposure to the pollutant. Individuals more susceptible to severe health problems from air pollution are those suffering heart and lung diseases, pregnant women, outdoor workers or athletes and children whose lungs are not fully developed.

In 2013, World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) assessed and concluded that outdoor air pollution is carcinogenic, particularly associated wih lung cancer. Other complications such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, stressed heart and lungs, damaged cells in the respiratory system, accelerated aging of the lungs, loss of lung capacity, decreased lung function and development of diseases such as asthma, bronchitis and emphysema have been attributed to exposure to air pollutants. The implicated air pollutants causing most health problems are small particulate matter of 10 microns or less in diameter (PM10) and ozone. An estimated 3 million premature deaths worldwide were attributed to outdoor air pollution alone in 2012. About 87% of these deaths occurred in low and middle income countries, which are disproportionately burdened by the health consequences of air pollution. Concurrently, water pollution results in disruption of food-chains, lead poisoning from eating contaminated sea foods and ill health or death of aquatic animals and lives that depend on the water bodies. It also causes diseases such as cholera, gastroenteritis and dysentery.

Some major air and water pollution disasters in history include Great Smog of London, Southeast Asian haze, Kuwaiti oil fires, Woburn-Massachusetts Water Contamination, Ghana Cyanide Spill, Elk River-West Virginia Chemical Spill, Walkerton-Canada Water Contamination Disaster and Zhuozhang River- Changzhi China Toxic chemicals leak.

Going forward, there are several measures to address pollution and preserve our health and that of our world. Examples include increased use of clean technologies that reduce industrial emissions, clean modes of power generation, cleaner heavy duty diesel vehicles and low-emissions vehicles and fuels and renewable combustion-free power sources (like solar, wind or hydropower), improved management of urban and agricultural waste, increased energy efficiency of buildings and compacting of cities, improved strategies for waste reduction- separation, recycling, reuse and anaerobic digestion to produce biogas. Additionally, we must do the little we can as individuals by being friendly to the environment!

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