Impacts of Pollutants on Human Health | UGC NET Paper 1

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Impacts of pollutants on human health: Humans always need to interact with the environment on a daily basis. This interaction with the environment leads to some environmental issues like pollution, global warming, climate change, deforestation etc.

Pollutants Impacts on Human Health

For all environmental issues, pollution is the only cause of the remaining issues. As we know that pollution is the addition of unwanted substances in a concentration that has an adverse effect on organisms and the environment and the unwanted substances in a concentration is called Pollutants.

All pollutants have an adverse effect on human health. So, we will discuss here, the impact of air and water pollutants along with radiation, soil and noise pollution.

Major Air Pollutants


Carbon Dioxide

Carbon dioxide is one of the major gases which contributes to air pollution. It is mainly produced during the combustion of fuel in factories, power stations, household etc. The increasing CO2 in the atmosphere is likely to have the following effects:

  • A rise in atmospheric temperature or global warming due to the greenhouse effect. Also causes climate change.
  • Reduced productivity of the marine ecosystem. This is due to the fact that water in the oceans would be more acidic due to increased concentration of CO2 in the air, which dissolves in the water.
  • Due to Global warming, the increased surface temperature would cause melting of continental and mountain glaciers and thus would cause flooding of coastal areas of some countries.

Sulphur Dioxide

It is produced by the burning of coal in powerhouses and automobiles (car, trucks etc.). It causes chlorosis and necrosis of plants, irritation in eyes and injury to the respiratory tract (asthma, bronchitis) in humans responsible for discolouration and deterioration of buildings. A high concentration of sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere dissolves in raindrops to form sulphuric acid which causes acid rain.

Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide is produced as a result of incomplete combustion of fossil fuels like coal, petroleum and wood charcoal. Automobiles using diesel and petroleum are the major sources of carbon monoxide which get added to the atmosphere. Carbon monoxide is more dangerous than carbon dioxide. It is a poisonous gas which causes respiratory problems. When it reaches the bloodstream, it replaces oxygen due to its high affinity for haemoglobin. It also causes giddiness, headache and interferes with the normal function of the heart.


Upon heating, rocks, soils and minerals that contain fluorides, give out hydrogen fluoride gas. This is an extremely toxic gas, which causes serious injury to livestock and cattle.

Oxides of Nitrogen

A few oxides of nitrogen, such as nitric oxide (NO), nitrous oxide (N2O) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) are produced by natural processes as well as from thermal power stations, factories, automobiles and aircraft (due to burning of coal and petroleum). They reduce the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood, may cause eye irritation and skin cancer in human beings.


Smog is a mixture of smoke, dust particles and small drops of fog. Smog may cause necrosis and develop a white coating on the leaves (silvering) of plants. In human beings and animals, it may cause asthma and allergies.

Aerosol Spray Propellants

Suspended fine particles in the air are known as aerosols. Aerosols contain chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and fluorocarbons used in refrigerants and aerosol cans. They cause depletion of the ozone layer.

Domestic Air Pollutants

Smoke from cigarettes, Biri, cigar and other such objects using burning tobacco, burning of coal, firewood, cow dung cakes, kerosene oil and liquefied gases are major domestic pollutants. The common pollutant gases emitted during the domestic burning of coal, kerosene oil, firewood, cow dung cakes, etc. are carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2), etc. The pollution due to these pollutants causes suffocation, eye and lung diseases and low visibility.

Air Pollutants Impacts

Major effects of air pollutants on human health, plants and other animals is given below:

Some major air pollutants, their sources and effects

Pollutant Source Harmful effect
Carbon compounds (CO and CO2) Automobile exhausts, burning of Wood and coal – Respiratory problems

– Greenhouse effect global warming and climate change

Sulphur Compounds (SO2 and H2S) Power plants and refineries, Volcanic


· Respiratory problems in humans

· loss of chlorophyll in plants (chlorosis)

· Acid rain

Nitrogen Compound (NO and N2O) Motor vehicle exhaust, atmospheric reaction · Irritation in eyes and lungs

· Low productivity in plants

· Acid rain damages material (metals and

Hydrocarbons (benzene, ethylene) Automobiles and petroleum industries · Respiratory problem

· Cancer-causing properties

SPM (Suspended Particulate matter) (Any Solid or liquid particles suspended in the air, (fly ash, dust, lead) Thermal power plants, construction activities, metallurgical processes and automobiles – Poor visibility, breathing problems

– Lead interferes with the development of red blood cells and causes lung diseases and cancer

– Smog (smoke+fog) formation leads to poor visibility and aggravates asthma in patients

Fibres (Cotton, wool) Textile and carpet weaving industries – Lung disorders

Impacts of Water Pollutants on Human Health


River, lake and seawater may be polluted in many ways:

  • Domestic sewage discharged into rivers from areas located on its banks.
  • Industrial wastes effluents from urban areas containing a high concentration of oil, heavy metals and detergents.
  • Minerals, organic wastes and crop dusting from agricultural fields with phosphate and nitrogen fertilizers that reach lakes, rivers and sea (water becomes deoxygenated and poisonous, thus, cannot support aquatic life).
  • Chemical fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides, herbicides and plant remains.
  • Industrial wastewater containing several chemical pollutants, such as calcium, magnesium, chlorides, sulphide, carbonates, nitrates, nitrites, heavy metals and radioactive waste from the nuclear reactor.
  • Excretory wastes of humans and animals in water bodies
  • Disposal of urban and industrial waste matter into water bodies

Some major disturbances in the ecosystem due to water pollution

Nitrates, phosphates, ammonium saltsAgricultural fertilizers, sewage, manurePlant nutrientsEutrophication
Animal manure and plant residuesSewage, paper mills, food processing wastesOxygen deficiencyDeath of aquatic animals
HeatPower plants and industrial coolingThermal dischargeDeath of fish
Oil slickLeakage from oil shipsPetroleumDeath of marine life due to non-availability of oxygen dissolved in water

Fertilizers and pesticides are widely used in agriculture. Their excessive use for increasing agricultural yield has led to the phenomenon of eutrophication and biomagnification.

Some water pollutants, their sources and effect on human health

PollutantSourceDiseases in humans
LeadIndustrial wasteNervous disorders, Kidney failure, blood poisoning
TinIndustrial dustAffects central nervous system (CNS) Affects, vision
MercuryIndustrial dischargeAffects central nervous system and peripheral nervous system, kidney failure, Numbness of lips, muscles and limbs, Blurred vision
ArsenicIndustrial dischargeRespiratory and skin cancer, Nervous disorder
Nickel, CadmiumAerosols, Industrial dust, Industrial dischargePulmonary disorders, Dermatitis, Kidney disorders, Pulmonary and skeletal diseases
Uranium, Thorium, CesiumRadioactive wasteLeucoderma, Skin cancer

Impacts of Pollutants – Nuclear Radiation

Radiations emitted by nuclear substances or wastes (fallout) or from atomic power plant or an atomic explosion cause nuclear radiation. Nuclear wastes continue to emit radiation for a very long period.