Unit 4 > Risks to health and well-being > Environmental pollution

Environmental pollution (respiratory problems, illness)

The environment of an individual can affect an individual’s growth  and development, as well as their potential.                The environment is  an individual’s surroundings such as:

  • Immediate environment – their home
  • Where they live –  an inner city, a suburb of the city or a rural area
  • The place where they work
  • The place where  they play

Environmental factors can  affect an individual’s health in many way, it can cause stress and illness.  An individual’s environment can be polluted in a number of ways.

Water pollution

Clean, fresh drinking water is an essential need.  Water must be clear and  not contaminated to prevent infectious diseases and poisoning.

Water can be polluted by:

  • Chemicals -  from industry, agriculture and domestic waste
  • Leaking water pipes
  • Broken sewerage pipes

Effects of polluted water:





These effects are unlikely to happen in the UK because  water is purified and checks are made before humans drink it.  Chemicals such as fluorine and chlorine are added to water to help keep water clean.

Air pollution

Clean air is important as it supplies people with oxygen for their bodies to survive. Minute  particles are released into the air by burning fuels in cars, homes and industry.  Smog, acid rain, the greenhouse effect and global warming are all the result of air pollution.  Fuels that are burnt are coal, oil, gas, diesel and petrol.  Children are most affected from air pollution because their lung surface area is large in comparison to their small bodies.  Older adults are also more vulnerable due to the ageing process.  Some individuals are more sensitive to air pollution than others.  Asthma sufferers are vulnerable because the air pollutants cause irritation in the lungs making the airways constrict so that breathing becomes more difficult.  

Short term  effects of air pollution:

  • Irritation to the eyes, nose and throat
  • Respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Allergic reactions   

Long term effects of air pollution:

  • Chronic respiratory disease
  • Lung cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Can damage liver, brain or kidneys

Asthma facts

  • One in seven children suffer with asthma
  • Asthma accounts for one third of children visits to GPs
  • Asthma causes one in twenty childhood deaths

Noise pollution                     

Noise is part of everyday life.  Loud noise can permanently damage an individual’s hearing, young or old.  Once an individual loses their hearing it is lost forever, it damages the nerve endings in the cochlea.   Noise  can be self inflicted by listening to music, television or the radio at a high volume. Noise pollution is  unwanted sound and is considered to be a health hazard.  Individuals may be exposed to constant noise if they live close to a road or airport.  As traffic on the roads and in the air  increases so will noise levels.  A sound over 90 dB will damage hearing and if exposed to such levels for a long period of time the damage can be permanent.


Decibels dB




A jet aircraft taking off



Disco loudspeaker



Pneumatic drill at 4m distance



Heavy lorry at 4m distance



Door slamming at 2m distance



Vacuum cleaner at 2m distance



Normal conversation



Background noise at home



A whisper

The World Health Organisation WHO have found that exposure to noise levels over 50 dB can lead to high blood pressure, strokes and heart attacks.  Even whilst an individual is asleep the body reacts to loud noise by releasing stress hormones which trigger the  ’fight or flight’ response which keeps the body in a perpetual level of tension.

Effects of noise pollution

  • Irritability
  • Angry
  • Unable to concentrate
  • No peace and quiet to think – may make irrational decisions
  • Loss of friends – becoming socially isolated
  • Tinnitus

The Council for the protection of rural England has produced a map of tranquillity, showing areas that are tranquil and those that are no, visit  their website: http://www.cpre.org.uk/campaigns/landscape/tranquillity/national-and-regional-tranquillity-maps.

Waste and litter

Waste and litter help to spread diseases by attracting flies and rats.   Rats carry diseases that are harmful to humans.  The populations health and well-being is improved and protected by  being tidy, recycling and dealing with waste appropriately.