Environmental hazards

Posted: 31 August 2001

Environmental factors which pose a threat to health. Most arise from biological disease-causing agents (pathogens) that cause infectious and parasitic diseases, physical hazards such as houses built on dangerous sites and made of inflammable materials and chemical pollutants, especially in the home and workplace. These are not the same as environmental degradation which implies the depletion or degradation of some resource or eco-system - for instance a depletion of soils, forests, freshwater and fisheries or the emissions of wastes or pollutants with serious local, regional or global ecological consequences.

Much of the literature confuses environmental hazards with environmental degradation and so incorrectly states (or implies) that poverty is strongly associated with environmental degradation. Ironically, most urban poverty is associated with very low levels of environmental degradation and it is the consumption patterns of the wealthier groups and the production systems that meet their demands that are far more associated with environmental degradation. Environmental hazards may arise from factors that are independent of human action (for instance earthquakes), or are influenced by human action (for instance urban development creating new possibilities for insects which transmit diseases to breed), or arise from human action (for instance the creation of hazardous chemical wastes).