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Diseases caused by pollution, lead to the chronic illness and deaths of about 8.4 million people each year. However, pollution receives a fraction of the interest from the global community.[1] This is in part because pollution causes so many diseases that it is often difficult to draw a straight line between cause and effect.

There are many types of pollution-related diseases, including those caused by air pollution, contaminated soil, water pollution and lacking water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). Air pollution can be reduced.

Environmental diseases vs. pollution-related diseases

Environmental diseases are a direct result from the environment. This includes diseases caused by substance abuse, exposure to toxic chemicals, and physical factors in the environment, like UV radiation from the sun, as well as genetic predisposition. Meanwhile, pollution-related diseases are attributed to exposure to toxins in the air, water, and soil. Therefore, all pollution-related disease are environmental diseases, but not all environmental diseases are pollution-related diseases.

Air pollution diseases

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution is linked to 7 million premature deaths (1 in 8 of total global deaths) in 2012. Here is a breakdown by the diseases air pollution causes:[2]

Outdoor air pollution

Indoor air pollution

Water pollution

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): "Waterborne diseases are caused by pathogenic microbes that can be directly spread through contaminated water. Most waterborne diseases cause diarrheal illness [Note: not all diseases listed below cause diarrhea]. Eighty-eight percent of diarrhea cases worldwide are linked to unsafe drinking water, inadequate sanitation or insufficient hygiene. These cases result in 1.5 million deaths each year, mostly in young children. The usual cause of death is dehydration. Most cases of diarrheal illness and death occur in developing countries because of unsafe water, poor sanitation, and insufficient hygiene. Other waterborne diseases do not cause diarrhea; instead these diseases can cause malnutrition, skin infections, and organ damage.[3]

Waterborne diseases

Main article: Waterborne diseases

Diseases related to lack of sanitation and hygiene

Main article: WASH § Health_aspects

Vector-borne diseases



Sources of lead poisoning/pollution include paint (e.g. lead paint deterioration), petroleum products, mining, smelting, manufacturing and recycling activities (e.g. battery recycling).[4][5][6][7]


Arsenic is a naturally occurring element and can be found in food, water, or air. There are also industrial sources of arsenic, including mining and smelting.[8] "People are exposed to elevated levels of inorganic arsenic through drinking contaminated water, using contaminated water in food preparation and irrigation of food crops, industrial processes, eating contaminated food and smoking tobacco. Long-term exposure to inorganic arsenic... can lead to chronic arsenic poisoning. Skin lesions and skin cancer are the most characteristic effects."[9]



  1. ^ Leahy, Stephen (June 13, 2014). "In Developing World, Pollution Kills More Than Disease" – via IPS News.
  2. ^ "7 million premature deaths annually linked to air pollution". World Health Organization (WHO). March 25, 2014. Archived from the original on March 26, 2014.
  3. ^ "Global WASH-Related Diseases and Contaminants". CDC. 6 August 2020.
  4. ^ "Lead Poisoning and Health". World Health Organization. Aug 2016.
  5. ^ "Fact Sheet - Lead". 2015 World's Worst Pollution Problems.
  6. ^ Keshri S, Goel AK, Garg AK (May 2021). "Reversal of Acute Lead Encephalopathy in a Child". Cureus. 13 (5): e15155. doi:10.7759/cureus.15155. PMC 8216578. PMID 34178489.
  7. ^ Chinedu, Enegide; Chukwuemeka, Chukwuma Kelechukwu (1 Sep 2018). "Oil Spillage and Heavy Metals Toxicity Risk in the Niger Delta, Nigeria". Journal of Health and Pollution. Environmental Health Perspectives. 8 (19). doi:10.5696/2156-9614-8.19.180905. ISSN 2156-9614. PMC 6257162. PMID 30524864.
  8. ^ "2010 Top Six Toxic Threats".
  9. ^ "Arsenic". World Health Organization. June 2016.