Environment and Human Health

Environment and Human Health Explained

The interconnectedness of life on earth means that nothing we put into the ecosystem simply disappears. In other words, what we do to the planet, we do to ourselves. Pollutants reach humans through the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe and endanger our health in both immediate and long-lasting ways. Outdoor air pollution alone is associated with more than one million deaths and countless illnesses each year across the globe. Children and the elderly - the most vulnerable members of our society - are especially susceptible to toxins like mercury and pesticides.

Why Environmental Health Matters

Pesticides and other chemicals used in food production don’t disappear when they hit the store shelves: they go directly into the food we eat. Not only do these modern additives degrade the soil quality of our farmland and harm the pollinators that help grow our food, they can lead to cancer and antibiotic resistance in the people who eat them. Of the more than 80,000 chemicals currently used in the United States, most haven't been adequately tested for their effects on human health.

The human body is mostly water – up to 70% water, in fact. Add that to the reality that only 2.5% of water on the planet is drinkable and it becomes clear why protecting our water supply is so important. Although the Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water Acts are meant to keep toxins out of our water, many still slip by both our policy safeguards and our physical filtration systems. Currently, many of the protections America put in place to ensure clean, safe water are under threat. Fracking for natural gas, which has contaminated groundwater, has led to health problems in communities where those resources are being extracted. Polluted runoff from cities and farms flows into the rivers we draw much of our drinking water from and ends up in our bodies.

Motor vehicle and industrial emissions impact human health too, as these sources contain dangerous pollutants like mercury and sulfur dioxide. The American Lung Association found that too many Americans live in areas that have unhealthy levels of air pollution and are at risk of illnesses like lung and heart disease, cancer, and asthma. Rising global temperatures from climate change worsen pollution. Indoor air can be dangerous as well, given the presence of chemicals from building materials, household products and mold. Illnesses caused by air pollution keep children out of school and adults out of work and lead to an estimated 35,700 premature deaths in the U.S. per year.

What You Can Do

You can limit your exposure to toxins as much as possible on the individual level by eating organic food, avoiding places and times of heavy air pollution, and getting your water tested for dangerous metals and chemicals. But more importantly, we need advocates who will stop pollution at its source. EarthShare member organizations are doing just that, by speaking out for cleaner energy and transportation options, researching the chemicals applied in our food system and preserving the purity of our waterways.