how does the environment affect humans

How Does the Environment Affect Humans?

Last Updated on August 12, 2023 by Annie Baldwin

The environment we live in directly impacts our health, behavior, and overall well-being.

The environment provides our most basic needs – the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat.

In this insightful article, we’ll explore the many ways the environment affects humans both physically and mentally.

How Does the Environment Affect Humans?

How does the environment affect humans?
Through the introduction of how lifestyle choices affect the delicate equilibrium within the human body, interactions with the environment examine the macro- and micro-effects of interactions between organisms and their environment. Image Credit: MOMO Pencils

The environment profoundly affects human health both physically and mentally in complex ways.

Overall, environmental degradation harms human health while conservation efforts protect it.

Key Points

  • Air pollution causes 4.2 million premature deaths annually, making it the world’s largest environmental health risk.
  • 13 million deaths per year are linked to preventable environmental causes like air pollution and chemical exposures.
  • Nature has powerful cognitive benefits, reducing stress, anxiety, and depression and boosting memory and creativity.
  • The health burden of pollution and climate change falls disproportionately on marginalized groups including people of color, indigenous communities, and the poor.

How Does Air Pollution Affect Humans?

Air pollution is one of the biggest environmental threats to human health.

The air we breathe contains many hazardous pollutants that have dire consequences.

Air pollution is linked to respiratory diseases, heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer.

Pollutants like ozone, particulate matter, and cigarette smoke irritate and damage the lungs.

Long-term exposure can permanently reduce lung function.

Air pollution also worsens chronic conditions like asthma and emphysema.

Additionally, air pollutants like lead, mercury, and arsenic affect brain development and increase dementia risk.

Children are especially vulnerable to the neurotoxic effects of airborne lead.

While air pollution impacts everyone, low-income groups shoulder the greatest burden.

They are more likely to live near major pollution sources like highways and industrial plants.

Reducing emissions and monitoring air quality is key to protecting public health.

What Are the Health Effects of Water Pollution?

Water pollution also takes a major toll on human health.

Contaminants from industrial waste, agricultural runoff, and sewage treatment plants enter our water supply.

Drinking or swimming in polluted water exposes us to harmful microbes, heavy metals, and toxic chemicals.

Contaminated water spreads diseases like cholera, dysentery, typhoid, and polio.

It also increases the risk of cancer and endocrine disruption.

Nitrate runoff from fertilizers pollutes drinking water, increasing the risk of methemoglobinemia or “blue baby syndrome” in infants.

This can be fatal without urgent treatment.

Like air pollution, the health burden of water pollution falls disproportionately on marginalized communities lacking clean water access.

Providing safe drinking water and sanitation is crucial.

How Does Climate Change Affect Humans?

Climate change is one of the biggest threats to human society and health.

Rising temperatures, sea levels, and extreme weather endanger lives through heat stress, drought, disease, malnutrition, and mental ill-health.

Increasingly frequent heat waves directly harm human health through heat stroke and cardiovascular failure.

Elderly, young, and outdoor workers are especially vulnerable to heat stress.

Climate change also expands the habitat of insects like mosquitos.

This increases the spread of vector-borne diseases including malaria, dengue fever, Lyme disease, and West Nile virus.

Furthermore, climate change disrupts food systems, causing crop failures from drought and flooding.

Ensuring global food security is an escalating challenge as climate change accelerates.

On a psychological level, climate anxiety and eco-grief are growing phenomena.

Many people feel emotionally overwhelmed by climate change.

Providing mental health support is crucial.

How Does Loss of Nature Affect Humans?

Nature deprivation harms mental health and well-being.

Urbanization has led to a lack of green spaces, reducing human access to nature.

This loss of community cohesion and purpose affects mental health.

Studies show that spending time in nature provides cognitive benefits.

It improves memory, attention, and creativity.

It also reduces stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.

Nature directly enhances mood and reduces anger and anxiety.

Living close to green spaces encourages physical activity and social connectedness.

It also improves immune function and reduces cardiometabolic diseases.

Access to nature is key for public health.

How Does Noise Pollution Affect Humans?

Excessive noise is an overlooked form of pollution.

Noise above 70 decibels can harm hearing and increase stress.

Continued exposure to loud noises causes noise-induced hearing loss.

Noise pollution also disrupts sleep, harming health.

Aircraft noise near airports increases strokes, heart disease, and premature death.

Restricting noise sources can significantly improve public health.

How Do Toxins in Products Affect Humans?

Many consumer products contain toxic substances linked to cancer, birth defects, and organ damage.

These include asbestos, benzene, lead, mercury, phthalates, and air fresheners.

Indoor air quality is a major concern due to toxins in furniture, cleaning products, and building materials.

These emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that reduce lung function.

Cosmetics and skincare also contain parabens, phthalates, and PFAS chemicals.

These disrupt hormones and increase breast cancer risk.

Checking labels for toxins is advised.

How Does Our Built Environment Affect Health?

How does the environment affect humans?
All the physical areas created by humans in which we live, play and work are collectively referred to as our built environment. By introducing contaminants into our environments and permitting or preventing access to physical activity, transportation, and social connections, these buildings and places have an impact on our health. Image Credit: Regis College

The design of our buildings, neighborhoods, and cities shapes lifestyle choices.

Urban sprawl and lack of walkability discourage physical activity.

This contributes to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and depression.

Conversely, green buildings with good ventilation and daylighting boost productivity and well-being.

Access to parks, trails, and recreation facilities also promotes exercise and mental health.

Poor housing conditions like lead paint, asbestos, mold, pests, and secondhand smoke trigger asthma, allergies, and respiratory disease.

Ensuring adequate and affordable housing is foundational for public health.

Overall, it is clear that the environment profoundly shapes human health and well-being.

As climate change accelerates, policies and lifestyles must become more sustainable.

This will require collective action to reduce ecological degradation and inequities.

Our health depends on the health of the planet, so protecting the environment benefits everyone.

How Does Plastic Pollution Affect Us?

Plastic pollution and the chemicals used to manufacture plastics have significant impacts on human health.

When we use plastic products, we ingest and inhale microplastic particles as well as hundreds of toxic chemical additives.

These substances have known or suspected carcinogenic, developmental, reproductive, endocrine, and neurotoxic effects.

Phthalates, bisphenol A (BPA), and styrene in plastic are hormone disruptors linked to reproductive harm, diabetes, obesity, ADHD, and neurological issues.

Plastic production releases ethylene oxide, benzene, and vinyl chloride linked to lymphoma, leukemia, and liver cancer.

When plastic waste enters the oceans, it accumulates up the food chain into the fish we eat.

People living near petrochemical plants and plastic facilities have elevated rates of cancer, respiratory disease, and cardiovascular disease.

Meanwhile, plastic discarded into the environment releases toxic chemicals that contaminate our air, food, and water.

Reducing plastic usage, production, and pollution is crucial for protecting human health.

What Environment Is Most Affected by Plastic Pollution?

Marine ecosystems are the most affected by plastic waste, with oceans accumulating the majority of plastic trash.

Around 11 million tons of plastic enter marine environments annually.

Plastics comprise 80-85% of total marine debris, harming over 600 marine species through ingestion and entanglement.

Plastic debris is found on shorelines, in surface waters, and on the seafloor across the globe.

It degrades into microplastics eaten by the smallest creatures, accumulating up the food web into fish and shellfish.

Plastic toxins also dissolve into marine ecosystems.

This plastic pollution threatens marine food chains and human food security.

Plastic waste in oceans also washes back on shore, littering beaches and releasing toxins.

30-40% of global plastic waste ends up in landfills.

Here it can leach hazardous additives like bisphenols and phthalates, contaminating surrounding soil and water sources. Dumped plastic waste in developing countries causes widespread land and water pollution.

How Does Plastic Pollution Affect the Environment for Kids?

Plastic harms animals on land and in the sea.

Sea turtles, dolphins, seals, and seabirds often mistake plastic for food and eat it.

Their stomachs get full of plastic which gives them no nutrition.

Many marine animals and seabirds die because their stomachs are too full of plastic.

Animals on land also get caught in plastic litter like six-pack rings and get hurt.

Plastic never goes away, it just breaks into smaller and smaller pieces called microplastics.

These tiny plastic bits also get eaten by animals in the ocean.

Kids can help by reducing the amount of plastic they use. We should refuse single-use plastics like straws, bags, and water bottles. We can pack reusable containers and water bottles instead of using disposable plastic. We can help clean up plastic litter and recycle whatever we can. Working together, we can keep plastic from polluting nature.

To Sum It Up

In summary, environmental factors such as air pollution, water contamination, climate change, toxins, and lack of nature exact a huge toll on physical and mental health. However, emerging research also provides solutions. Improving environmental quality worldwide is imperative for public health. The time to act is now.


What are the most harmful environmental pollutants?

The worst pollutants are particulate matter, ground-level ozone, heavy metals like lead and mercury, and toxic chemicals like benzene and asbestos that persist in the environment. These contaminants accumulate in the body, causing cellular damage, genetic mutations, and disease.

How does climate change harm human health?

Climate change harms health through extreme weather, heat stress, expanded disease vector habitats, food and water insecurity, mental ill-health, and displaced populations. It also exacerbates poverty, malnutrition, and structural inequities.

Which groups are most vulnerable to environmental pollution?

Low-income communities, communities of color, pregnant women, children, the elderly, and those with existing health conditions are most vulnerable to environmental pollution and climate impacts.

How can we reduce the health impacts of pollution?

Strategies include transitioning to clean energy, reducing emissions, improving air and water quality, creating green spaces, cleaning up toxic sites, sustainable agriculture, reducing food waste, and designing walkable neighborhoods.

How does biodiversity loss impact humans?

Biodiversity loss threatens ecosystem services like natural pest control, pollination, clean air, crop pollination, carbon sequestration, ecotourism revenue, and discoveries of medicinal plants. It also enables zoonotic disease spread.

GreenChiCafe is passionate about the environment and our natural world. Please check out our website for more content on creating a sustainable future.

Scroll to Top