Environmental hazard

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An environmental hazard is a substance, a state or an event which has the potential to threaten the surrounding natural environment / or adversely affect people's health, including n]] and natural disasters such as storms and earthquakes.


Any single or combination of toxic chemical, biological, or physical agents in the environment, resulting from human activities or natural processes, that may impact the health of exposed subjects, including pollutants such as heavy metals, pesticides, biological contaminants, toxic waste, industrial and home chemicals. [1]

Human-made hazards while not immediately health-threatening may turn out detrimental to man's well-being eventually, because deterioration in the environment can produce secondary, unwanted negative effects on the human ecosphere. The effects of water pollution may not be immediately visible because of a sewage system that helps drain off toxic substances. If those substances turn out to be persistent (e.g. persistent organic pollutant), however, they will literally be fed back to their producers via the food chain: plankton -> edible fish -> humans. In that respect, a considerable number of environmental hazards listed below are man-made (anthropogenic) hazards.

Hazards can be categorized in four types:

  1. Chemical
  2. Physical (mechanical, etc.)
  3. Biological
    The international pictogram for environmental hazard. GHS-pictogram-pollu.svg
    The international pictogram for environmental hazard.
  4. Psychosocial.


Chemical hazards are defined in the Globally Harmonized System and in the European Union chemical regulations. They are caused by chemical substances causing significant damage to the environment. The label is particularly applicable towards substances with aquatic toxicity. An example is zinc oxide, a common paint pigment, which is extremely toxic to aquatic life.

Toxicity or other hazards do not imply an environmental hazard, because elimination by sunlight (photolysis), water (hydrolysis) or organisms (biological elimination) neutralizes many reactive or poisonous substances. Persistence towards these elimination mechanisms combined with toxicity gives the substance the ability to do damage in the long term. Also, the lack of immediate human toxicity does not mean the substance is environmentally nonhazardous. For example, tanker truck-sized spills of substances such as milk can cause a lot of damage in the local aquatic ecosystems: the added biological oxygen demand causes rapid eutrophication, leading to anoxic conditions in the water body.

All hazards in this category are mainly anthropogenic although there exist a number of natural carcinogens and chemical elements like radon and lead may turn up in health-critical concentrations in the natural environment:


A physical hazard is a type of occupational hazard that involves environmental hazards that can cause harm with or without contact. There are many types of physical hazards. Some of them are as follows:-


Biological hazards, also known as biohazards, refer to biological substances that pose a threat to the health of living organisms, primarily that of humans. This can include medical waste or samples of a microorganism, virus or toxin (from a biological source) that can affect human health.

Psychosocial Hazards

Psychosocial hazards include but aren't limited to stress, violence, and other workplace stressors. Work is generally beneficial to mental health and personal wellbeing. It provides people with structure and purpose and a sense of identity.

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Pollution Introduction of contaminants that cause adverse change

Pollution is the introduction of contaminants into the natural environment that cause adverse change. Pollution can take the form of chemical substances or energy, such as noise, heat or light. Pollutants, the components of pollution, can be either foreign substances/energies or naturally occurring contaminants. Pollution is often classed as point source or nonpoint source pollution. In 2015, pollution killed 9 million people in the world.

Toxicity The ability of a chemical to cause damage to life

Toxicity is the degree to which a chemical substance or a particular mixture of substances can damage an organism. Toxicity can refer to the effect on a whole organism, such as an animal, bacterium, or plant, as well as the effect on a substructure of the organism, such as a cell (cytotoxicity) or an organ such as the liver (hepatotoxicity). By extension, the word may be metaphorically used to describe toxic effects on larger and more complex groups, such as the family unit or society at large. Sometimes the word is more or less synonymous with poisoning in everyday usage.

Wastewater Water that has been contaminated by human use

Wastewater is any water that has been contaminated by human use. Wastewater is "used water from any combination of domestic, industrial, commercial or agricultural activities, surface runoff or stormwater, and any sewer inflow or sewer infiltration". Therefore, wastewater is a byproduct of domestic, industrial, commercial or agricultural activities. The characteristics of wastewater vary depending on the source. Types of wastewater include: domestic wastewater from households, municipal wastewater from communities and industrial wastewater. Wastewater can contain physical, chemical and biological pollutants.

Indoor air quality Air quality within and around buildings and structures

Indoor air quality (IAQ) is the air quality within and around buildings and structures. IAQ is known to affect the health, comfort and well-being of building occupants. Poor indoor air quality has been linked to sick building syndrome, reduced productivity and impaired learning in schools.

Water pollution Contamination of water bodies

Water pollution is the contamination of water bodies, usually as a result of human activities. Water bodies include for example lakes, rivers, oceans, aquifers and groundwater. Water pollution results when contaminants are introduced into the natural environment. For example, releasing inadequately treated wastewater into natural water bodies can lead to degradation of aquatic ecosystems. In turn, this can lead to public health problems for people living downstream. They may use the same polluted river water for drinking or bathing or irrigation. Water pollution is the leading worldwide cause of death and disease, e.g. due to water-borne diseases.

Lindane chemical compound

Lindane, also known as gamma-hexachlorocyclohexane (γ-HCH), gammaxene, Gammallin and sometimes incorrectly called benzene hexachloride (BHC), is an organochlorine chemical and an isomer of hexachlorocyclohexane that has been used both as an agricultural insecticide and as a pharmaceutical treatment for lice and scabies.

Environmental chemistry The scientific study of the chemical and phenomena that occur in natural places

Environmental chemistry is the scientific study of the chemical and biochemical phenomena that occur in natural places. It should not be confused with green chemistry, which seeks to reduce potential pollution at its source. It can be defined as the study of the sources, reactions, transport, effects, and fates of chemical species in the air, soil, and water environments; and the effect of human activity and biological activity on these. Environmental chemistry is an interdisciplinary science that includes atmospheric, aquatic and soil chemistry, as well as heavily relying on analytical chemistry and being related to environmental and other areas of science.

Aquatic toxicology

Aquatic toxicology is the study of the effects of manufactured chemicals and other anthropogenic and natural materials and activities on aquatic organisms at various levels of organization, from subcellular through individual organisms to communities and ecosystems. Aquatic toxicology is a multidisciplinary field which integrates toxicology, aquatic ecology and aquatic chemistry.

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs), sometimes known as "forever chemicals" are organic compounds that are resistant to environmental degradation through chemical, biological, and photolytic processes. Because of their persistence, POPs bioaccumulate with potential adverse impacts on human health and the environment. The effect of POPs on human and environmental health was discussed, with intention to eliminate or severely restrict their production, by the international community at the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants in 2001.

Bioindicator Indicator species that can be used to reveal the qualitative status of an environment

A bioindicator is any species or group of species whose function, population, or status can reveal the qualitative status of the environment. For example, copepods and other small water crustaceans that are present in many water bodies can be monitored for changes that may indicate a problem within their ecosystem. Bioindicators can tell us about the cumulative effects of different pollutants in the ecosystem and about how long a problem may have been present, which physical and chemical testing cannot.

Endrin chemical compound

Endrin is an organochloride with the chemical formula C12H8Cl6O that was first produced in 1950 by Shell and Velsicol Chemical Corporation. It was primarily used as an insecticide, as well as a rodenticide and piscicide. It is a colourless, odorless solid, although commercial samples are often off-white. Endrin was manufactured as an emulsifiable solution known commercially as Endrex. The compound became infamous as a persistent organic pollutant and for this reason it is banned in many countries.

Soil contamination Pollution of land by human-made chemicals or other alteration

Soil contamination or soil pollution as part of land degradation is caused by the presence of xenobiotics (human-made) chemicals or other alteration in the natural soil environment. It is typically caused by industrial activity, agricultural chemicals or improper disposal of waste. The most common chemicals involved are petroleum hydrocarbons, polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, solvents, pesticides, lead, and other heavy metals. Contamination is correlated with the degree of industrialization and intensity of chemical substance. The concern over soil contamination stems primarily from health risks, from direct contact with the contaminated soil, vapours from the contaminants, or from secondary contamination of water supplies within and underlying the soil. Mapping of contaminated soil sites and the resulting cleanups are time-consuming and expensive tasks, requiring extensive amounts of geology, hydrology, chemistry, computer modeling skills, and GIS in Environmental Contamination, as well as an appreciation of the history of industrial chemistry.

Methoxychlor Synthetic organochloride insecticide, now obsolete.

Methoxychlor is a synthetic organochloride insecticide, now obsolete.

Sentinel species organisms used to detect risks to humans by providing advance warning of a danger

Sentinel species are organisms, often animals, used to detect risks to humans by providing advance warning of a danger. The terms primarily apply in the context of environmental hazards rather than those from other sources. Some animals can act as sentinels because they may be more susceptible or have greater exposure to a particular hazard than humans in the same environment. People have long observed animals for signs of impending hazards or evidence of environmental threats. Plants and other living organisms have also been used for these purposes.

Ecotoxicity potential for biological, chemical or physical stressors to affect ecosystems

Ecotoxicity, the subject of study of the field of ecotoxicology, refers to the potential for biological, chemical or physical stressors to affect ecosystems. Such stressors might occur in the natural environment at densities, concentrations or levels high enough to disrupt the natural biochemistry, physiology, behavior and interactions of the living organisms that comprise the ecosystem.

Environmental toxicology multidisciplinary field of science

Environmental toxicology is a multidisciplinary field of science concerned with the study of the harmful effects of various chemical, biological and physical agents on living organisms. Ecotoxicology is a subdiscipline of environmental toxicology concerned with studying the harmful effects of toxicants at the population and ecosystem levels.

A hazard is an agent which has the potential to cause harm to a vulnerable target. Hazards can be both natural or human induced. Sometimes natural hazards such as floods and drought can be caused by human activity. Floods can be caused by bad drainage facilities and droughts can be caused by over-irrigation or groundwater pollution. The terms "hazard" and "risk" are often used interchangeably however, in terms of risk assessment, they are two very distinct terms. A hazard is any agent that can cause harm or damage to humans, property, or the environment. Risk is defined as the probability that exposure to a hazard will lead to a negative consequence, or more simply, a hazard poses no risk if there is no exposure to that hazard.

Environmental impacts of cleaning products entail the consequences that come as a result of chemical compounds in cleaning products. Cleaning agents can be bioactive with consequences ranging from mild to severe. These cleaning products can contain harmful chemicals that have detrimental impacts on the environment. Developmental and endocrine disruptors have been linked to cleaning agents. In addition, the packaging of these products can also post vast environmental consequences. Green cleaning is an approach to redress or address the problems associated with traditional cleaning agents.

Groundwater pollution Pollution that occurs when pollutants are released to the ground and seep down into groundwater

Groundwater pollution occurs when pollutants are released to the ground and make their way down into groundwater. This type of water pollution can also occur naturally due to the presence of a minor and unwanted constituent, contaminant or impurity in the groundwater, in which case it is more likely referred to as contamination rather than pollution.

Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CECs) is a term used by water quality professionals to describe pollutants that have been detected in water bodies, that may cause ecological or human health impacts, and typically are not regulated under current environmental laws. Sources of these pollutants include agriculture, urban runoff and ordinary household products and pharmaceuticals that are disposed to sewage treatment plants and subsequently discharged to surface waters.


  1. "Environmental hazard". Defined Term - A dictionary of legal, industry-specific, and uncommon terms. Retrieved 23 August 2017. quoted from Code of Maryland, January 1, 2014