What are environmental hazards?

When a state, substance or an event has the potential to threaten the circumstantial natural environment like natural disasters and pollution, and harmfully affect the health of the people, then they are known as environmental hazards. An environmental hazard is a condition that adversely affects the environment. Any type of pollutants like pesticides, heavy metals, biological contaminants, industrial chemicals, and toxic wastes impact the health of the subjects that are exposed to them. Human-made hazards may not be immediately life-threatening but eventually may lead to the deterioration of human health. This is because of the fact that degradation in the environment will ultimately result in the negative unwanted effects on the human ecosphere.


Type of Hazards

Different types of hazards may affect the environment. The names of those are:

Chemical Hazards

According to the European Union, Chemical Regulations chemical hazards are defined as the chemical substances that are causing unavoidable damage to the environment. This definition is more particular for aquatic toxicity substances. One such example is Zinc oxide that is used as a pigment in paints and is severely harmful to aquatic life.

Chemical Hazards can be natural or man-made. Chemical hazards that are man-made include many synthetic products like plastics, disinfectants, and pesticides. Some heavy metals are produced naturally in the environment, including heavy metals like mercury and lead.

The chemical hazards can come in any form of gas, solid or liquid. The exposure to these hazardous chemicals can result in acute or chronic health effects. Anyone can come near a chemical exposure during spraying, preparation, storage or usage of the element. Inhalation of vapors, dust or gases, and direct contact with the solvents, alkalis or acids are the two main ways of exposure to hazardous chemicals.

Human beings can also digest chemicals through food and water. Moreover, another chemical hazard that is spreading rapidly across the world is the incomplete burning of fuels that releases carbon monoxide. When Carbon Monoxide enters our body, it combines with the hemoglobin in the blood and reduces the intake of oxygen. The cells and the brain as a result of this, will not receive enough oxygen that may even lead to the death of the human being.

The following are the lists of some of the chemical hazards that are mainly anthropogenic and may turn up the health critical conditions in the natural surroundings. Let us have a look at them.

  • Anthrax
  • DDT
  • Carcinogens
  • Dioxins
  • Explosive materials
  • Fungicides
  • Furans
  • Disruptors for Endocrine
  • Heavy metals
  • Herbicides
  • Mercury
  • Marine Debris
  • Mutagens
  • Pesticides
  • Antibiotic agents and hormones present in animals that are meant to be consumed by humans
  • Arsenic is a contaminant present in wells and freshwater sources
  • Carcinogenic asbestos
  • Radon and other sources of Radioactivity
  • Pollution of soil
  • Smoking of Tobacco
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls
  • Toxic wastes

Physical Hazards

Physical hazards are a type of occupational hazard involving various types of environmental hazards that can cause harm without or with the contact of the body. A physical hazard is generally natural disasters like tornadoes, earthquakes, blizzards, droughts, and landslides. We should remember that there are some ongoing physical hazards as well as UV radiation that can damage the DNA of any living organism and can cause terminal diseases like skin cancer.

Physical hazards are also defined as any condition or substance that can threaten our physical safety. Fire, Noise, Radiation, unguarded machines or spill on the floor can be considered as a physical Hazard. Ergonomic hazards like putting a strain on the body due to body position and the work type are also considered as physical hazards. The lists of the physical hazards are as follows:

  • Drought
  • Earthquake
  • Floods
  • Fog
  • Lightning
  • Quicksand
  • X-Rays
  • Electromagnetic fields
  • Noise and Light pollution
  • Ultraviolet Light (UV)

Biological Hazards

Biological or Biohazards are those substances that cause a dangerous threat to living organism’s health, mainly for humans. These types of hazards are mainly caused due to ecological interaction between different organisms. When numerous pathogens attack another organism like human beings, the latter suffer from infestations diseases. We became parasites for another organism.

Human Beings can encounter biohazards while handling body fluids and wastes that are infectious, consumption of unhygienic water and food, working with infected animals or people. The names of some of the biological hazards are as follows.

  • Arbovirus
  • Allergies
  • Cholera
  • Malaria
  • Molds
  • Epidemics
  • Pandemics
  • Ebola
  • Pathogens
  • Medical wastes
  • Rabies
  • BSE or Bovine spongiform encephalopathy
  • Poisoning of food
  • River Blindness or Onchocerciasis
  • Allergic pollens
  • SARS or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome
  • Sick Building Syndrome

Social Hazards

Social hazards are those that are caused due to unawareness and lack of money. Illiteracy and poverty are the two main causes of social hazards. Obesity, Alcohol addiction, and drug abuse are other vital sources of social hazards that affect our society as well as the youth. All of the above mentioned bad habits lead to chronic diseases like heart and lung problems.

Ergonomic Hazards

This type of hazard is a special condition that poses serious harm to the musculoskeletal systems like ligaments or muscles of tendons, hand or wrist nerves, lower back or bones that surround the knees. Ergonomic Hazards include awkward postures, the vibration of hand/arm/whole body, poorly designed workstations, and repetitive motions. It can happen in non-occupational or occupational settings like building sites, homes, public spaces, workshops, offices, schools, and other facilities.

Mechanical Hazards

When a machine or an industrial process is involved in a hazard, then that is known as mechanical hazards. Examples of such hazards include airbags, aircraft, compressed gases, and motor vehicles. Mechanical hazards can occur at an initial stage while designing the new process or a machine. The identification study of mechanical hazards primarily focuses on the deviations by different agencies like the National Traffic Safety Administration, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Psychosocial Hazard

Psychosocial or Psychological hazards affect the psychological and mental health of the people, including the capability to work in a different environment among various other people. Designing, organizing and management of the work, social and economic contexts of work, workplace violence, and occupational stress are some of the main reasons for Psychosocial Hazards.

Natural hazards

Natural hazards like floods, volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis and many others threaten the society, built and natural environment, particularly those people who are more vulnerable. According to a report by Red Cross over 90000 are injured, 130000 are killed, and 140 million lives are affected due to natural disasters every year. By the construction of facilities away from the high-risk zones, redundancy in the engineering, reserve funds for the emergency, development of recovery plans, and purchasing of related insurance, the effects of natural hazards can be reduced.

Various Statuses of Environmental Hazards

Environmental Hazards are classified into three statuses or modes. Let us have a glance at them

  • Dormant: Dormant is the situation environmental hazard that is currently unaffected. For example, a mountain is unstable with a probability of severe landslide in the future, but at present no population will be affected who are living below the peak.
  • Armed: This type of environmental hazard will cause potential harm to the property, people, and environment.
  • Active: A harmful hazard has already occurred in this mode. Often accidents, disasters, incidents or emergencies are considered as active environmental hazards.

How Environmental Exposures converts to Hazards?

To reduce and control the harmful effects of environmental hazards, Human beings need to find out the root cause of where the hazard has originated, how to identify it and the pathway it creates for affecting the health of the people.

The source of the hazard is the place of origin from the suggested activities. Patients with infectious diseases release biological hazards that could infect other healthy people. Different industry releases chemical hazards that enter the sewage system which may reach the drinking water. If this drinking water reaches every household, there is every possibility of consuming these chemicals via water.

The hazard type is the name of a particular infectious element, chemical or other agents. The pathway is the way through which the hazard reaches the human being from the sources. The response time is the total amount of time required to notice the outcome after the hazard has attacked the people.

Thus you can prevent any type of hazard from spreading out if you can identify the source, type, the pathway and the response time of that particular hazard.

Principles to Manage Hazards

Environmental Hazards can be managed by following some simple steps. The most important being the identification. This is followed by further detailed analysis of the situation.

  1. Establish the Source and identify the hazard: The first and foremost job in hazard management is to identify the particular type and source of origin of the hazard. Find out how bad is the exposure condition. If you can answer the below questions, then it will be easy to manage that particular hazard.
    1. What is the Hazard’s source?
    2. Who is facing the exposure?
    3. What are the activities or pathways that can expose a person?
    4. How the environment is involved in hazard transfer to humans?
  2. Analysis and Evaluation of Hazard or risk: Proper analysis of the hazard and evaluation of the toxic effects on the health of human beings should be done. Appropriate design, laboratory investigation, and sampling are required for the perfect assessment of the danger.
  3. Communication and Consultation: After the determination of the risks or hazards, proper consultations are given to the control measure team that will manage the hazard. Organizations and people that are related to the investigation of the hazards are included in the consultation panel.
  4. Treatment of the Hazard and risks: The hazards are treated by the control measure team or by the people who are responsible for the spreading of hazards.
  5. Reviewing and Monitoring: After implementing the control measures, a follow up is required to investigate whether the actions taken are successful or not. Further, more rigid correction methods are applied, if the previous ones fail.
  6. Keeping records of the Hazards: Maintaining proper reports and records of hazard management is very vital. The report must include documentation for what type of hazard has been identified, exposure level and what necessary steps were taken to control it.

How to Prevent the Different Environmental Hazards from the Disposal Sites

Environmental hazards from the disposal sites are mainly caused by the following threats. But there are different ways to control and reduce them. The hazards are:

Rain or Storm: Heavy rains or superstorms led to the production of a very high amount of leachate. During the rainy season, the landfills need to be completely closed or temporary arrangements need to be done for covering the area. Measures should be taken beforehand to prevent waterlogging where the level of the ground is very high.

Fire: Sometimes disposal of the known compatible wastes in landfills leads to the outbreak of fire. High-calorie wastes accelerate the process and continue the fire. Thus care should be taken while craving the pathway of the disposal in landfills.

Earthquakes and Explosions: Though the possibility of Explosions and earthquakes are very remote, if they happen then this will be the ultimate cause of hazards. If the proper characterization of the wastes and reactivity tests for each truck are done before loading in a TSD facility, then explosions can be restricted in the landfills. The sites for landfills need to be properly checked through seismologic studies for earthquakes to avoid the building of disposal sites on the seismic areas.

Surface and Ground waste, and soil contamination: The worst situation for the spreading of hazards from landfills will be due to leachate leakage and breakage of landfill linear systems in the ground which can contaminate the underground water. To prevent this hazard, there should be ideal design, construction, and operation of the disposal site. There should be no activity near the sites that may initiate the leakage. Any spillage on the surrounding roads should be immediately collected and disposed of back into the sites. All the storage and operations need to be monitored for stopping the direct contact of the wastes to soil or water.

Thus at the end of this piece of writing, we can say that environmental hazards are related to any condition, state or process that can adversely affect the environment and human health. But an ounce of prevention can identify the risks of the hazard beforehand and can prevent it in time. Different organizations are formed to look after this significant topic and spreading more awareness among the common people about how to take proper measures during hazard exposure.

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