Environmental Toxins

Earth is sick

What are Environmental Toxins?

Environmental Toxins are chemicals found in air, water, food, soil, and buildings. They are harmful to living things and include a wide range of natural as well as synthetic compounds that damage biological health.

Reasons Why it Exists

These toxins are byproducts of natural processes such as: Decay of animal waste and plant matter, or the release of volcanic gases during eruption. Some toxins are also found in poisonous plants and animals. Some toxins that are found naturally and can cause accidental harm to living things are elements that are know as lead, mercury, arsenic, and plutonium. Other toxins are byproducts of man-made processes unintentionally.

Some toxins are meant to cause deliberate harm to living things, for example, Pesticides and weed killers other known as herbicides, and disinfectants/sanitizing agents. Some others would be included in warfare like Sarin and VX [nerve gases], phosgene [suffocating agent], nitrogen mustard and sulfur mustard [vesicants or blister-causing]. Drugs are also apart of this as well.


  • What is [name of chemical]?

  • What happens to it when it enters the environment?

  • How might I be exposed to it?

  • How can it enter and leave my body?

  • How can it affect my health?

  • Is there a medical test to determine whether I have been exposed to it?

  • What recommendations have been made to protect human health?

Air Pollution

Air pollution infects the environment when gases/toxins are released into the air without proper control. In the past 150 years, such activities have pumped enough carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to raise its levels higher than they have been for hundreds of thousands of years. Carbon dioxide emissions are strongly associated with cars, planes, power plants, and other human activities that involve the burning of fossil fuels such as gasoline and natural gas. Other greenhouse gases include methane—which come from swamps and gas emitted by livestock—and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were used in refrigerants and aerosol propellants until they were banned because of their deteriorating effect on Earth's ozone layer. Sulfur dioxide and closely related chemicals are known primarily as a cause of acid rain. But they also reflect light when released in the atmosphere, which keeps sunlight out and causes Earth to cool. Volcanic eruptions can spew massive amounts of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, sometimes causing cooling that lasts for years. In fact, volcanoes used to be the main source of atmospheric sulfur dioxide; today people are. Industrialized countries have worked to reduce levels of sulfur dioxide, smog, and smoke in order to improve people's health. But a result, not predicted until recently, is that the lower sulfur dioxide levels may actually make global warming worse. Just as sulfur dioxide from volcanoes can cool the planet by blocking sunlight, cutting the amount of the compound in the atmosphere lets more sunlight through, warming the Earth. This effect is exaggerated when elevated levels of other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere trap the additional heat.

Ground Pollution

Ground/soil pollution happens when chemicals are left to rot or contaminate the ground like mining, which can release dangerous chemicals into the soil. Trash is another form of land pollution. Around the world, paper, cans, glass jars, plastic products, and junked cars and appliances mar the landscape. Litter makes it difficult for plants and other producers in the food web to create nutrients. Animals can die if they mistakenly eat plastic. Garbage often contains dangerous pollutants such as oils, chemicals, and ink. These pollutants can leech into the soil and harm plants, animals, and people. Inefficient garbage collection systems contribute to land pollution as well. Often, the garbage is picked up and brought to a dump, or landfill. Pollutants from the landfill leak into the earth in which they are buried. Plants that grow in the earth may be contaminated, and the herbivores that eat the plants also become contaminated. So do the predators that consume the herbivores. This process, where a chemical builds up in each level of the food web, is called bioaccumulation. Some cities incinerate, or burn, their garbage. Incinerating trash gets rid of it, but it can release dangerous heavy metals and chemicals into the air. So while trash incinerators can help with the problem of land pollution, they sometimes add to the problem of air pollution.

Water Pollution

Water pollution happens when toxins or chemicals are released into lakes, rivers, oceans, and/or ponds. With the worlds age of technology, scientists are able to detect pollutants in the water at smaller concentration, which can vary from sunscreen to pesticides, or birth control pills to petroleum. Fresh water is the endpoint for biological waste like human and animal feces and rainwater runoff with fertilizers and nutrients in the soil. Sewage leads to the water zones, so when you dump paint down the drain, for instance, it usually leads to the oceans. In developing countries, 70 percent of the industrial waste are dumped into the water supply untreated.

Reducing Pollution

Recycling is becoming more common, which reduces the amount of garbage in landfills, incinerators, and waterways. The united states recycles about 30% of their garbage, which is fairly good in reducing pollution. Also, the smoke from coal-burning power plants can be filtered. Governments are passing laws that limit the amount and type of chemical factories and agribusinesses are allowed to use. People and businesses that illegally dump waste into the land, water, and air can be fined for millions of dollars and government superfund programs can force polluters to clean up the sites that they polluted. The Clean Water Act of 1972 helps limit what pollutants can be released into the water. As countries get richer the pollution in those countries increase.