Priority environment and health risks

The risk of environmental threats to one’s health increases for individuals who live in low and middle-income countries.  According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Environmental factors are a root cause of a significant disease burden, particularly in developing countries. An estimated 25% of death and disease globally are linked to environmental hazards. (Priority Environment, 2010) Three of the important environmental threats are air pollution, unsafe water and sanitation.

A major health risk is indoor air pollution.  In lower income areas, houses are not ventilated properly and people are using biofuel to cook with.  By doing so, smoke can accumulate in the house and lead to health issues for the occupants.  Some of these health issues are upper respiratory infections, conjunctivitis, cardiovascular disease, COPD, and cancer.  (Skolnik, 2020)  Some evidence also shows that household air pollution can also cause cataracts, tuberculosis and adverse pregnancy outcomes.

Another source of air pollution is  ambient air pollution.  “Population exposures to ambient outdoor particulate matter (PM) air pollution have been assessed to represent a major burden on global health.”  (Thurston & Lippmann, 2015) Automobiles, industries and households all emit complex mixtures of air pollutants.  This can cause both acute and chronic illnesses.  According to the WHO, 16% of lung cancer deaths, 25% of COPD deaths, 17% of ischemic heart disease and 26% of respiratory infection deaths were caused from ambient air pollution.

Unsafe water is a problem faced in many low income areas.  Inadequate protection of drinking water can lead to can lead to contamination with harmful bacteria.  A common cause of this is from contamination with human or animal feces.  When a human drinks the contaminated water, they are exposed to pathogens that cause diarrhea. “Approximately 88% of deaths due to diarrheal illness worldwide are attributed to unsafe water.”  (Disease & Impact, 2014)

“Inadequate sanitation was the 21st leading risk factor for deaths globally, but the 10th leading risk factor for low-income countries and the 17th for lower middle- income countries.” (Skolnik, 2020)  Unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene are all causes of diarrheal diseases, and since they are so closely linked together, it is hard to assess their contribution individually.   According to the WHO, 1.9 million deaths could have been prevented with adequate water supply, sanitation and hygiene in 2016.  (Estimating, n.d.)


Disease and Impact. (2014, April 16). Retrieved from

Estimating burden of disease from inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Priority environment and health risks. (2010, December 01). Retrieved from

Skolnik, R. L. (2020). Global health 101. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.

Thurston, G., & Lippmann, M. (2015). Ambient particulate matter air pollution and cardiopulmonary diseases. Seminars in respiratory and critical care medicine, 36(3), 422–432.