Impact of the Environment on Health

The most obvious impact in this part of the Interlock is the one of poor environmental quality on our health.  Air, water, and even soil pollution can all have a nasty impact on the health of people who come in contact with it – and while the US has removed a number of the most egregious pollutants from our environment over the last fifty years, there are still many more that continue to gnaw away at the health of the average American.  In our air, we have to worry about ozone, soot, and a mix of toxic particulates from cars and nearby industrial plants.  Our water supplies are routinely polluted by industrial waste, and an estimated 20 million Americans get sick each year because of drinking water contaminated with biological waste.

We know about most of these pollutants and have some sense of the harm they do.  But there is also a large assortment of drugs, hormones, additives, dyes, nanoparticles, and exotic industrial chemicals released by home-owners, industry, and agriculture that have ended up in our air and our water supply, many of which are toxic in some way or another, even at minuscule levels.  The public has the vague impression that all new chemical compounds get tested for their effects on health and the environment, but this is false.  In the vast majority of cases we do not know which of these are harmful, or how harmful they are.

While we’ve grown, perforce, somewhat used to the levels of toxins in our environment, there are some communities that, due to their local circumstances, are facing a level of pollution that is far higher than average for America as a whole.  This puts a considerably larger level of strain on the medical services of the area, and becomes a net economic drag on the community and the region around it – sometimes exceeding the benefits of the industry that is the cause of the pollution.

And, of course, there are the health impacts of the kinds of natural disasters that are predicted to become much more frequent in coming decades, thanks to climate change – heat waves in particular, but also floods, droughts, tornados, hurricanes, severe storms, and blizzards.  Not only do these events occur more often and with greater destructive force, they also tend to move out of their traditional areas where there are some defenses.  Large tornados will become more common outside of “Tornado Alley” and hurricanes will move farther up the coast before weakening, because they depend on warm water and the temperature of the water off the US East Coast has been rising steadily in recent decades.  This is a major reason Hurricane Sandy survived long enough and came far enough north, even late in the hurricane season, to merge with a much more northern weather system and become a “superstorm.”

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