Healthy Life

Six reasons why a healthy environment should be a human right

5. Pollution is threatening billions worldwide.

Marine litter on the beach
Photo: UNEP / Duncan Moore

Many health issues spring from pollution and the idea that waste can be thrown “away” when, in fact, much of it remains in ecosystems, affecting both environmental and human health.

Water contaminated by waste, untreated sewage, agricultural runoff and industrial discharge puts 1.8 billion people at risk of contracting cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio. Methylmercury – a substance found in everyday products that contaminate fish – can have toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems when consumed by humans. And a growing body of evidence suggests that there is a cause for concern about the impact of microplastics on marine life and the food web.

As well, every year, 25 million people suffer from acute pesticide poisoning. And glyphosate – the world’s most widely-used herbicide – is associated with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and other cancers.

Even medicines can have a negative impact as they infiltrate ecosystems. A 2017 UNEP report highlighted that antibiotics have become less effective as medicine mainly because of their widespread use. About 700,000 people die of resistant infections every year.

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