What do you know about environmental pollution? Environmental pollution in current data


The environmental pollution is a deep and multifaceted global problem .

In this article we analyze the current situation in terms of pollution from different sectors both in the world and at the European and Spanish level, based on current data provided by the different official bodies.

The atmospheric pollution

Airborne fine particle pollution caused approximately 428,000 premature deaths in the European Union in 2014, according to the latest air quality report (1) from the European Environment Agency (EEA), and 26,830 in Spain over a decade, based on data from the study (2) published by the National School of Health .

In Latin America , more than 150 million people live in areas that exceed the limits allowed by the  World Health Organization (WHO) (3), causing 36% of lung cancer deaths.

Note: Fine or small particles can remain suspended for long periods, travel hundreds of kilometers, and enter the lungs more easily.


Transport: need for urgent measures

Transport is the sector that contributes the most to climate change. As recorded in its report (4) EEA, aviation is responsible for 13.3% of emissions anthropogenic GHG (greenhouse gas) in the EU and shipping of 12.8%; the rest would correspond to road transport. However, the OECD estimates that CO 2 emissions generated by this sector could increase by up to 60% by 2050.

Among the measures adopted, we highlight the agreement reached between the member states and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to reduce CO 2 emissions in aviation, which will begin to be implemented in 2021; or the MARPOL Convention (International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships), which entered into force in 2005.

transport pollution


Primary sector: the cost of “industrializing” agriculture

In the first place, let us remember that the primary sector corresponds to those economic activities related to the collection or extraction and subsequent transformation of natural resources. Among these is agriculture , an activity on which we focus due to its notable contribution to climate change.

Agriculture accounts for 24% of total greenhouse gas emissions (hereinafter GHG ). In other words, one in four CO 2 particles of anthropogenic origin emitted into the atmosphere comes from agriculture. To this should be added between 15% and 20% of the processing, packaging and transportation of food , and 3-4% of the decomposition of organic waste .

Food systems would therefore be responsible for up to 50% of total GHG emissions in the world, according to the GRAIN organization .


Solid waste management: a lot to do

The best way to reduce the environmental impact of waste is not to generate it. Our current consumption model based on the ” throwaway culture ” is unsustainable. It is estimated that each European generates about 480 kg of waste each year . But only 42% of urban waste treated in the EU is recycled or composted , according to Eurostat data (5), which leads us to affirm that its management is still insufficient.

In Latin America, 45% of the waste collected does not receive adequate treatment. Almost half goes to controlled landfills or open air, burned, discharged into water or used as animal feed, among other inappropriate ‘solutions’. A recent study by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) revealed that only 19.8% of Latin American municipalities have solid waste management programs , and only 2.2% have adequate plans for its recycling.

Environmental pollution by waste

The treatment of waste involves important environmental pressures, including GHG emissions and those of other substances to the air , the water and soil , which are potentially harmful to both environmental health and human health.


Industrial waste: water pollution

Like air emissions, the emission of industrial pollutants into water has a direct impact on its quality. These emissions to water include compounds with nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, which are likely to cause eutrophication. Other relevant pollutants are heavy metals , such as Mercury (Hg), Arsenic (As), Cadmium (Cd) or Lead (Pb).

The data indicate that the discharges of these metals into water are being reduced in the European territory. In Latin America, however, different investigations show a growing problem of contamination by heavy metals that compromises food safety and public health . Worldwide, the case of China stands out, where it is estimated that 600 million people are at high risk from exposure to contaminated water .

industrial contamination

Although the fight against environmental pollution requires the leadership of the institutions, our individual contribution is also important: reducing the use of private cars, investing in renewable energy, recycling and even the way we eat are daily decisions that affect our own health and the environment.


Cited references

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  • (2)
  • (3)
  • (4)
  • (5)

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