Chemical Pollution – Concept, causes and consequences

We explain what chemical pollution is, its origin, causes and consequences. Types of pollutants and forms of pollution.

Chemical contamination
Chemical contamination causes unpredictable and often toxic or lethal changes.

What is chemical contamination?

Chemical contamination, or also chemical risk, is understood as the ability of certain elements and substances generally of industrial use, to enter other compounds, organic tissues and even ecosystems, causing unpredictable and often toxic or lethal changes, such as consequence of uncontrolled chemical reactions.

From a certain point of view, it could be said that all forms of pollution are chemical, since it consists of the introduction of harmful substances into an environment to which they are alien, and from which it is then difficult to extract them. However, the case of chemical contamination differs from others in that its causal elements come directly from the chemical industry and they constitute toxic or dangerous substances.

Origin of chemical contamination

Chemical contamination
Chemical pollution can also be caused by volcanic activity.

The presence of chemical elements or chemical substances in an uncontrolled way in terrestrial ecosystems has occurred throughout its geological history on multiple occasions, especially as a consequence of long periods of volcanic activity or, even, of the appearance and flowering of photosynthetic plant life, which gradually filled the earth’s atmosphere with gaseous oxygen.

However, in its very short history on the planet, the human being has altered the balance of ecosystems in a much more rapid and radical way, due to the start-up of industries, especially after the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century.

The understanding of the human being about the way in which matter operates has allowed him to manufacture substances and manipulate the atoms that constitute them, but by-producing other useless and often harmful substances in the process, which in the absence of better management will give to the environment . Once there, they can enter wildlife and destroy the chemical balance of the ecosystem, having truly serious consequences for the sustainability of life in the planet.

Causes of chemical contamination

Mostly the causes of chemical contamination they are of human source. There are also chemical materials thrown from the ground by volcanoes and geysers, but these events are more infrequent and often give nature the time it takes to recover from ecological damage.

On the other hand, the amount of substances that human beings dump into the air, water and land day after day are more abundant, difficult to eliminate and therefore harmful in the medium and long term. The indiscriminate discharge of sewage or gases and substances into rivers, air or seas comes not only from large factories, but from automobile exhaust, discarded commercial products and power plants.

Consequences of chemical contamination

Chemical contamination
Chemical pollution can cause phenomena like acid rain.

Chemical pollution has serious consequences on the molecular balance of ecosystems and of life itself, such as:

  • High levels of toxicity. Which leads to massive deaths of animal or plant or microscopic species, destroying the trophic (food) balance of a given ecosystem, and decreasing its biodiversity.
  • Chronic diseases. Such as cancer, respiratory failure, skin damage, etc., both in humans and in animals and plants.
  • Unpredictable chemical reactions. When entering the meteorological and climatic cycles, these substances can produce unexpected reactions that give rise to phenomena such as acid rain, for example, in which instead of raining water, it rains a very mild acid that causes material damage.
  • Biochemical accumulation. Certain pollutants can be stored in the bodies of living beings, thus traveling from one place to another as one animal devours another, and eventually reaching our own food, to enter our bodies and cause us disease.

Types of polluting chemicals

Chemical pollutants can be classified according to their effect on the environment in:

  • Poisons Substances that, when introduced into the body of living beings, inhibit or dramatically alter their vital biochemical processes and cause death.
  • Mutagenic. Substances whose presence in the organism of living beings affects the conformation of DNA molecules, thus causing unpredictable mutations, some of which can be transmitted generationally.
  • Corrosive. Materials that by interacting with organic matter cause its corrosion, that is, its violent oxidation, causing irreparable damage to it.
  • Suffocating Especially gases, they are lighter than air and tend to displace it, occupying the space of the lungs and generating mechanical asphyxia in living beings.
  • Radioactive. Atomically unstable substances that emit particles and energy waves at such a frequency that they affect DNA, causing genetic damage and causing disease.

Forms of chemical contamination

Chemical contamination generally occurs by inhalation (breathing toxic gases) or direct contact (penetration through the skin), or irradiation (simply by being in the immediate vicinity of the material) in the case of radioactive materials.

In the case of humans, these behaviors can be controlled and immediate damage minimized, but not so in that of animals or plants, which suffer the effects of chemical contamination and eventually bring them to our own food. Furthermore, we cannot foresee the damage to the ecosystem that occurs silently when substances are dumped, let us suppose, into rivers. Its effects will be observable in the long term, usually when it is too late.

Main chemical pollutants

The main chemical pollutants today are:

  • Heavy metals. Metallic elements used in the manufacture of tools, pipes and other industrial uses, capable of releasing particles over time that end up suspended in the air, in water or as part of food, and that in the long run can cause poisoning or incidences of Cancer.
  • Chemical pesticides. Substances used in the agricultural industry and that fulfill the function of protecting crops from insects, bacteria or even herbs that can ruin them, but also have a residual presence in groundwater and in the food itself, making them slightly toxic for consumption. .
  • Drug waste. Disposal of expired or unnecessary drugs must occur through appropriate mechanisms, or otherwise their active components will end up in the environment, thus becoming biochemical pollutants.
  • Commercial waste. The chemical content of batteries (cells), aerosol products, disinfectants and other products of daily use in our homes almost always go to the environment and, in large proportions, become a source of harmful chemical substances.


Radioactivity is one of the most serious cases of chemical contamination that exist, since they are unstable chemical elements, which emit particles and energy waves constantly and in all directions, passing through practically all matter (except lead, which is why it is used to contain this type of materials) and damaging above all the genetic material of living things.

Radioactive materials have a variable decay period, but in some cases it can be extremely long, as occurs in plutonium-239 that emits radiation for 24,100 years, used during the 20th century in the manufacture of nuclear weapons.


Chemical contamination
Some theories claim that chemtrails contain polluting biological agents.

The chemtrails (of English chemical trails, “Chemical traces”) are the name that some conspiracy theories give to contrails left by airplanes in the atmosphere, which would contain, according to these theories, chemical or biological contaminating agents, which dark powers behind the pharmaceutical industry use to keep the population sick and to be able to sustain the pharmacology business.

How to prevent chemical contamination?

Chemical pollution requires firm measures on the part of societies to reduce the amount of harmful materials that are released into the environment on a daily basis. This can mean:

  • Strict government controls for the chemical, petrochemical and steel industries regarding the management of sewage, vapors and waste.
  • Exemplary punishments for those who cause environmental damage through poor or irresponsible handling of chemical substances.
  • Ban on the commercialization of products with harmful chemical elements, promotion of the consumption of eco-healthy alternatives and recycling strategies so that these products do not end up in the environment.
  • Prohibition or control of pesticides and promotion of independent, objective and self-financed studies that evaluate each product before its massive use.
  • Hazardous materials recycling systems: batteries, medicines, empty aerosol containers, etc.
  • Awareness campaigns so that the population understands the risks of chemical contamination.

Examples of chemical contamination

Chemical contamination
The chemical industries dump toxic substances polluting the ocean.

Some classic examples of chemical contamination are those caused by certain chemical industries in the ocean: by pouring their waters full of sulfates and other substances into the water, they encourage the growth (by overfeeding) of certain algae and similar organisms, whose population increases to the point of suffocating other species and then competing with themselves, dying en masse and rotting on the seashore, which is all detrimental to biological diversity and the marine biotic balance.

Another traditional example has to do with the use of DDT as a pesticide during the 20th century, until its ban on having found traces of this toxic substance in animals on the other side of the world, as well as in food and even sewage for human consumption.