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People and Pollution

March 2019 — Join us this month as we examine the human impacts of oil spills, marine debris, and other forms of marine pollution.
A group of people at a press conference.


How does marine pollution affect you?

When you witness a pollution event — either firsthand or through photos, videos, and reports of firsthand accounts — your first concern is likely for the environment. Looking at images of wildlife and marshland coated in oil, or beaches covered in plastic bottles and other marine debris, the environmental impact stares you in the face. You might not know the full scope of the damage, but you know it doesn’t look good.

But what’s less apparent in these images is the impact marine pollution can have on people. Entire ecosystems can be thrown out of whack by the slightest change. The impact of population levels on one species can affect the system as a whole, and humans are no exception. We exist as part of this same ecosystem. When something happens to it, we too, feel the impact.

The human impact of marine pollution goes beyond the damage to an environment. For you as an individual, marine pollution can affect your mental, physical, and financial health. It can influence the social, cultural, and recreational resources available in the community you belong to. And at a larger regional, industrial, or national level, it can have major economic implications.

This month, NOAA's Office of Response and Restoration will be taking a closer look at some of the ways marine pollution affects people. Stay tuned as we explore the mental and physical health effects of oil spills and marine debris, the cultural impact historic industrial pollution has had on tribes in the Great Lakes, and more in our upcoming blogs. 

The Cultural Impact

For native communities across the U.S., the coasts provide natural resources integral to their cultural heritage. Tribes often rely on resources such as fish and various agricultural crops for both survival and commercial use. But the relationship between tribes and these resources is far more complex than that between a vendor and a product. It's a relationship that is deeply embedded in the traditions of the tribe. When marine pollution damages a natural resource, it can also damage that way of life. 

When historic industrial pollution nearly wiped out wild rice in the St. Louis Estuary in the Great Lakes, the Ojibwe tribe felt the damage. Learn more about how restoration helped to revive an integral source of cultural heritage in our blog "Spotlight on People and Pollution: Wild rice, pollution, and space for traditions to grow."

Human Health Effects

When people come into direct contact with marine pollution — such as oil or chemicals — it can lead to serious health effects. But marine pollution isn't just present at the beach. It can also impact you right in your own home.  Through our food chain, people can be exposed to not just oil and chemicals, but also miniscule microplastics. Learn more about how microplastics can get into your food and how they could be impacting your health in our blog "Plastic, Pollution, and Human Health.