The Environment Agencies of England, Scotland and Wales help to make sure that pollution does not affect the environment. They need to look at all kinds of hazards.The Environment Agency rates hazards on a scale of 1 to 5.


Extremely hazardous

Highly toxic substances that will cause death to humans. Carcinogens such as dioxins and compounds that get stored and concentrate in the body (bioaccumulation).
Permanent and irreparable environmental damage.

Very hazardous

Cause significant, long-term, medical problems in humans. Will lead to death of fish or other organisms. Immediate damage to the environment but it will recover after toxic substance has been removed.


Short-term illness in humans. Will affect the environment for a brief period of time. Recovery in several days.

Slightly hazardous

Minor, short-term harm to humans, such as watering irritations, which end when exposure stops. Small disruption to the environment.


Non-toxic substances that look unsightly or have a nasty smell but do no physical harm to humans or the environment.

Use the table to rate these hazards.

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Traffic pollution linked to heart attacks

Inhaling tiny particles of pollution, a few millionths of a metre in size, may trigger heart attacks and other breathing problems. Dr Jan Poliniecki, of St George's Hospital in south London, led research which suggested as many as one in 50 heart attack patients arriving at London's hospitals were the victims of smoke pollution.

photo: Diesel exhaust fumes
Farm slurry kills fish

80,000 fish were killed when a two-mile stretch of a river in north Devon was polluted with farm slurry. Slurry contains animal faeces that have been washed out of farm yards and buildings. The liquid contains ammonia, which is toxic to fish, and removes oxygen from the water. An unknown amount of the slurry got into the river and caused the severe pollution incident. It will take years for the river to recover.

photo: Dead fish
Power station cooling towers

Power stations generate electricity by burning a fuel (often gas or oil) and using the heat produced to make steam which drives the turbines. This produces a large amount of heat energy which has to be dispersed using the cooling towers. The clouds coming out of the cooling towers is steam from the heat exchangers.

photo: power station cooling towers



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title: Environmental Hazards