7 Common Environmental Health Issues in California

California, with its extraordinary natural diversity from redwood forests to beautiful coastlines, is grappling with an array of environmental health issues. The state is wrestling with these challenges due to a blend of population growth, industrialization, and the ramifications of climate change.

These problems pose a serious threat to the well-being of both Californian residents and the vibrant ecosystems they rely on. In this piece, we’ll take a closer look at some prevalent environmental health challenges plaguing the Golden State. We’ll explore their origins, impacts, and potential solutions.

We aim to raise awareness about these issues and highlight the need for collective and immediate action to safeguard the state’s health and environmental integrity.

1. Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos, a harmful mineral, was used in California for many years. It was particularly common in Navy ships and shipyards along the coastline, which placed many people at risk of exposure. Asbestos can linger in the body for many years, leading to mesothelioma, a rare but aggressive cancer that develops in the lining of the lungs, abdomen, or thoracic cavity. Old construction buildings are also common places where asbestos can be found.

California is the leading state in the U.S. for mesothelioma and asbestosis-related deaths. You may be eligible for compensation if you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma. There are many mesothelioma attorneys California law firms provide who can help you get the justice you deserve.

2. Water-Borne Diseases from Groundwater Contamination

The lifeblood of many Californian communities is the groundwater that provides their drinking water. However, this crucial resource is under threat from an array of pollutants. Chemical runoff from agricultural activities and harmful waste from industries often seep into groundwater, tainting it with toxins.

When people consume this contaminated water, it can result in severe health complications. Among these are water-borne diseases like Amebiasis, a parasitic infection of the intestines causing diarrhea and stomach pain. Giardiasis, another such illness, is caused by a microscopic parasite that breeds in the intestines, leading to nausea, cramps, and dehydration.

Moreover, the bacteria causing Legionellosis thrive in contaminated water and, when ingested, can result in severe pneumonia-like symptoms. Awareness, monitoring, and comprehensive water treatment measures are essential in preventing these conditions and safeguarding Californians’ health.

3. Respiratory Problems from Wildfire Smoke

Smoke from California’s increasing wildfires contains small particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs when inhaled. As climate change intensifies these wildfires, the risk of smoke exposure grows.

This exposure can worsen asthma, triggering attacks that cause shortness of breath, coughing, and chest tightness. The smoke can also lead to bronchitis, an inflammation of the airways that results in persistent coughing and mucus production.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, another common ailment, can be exacerbated by smoke inhalation, causing severe breathing difficulties. The particulates in the smoke can even lead to lung cancer over time.

4. Heat-Related Illnesses

Excessive heat in California, amplified by global warming, contributes to a surge in heat-related illnesses. Heatwaves, more frequent and severe now, can stretch the state’s healthcare resources to the brink as they grapple with an influx of patients. The common health issues from heat exposure include heat exhaustion, cramps, and the deadly heatstroke.

Heat exhaustion manifests as profuse sweating, dizziness, and fatigue, leading to a rapid, weak pulse. If untreated, it can escalate to heatstroke, a medical emergency marked by a body temperature over 104°F, confusion, and potential loss of consciousness.

Meanwhile, heat cramps are painful, involuntary muscle spasms, often occurring during intense exercise in hot environments. They are generally less serious but require prompt attention to prevent further complications.

The threat is especially grave for vulnerable groups like the elderly, the homeless, and outdoor workers, necessitating community-wide interventions for prevention and treatment.

5. Vector-Borne Diseases

Climate change brings its own set of challenges to California, particularly an increase in vector-borne diseases. As temperatures rise, disease-carrying insects like ticks and mosquitoes find a more conducive environment to thrive.

Not only do they live longer, but they also extend their geographical reach. These insects are carriers of diseases that previously weren’t widespread in California. Lyme disease, a tick-borne illness, is one of the rising health concerns. The disease, marked by symptoms like fever, fatigue, and skin rash, is more frequently diagnosed.

6. Food-Borne Illnesses from Contaminated Produce

Food contamination is an unsettling reality in California, predominantly stemming from agricultural pesticides and fertilizers. When these substances infiltrate food crops, they pose severe risks to public health.

Various food-borne illnesses, such as E.coli, Salmonella, and Listeria infections, often emerge as a result. These diseases are serious, causing symptoms ranging from severe stomach cramps and diarrhea to fever and vomiting.

In worst-case scenarios, they can even prove fatal. The ubiquity of the issue mandates comprehensive solutions involving a shift towards safer farming practices. As consumers, understanding the source and handling of our food is equally important.

While legislation and farming reforms may provide long-term solutions, immediate action lies in our hands: washing produce thoroughly and cooking food to appropriate temperatures can significantly reduce risks, thereby contributing to the fight against these formidable health threats.

7. Skin Cancer from High UV Exposure

The bright sun and abundant outdoor activities in California may seem like a paradise to many. Yet, excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation it brings is a considerable health concern.

UV radiation, invisible to the naked eye, is a potent carcinogen. Long-term exposure can cause skin cells to mutate, leading to melanoma, a dangerous type of skin cancer. Alarmingly, over the past decade, the incidence of melanoma has seen an upward trend in California.


In conclusion, Californians are confronting many environmental health issues, from the respiratory challenges posed by poor air quality and wildfire smoke to the risks of skin cancer from high UV exposure. These environmental health challenges require immediate attention, integrated policy-making, and collective action.

Addressing them means not only taking care of our health but also of the environmental integrity of the Golden State. The journey towards a healthier, more sustainable California is indeed complex and challenging, but it is within reach, provided we act now.