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UK - impacts industry on the physical environment

The Impact of industry on the environment

Industry can have various impacts upon the environment depending upon the type of activity taking place.  Modern high technology industries tend to have lower impacts upon the environment than older traditional heavy industries such as the manufacture of steel of the production of chemicals.


Chemical Industries at the Wilton Chemical Plant, East Middlesbrough

Industrialisation is important for the economic growth and development of a society but can also be harmful to the environment. Amongst other things industrial process can cause climate change, pollution to air, water and soil, and health issues.

Air Pollution

Industry is a major cause of air pollution, since the operation of factories results in the emission of pollutants. Minute particles called particulate matter are damaging when breathed in, sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOX) can cause acid rain and CO2 can cause global warming. These pollutants and others can both harm public health and damage the environment.


Industries use a lot of water and produce a lot of waste water too. Waste water is called effluent and can come from industrial outlets, treatment plants, and sewers. This waste water pollutes underground reservoirs of water and our rivers, damaging wildlife and ruining potential drinking water.  In the North east of England Salmon disappeared for many years from the major rivers because of poor water quality.

Land Pollution

Heavy industries use lots of land and often deal with very hazardous chemicals. These were dumped on industrial sites in the past, or industries suffered leakages onto the land and soil.  Examples of soil pollution sources are oil refineries and pipelines transporting gas, oil depots, gas stations, garages, metal treatment and coating factories, chemical plants, dry cleaning businesses, printing businesses, the textile industry, and sites where hazardous materials are stored.

These sources of pollution can cause serious damage, and added to this there is the potential for marine and coastal pollution too.  Finally, large industries pose problems because they are noisy. Frequent or prolonged exposure to loud noises is not only a nuisance, but can cause damage to a person's physical and mental health.


Teesside is a large conurbation in the North East of England.  It has one of the largest industrial concentrations in the country and is home to chemical and manufacturing industries.  Its development started in the 1850s because;

• Natural resources were locally available -ironstone in the Cleveland hills, Limestone in the Pennine Hills and coal in the Durham coalfield.  All 3 items needed for steel making. 
• Salt rock was also available for the chemical industries
• The area has a deep water port – good for the import of raw materials and finished goods like ships, steel and machinery
• Large areas of flat land on the flood plain of the river Tees
• Available water from the sea and river Tees for cooling processes

All these factors meant that Teesside boomed in the 1960s, with a massive integrated steel plant in Redcar and huge chemical industries at Billingham and in Wilton east of Middlesbrough.  Kielder water was even created in Northumberland to guarantee water supplies.

However, the 1980’s saw the decline of secondary industries. 

1. Changes in oil prices hit the chemical industries hard
2. Steel making came under increasing competition from cheaper overseas producers.  The Massive Redcar works was shut (again) in 2015 after the Thai owners SSI, pulled out blaming higher energy costs and unfair competition from producers in other countries.
3. Shipbuilding was out competed too.

The area now suffers from high unemployment, out migration of skilled workers and a decline in population of major urban centers like Middlesbrough.  The land has also been polluted and the locals are derogatively called “smog monsters” by others in the North East, a reflection of the poorer air quality in the town.

Recently Teesside University has provided a boost for the town and its renowned IT department has resulted in the start-up of many new high tech IT businesses.  Water quality has also been improved by the creation of the Tees Barrage, a dam across the Tees.



The UK’s post-industrial economy

The UK has a changing economy.  The manufacturing or secondary industry section of our economy is in decline, and a smaller percentage of our GDP and employment comes from manufacturing. 
The UK is moving towards a post-industrial economy, where the focus of our economy is not on the making of traditional manufactured products (although this is still an important party of our economy) but on products based on knowledge and research.  This is known as the KNOWLEDGE ECONOMY.

In the UK (as in other parts of the world this involves the development of;

Information technology - these businesses use computers and other hardware to store, process and use data, often to help businesses and governments.

Service industries – these are businesses that do work for a customer, and sometimes provides goods, but is not involved in manufacturing

Finance – the financial services industry is a major part of the UK and especially London economy.  They provide services to do with money, such as accountancy, money transfer, trading and credit.

Research – these industries involve research and development, where ideas are transformed into workable products.

Science and business parks – Business Parks are purpose built areas of offices and warehouses, often at the edge of a city and on a main road. Science parks are often located near university sites, and high-tech industries are established. Scientific research and commercial development may be carried out in co-operation with the university.

Many of these 5 industries can work together, and they have some common characteristics;

1. They are often footloose – they are not tied to heavy raw materials so can locate wherever they have a cost advantage.
2. They often locate close to transport routes such as motorways and railways stations to offer maximum access for customers and employees
3. They are dependent upon HUMAN RESOURCES – they need people’s ideas and skills to make them work and innovate new products and ideas. They therefore require a highly educated work force
4. They are often more sustainable than heavy industry, with lower energy needs, low or zero air pollution emissions, landscaping to offer a nice environment and carbon neutral buildings.
5. They often group together so that ideas can be exchanged – this is known as agglomeration

High tech industry

There are many of these types of industry across the country, from silicon Fen near Cambridge to Silicon Glen in Edinburgh.  Newcastle upon Tyne is also bidding to become a “science city” with a focus upon the science of ageing, sustainable energy and transport.  Cambridge has a huge number of high tech firms and business parks, with many having links to the various colleges of Cambridge University.

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