The word pollution is derived from the Latin pollutionem, meaning “defilement.” The Oxford English Dictionary also closely links the term to the tainting of spiritual purity as well, noting its Middle Ages use to refer to the “desecration of what is sacred” and later “spiritual or moral impurity or corruption” (OED Online 2021, “pollution”) Today, the use of the word is primarily tied to the contamination of the physical environment, especially in relation to unchecked urbanization and its disruptions to the well-being of both humans and ecosystems. During the industrial revolution, the specter of pollution became associated with the contagious illnesses that also wracked early Western cities, cast as the generalized price paid for the sins of civilization, embodied in the diseases of its inhabitants. The idea of environmentally borne afflictions faded from public consciousness as their study and treatment turned to internal causes, but in the late-twentieth century, surges in chronic diseases such as cancer and asthma demanded a reexamination of the links between industry and illness.

This essay may be found on page 163 of the printed volume.

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