Water pollution has a negative impact on our planet, ecosystems and communities, affecting both wealthy and poor countries. Our rivers, lakes, reservoirs and seas contain many chemicals, waste, plastic and pollutants. 80% of the world’s wastewater is left dumped and untreated. This goes back into the environment and this pollutes lakes, rivers and oceans.
What Is Water Pollution?
Water pollution occurs when harmful substances contaminate streams, lakes, rivers, oceans, aquifers or bodies of water. This degrades the water quality and purity. This then becomes toxic to humans and the environment. The contamination of water bodies is usually the result of human activity. Contaminants are then introduced into the natural environment.
What Causes Water Pollution?
Water is vulnerable to pollution and can be easily polluted. Toxic substances from towns, farms, factories and industries can dissolve into it and cause water pollution. The most common cause of poor-quality water is human activity. This includes global warming, reduction of oxygen content, deforestation and exhaustion of water resources. This also results in harmful bacteria build-up through agriculture and livestock farming. This causes eutrophication of water. Seas are rivers become untreated and contaminated by rubbish, waste and faecal water.
Macroscopic contaminants are large visible items that pollute water stormwater or marine debris. These include trash, garbage, food waste and plastics. These contaminants include organic and inorganic, and many of these are toxic. Organic water pollutants include detergents, disinfection and petroleum. Examples of inorganic water pollutants include acidity caused by industrial discharges, ammonia and fertilisers. PFAS Poly and Perfuoroalykl substances are another serious pollutant and are used to make everyday items. Water filters and purifiers are very important to protect our drinking water and prevent harmful contaminants.
What Are The Different Types And Sources Of Water Pollution?
When rain falls into the earth, it becomes groundwater, one of our most important natural resources. This gets polluted from contaminants including pesticides and fertilisers and by waste from landfills and septic systems. Groundwater can spread contamination far from the original source of pollution, going into lakes, streams and oceans.
Surface water covers around 70% of the earth, filling our lakes, oceans and rivers. A recent survey on American national water quality from the US Environmental Protection Agency claimed nearly half of our rivers and streams and more than one-third of our lakes are polluted, making them unfit for fishing, swimming and drinking.
Water pollutants come from point sources or dispersed (non-point) sources. This contamination originates from a single source like a pipe or ditch. This includes wastewater discharged from manufacturers, oil refineries and wastewater treatment facilities. It also occurs from leaking septic systems, chemical and oil spills, and illegal dumping. Furthermore, fuel spillages, oil spills and leakages also pollute water resources. This originates from a specific place but can affect waterways and oceans miles away. These are easier to control as it has been collected from one single point to be treated.
These sources are more diffuse, including agricultural runoffs, stormwater runoffs or debris that is blown into waterways from the land. This is the leading cause of water pollution in US waters. This pollution is hard to control and continues to cause a large number of problems.
This is the result of contaminated water from one country, spilling into the waters of another. It is the result of disasters, such as oil spills or industrial, agricultural or municipal discharge. The path of entry for contaminants to the seas are rivers and lakes. This is where discharged sewage and industrial waste goes into the ocean.
Ocean And Marine Pollution
Heavy metals are carried into rivers and streams and is a subset of water pollution. For example, Plastic, oil spills and leaks soak up carbon pollution from the air. The ocean absorbs around a quarter of man-made carbon emissions.
This includes nitrates and phosphates, a leading type of contamination in freshwater sources and a subset of water pollution. Therefore, this becomes a major pollutant to waterways. Agricultural waste and fertilisers are dumped directly into freshwater sources.
What Are The Effects Of Water Pollution?
Human And Economic Effects
Contaminated water harms the economy of countries and regions, as well as ecosystems, animal and plant life. When the biological demand for oxygen increases, the GDP of the affected regions is reduced by a third. Water pollution harms human health, causing disease and infant mortality. Exposure to nitrates at an early age affects children’s development and can even be lethal. High levels of nitrates in water are harmful to infants, preventing their body’s ability to deliver oxygen to tissues.
Furthermore, unsanitary water causes disease and illnesses. The World Health Organisation (WHO) claims that at least 2 billion people drink water from sources contaminated by faeces, causing cholera and typhoid. Waterborne pathogens are a major cause of illness, due to contaminated drinking water. Sewage treatment facilities contribute to this, with runoffs of contaminated water into farms and urban areas.
Animal and Wildlife Effects
Water pollution causes a loss of biodiversity and adverse effects to marine wildlife. Therefore, this disrupts the water food chain as harmful toxins go into food. This creates a chain effect preventing aquatic environments from thriving and reduces oxygen in the water, causing oxygen eutrophication. Agricultural and industrial runoffs can flood waterways with excess nutrients, including nitrogen and phosphorous. This causes algae blooms, creating dead zones or low oxygen areas where waters are devoid of life. Therefore, this prevents fish and aquatic life from surviving and suffocates plants and animals.
This can also cause health and economic problems for humans, causing illnesses and damaging popular lake and water destinations. Heavy metals from industrial processes can also accumulate in lakes and rivers. These become toxic to marine life and affect their food chain. Plastic pollution in the ocean is also very harmful to aquatic life and damages marine ecosystems. You can read more about the effect of plastic and marine pollution in one of our previous blogs here.
We can prevent water pollution by stopping pollutants from contaminating water, using biological filters, chemical additives and sand filters. Water quality standards are important to prevent water pollution in all types of water. Therefore, we need to regulate water quality and set standards for waste discharges for industries. We should also set regulations for problems such as toxic chemicals and oil spills.
Plastics and Litter
Be careful what you throw down your toilet and don’t throw litter into rivers, lakes or oceans. Make sure you clean up litter and rubbish. You can also restrict using single-use plastics, reduce plastic consumption and reuse and recycle. Therefore, you should use environmentally friendly household products and fewer pesticides and fertilisers. Prevent runoffs of contaminated water into nearby water sources and practice sustainable fishing and farming.
Global Warming Prevention
Ozone wastewater treatment can also prevent water pollution. An ozone generator breaks down pollutants in a waters source. This kills bacteria and oxidises substances such as iron and sulphur that can be filtered out. However, this requires energy in the form of electricity. It does not remove dissolved minerals and salts, or products that could harm human health.
Furthermore, we should also reduce CO2 emissions to prevent global warming and acidification of oceans. Denitrification is an ecological approach that prevents the leaching of nitrates in the soil. This prevents nutrients contaminating groundwater. This allows plants to absorb water, preventing the leaching of soil and contamination of groundwater.
Human activity mostly causes water pollution, including commercial, agricultural and industrial behaviour. It is damaging human life, animal life, ecosystems and economies. We can prevent water pollution to improve the future environment and human living conditions.