Why Water Pollution is Killing Us
Water pollution is a prevalent worldly issue. Yes, we exploit this resource via bathing, cooking, washing, drinking, and recreational activities. As a result, our natural water bodies (lake, aquifers, oceans, and rivers) are being polluted by the second.
Water occupies two third of the earth’s surface, which is about 70% of the earth’s surface. And only about 2.5% is available for consumption.
Quite a small amount you would think. But the truth is, only 1% of the available fresh water is actually accessible. This means that, although water occupies a large amount of the earth’s surface, most of it is not good for human consumption.
Hot water from industrial machines is disposed of directly into water bodies without treatment or reducing the temperature.
Wastes carried by water runoff from farmlands and landfills are disposed of into our natural water bodies, filling them with noxious chemicals that are harmful to aquatic animals and humans even.
These are just a few examples of human-activities which pollute our water. Thus, contributing to water scarcity problem facing the world today. Oceans are drowning with chemicals, plastics, oil, excessive nutrients, and sewage and it is up to you and me to stop the trend.
What Does the Research Say?
Research shows that 320 million people in China do not have access to clean drinking water and china is not alone in this struggle as water scarcity has become a major problem across the globe.
As population increases, so does the demand for food and water supply. If this trend continues, we will get to a point where life cannot be supported anymore due to lack of clean water for the inhabitants.
The good news is that there is a way out of this imminent peril. This article will help you understand what water pollution is, its types, sources and causes, and how you can save our natural water bodies from these pollutants.
What is Water Pollution?
Water pollution refers to the contamination of water bodies by pollutants. These pollutants are undesirable substances (such as chemical, microorganism, toxic wastes, oil, plastics, etc.). They are discharged directly or indirectly into water bodies, making them unhealthy for human consumption and aquatic lives also.
Every water body has the ability to disperse pollutants. But when the amount increases, it overwhelms this ability and the water body is said to be polluted.
Types of Water Pollution
As water bodies differ so does the pollution that affects them. Ocean, rivers, and lakes are usually what pop-up in our heads when we hear of water bodies, when in fact, they are just surface waters.
Another type of water bodies exists called aquifers. Aquifers are underground rock structures that stores groundwater which supplies much of our drinking water.
Pollutants of surface waters differ from that of groundwater. Whereas oil spillage can affect a large part of the sea, lakes, and rivers, it has virtually no impact on groundwater.
The common pollutants of aquifers are fertilizers, pesticides, waste from septic systems and landfills. These chemicals and wastes drain into the ground and contaminate the groundwater, making it unsafe for drinking.
It takes hundreds of years to rid our aquifers of these pollutants once polluted. Sadly, most of our aquifers are polluted already. We pay so much attention to surface waters and ignore our very own source of drinking water.
A study conducted in 1996, showed that weed killers had polluted more than half of the aquifers in the United States of America. I can only imagine what the statistics are today.
Sources of Water Pollution
There are different ways water pollution occurs – through point source and nonpoint source.
Point Source Pollution
Point source pollution occurs when the pollutant comes from a single location. Examples include oil spill from a tanker, waste from leaking septic systems, a factory’s discharge pipe, wastewater from treatment facilities, illegal dumping of waste into water bodies, and someone pouring oil from his car down a drain. Point source pollutants usually pollute water bodies around the location. However, it can spread wider, but not as much as pollutants from nonpoint source.
Nonpoint Source Pollution
This is the most common source of water pollution. Unlike point source pollution, these pollutants come from many scattered locations. This makes it difficult to control. An example is water runoff from farmlands. The water washes the chemicals and other wastes present on the farmland and neighboring lands into water bodies. This kind of water pollution that stems from different locations is called nonpoint source pollution.
This occurs when a point source pollutant travels across thousands of miles, sometimes spilling into water bodies of another country.
Causes of Water Pollution
A wide range of causes can be attributed to water pollution, from improper waste disposal to highway runoff, to chemicals from farmland and on goes the list, making it pretty difficult combating this environmental issue.
Some of the common causes of water pollution are listed below.
Improper Disposal of Waste Water and Sewage
Improper sewage disposal has become an alarming trend in our world today. Domestic, commercial, and agricultural wastes should be properly treated before disposing of them but in the last decades, we have experienced illegal disposal of untreated waste into our natural water bodies.
Sewage from factories’ pipe contains tons of chemicals which pose danger to aquatic lives and also make the water unfit for human consumption.
Domestic waste from our homes is another source of these pollutants. Domestic wastes are supposed to be treated before disposal but we find cases where people take out their domestic wastes and dump them in water bodies.
In some case, they might leave the wastes along the road or in drainage systems and when there is a downpour; water runoff washes them directly into surface waters, filling the water body with toxic materials which eventually kills the aquatic lives present in such water body. What’s worse? The water becomes unsafe for drinking, bathing, washing, swimming, or cooking.
Water used as a coolant for industrial machines are also poured into water bodies. The temperature of this wastewater is way too high compared to that of natural water bodies, as such, it should be treated and allowed to cool before disposing of it in water bodies. The change in temperature has a marked effect on the aquatic lives present in the water bodies.
The increasing population is not helping either as too many wastes than can be treated are being produced every day. Wastewater treatment facilities in the United States process 34 billion gallons of wastewater every day. Yet waste-related illness (e.g. cholera, diarrhea, etc.) kill thousands of children and adult each year.
Wastes from septic tanks are usually treated before being disposed of. What happens in cases where there is a leak in the septic system? The toxic wastes leak out and drain underground into aquifers or are washed into surface waters, thus making the water bodies unsafe for human use and aquatic animals’ survival also.
When you wash your car at home, the detergent and dirty water drain into the ground or run into nearby water bodies, thereby polluting the aquifers underground and/or nearby surface waters.
In a bid to meet the high food demand of our overpopulated world, chemicals in form of pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides are used in farmlands to prevent the death of crops and increase their yields as well.
While this is a welcome development, there is a disadvantage to it.
Fertilizers, for example, contain nutrients like, phosphorous, nitrogen, potassium, etc., which are washed into surface waters or drained underground into aquifers leading to eutrophication (excessive growth of plants and algae in a body of water because it is overly enriched with nutrients)
Eutrophication depletes the oxygen in such body of water, killing the entire aquatic animals present and making it unsafe for human consumption.
Herbicides and pesticides are made of noxious chemicals which are toxic to both humans and aquatic lives. When a heavy downpour occurs, the runoff washes these harmful chemicals into our surface waters, thereby destroying the aquatic lives in such water body and rending the water useless to humans.
We are all familiar with oil spill and its negative impact on water bodies. When we hear of oil spill our minds quickly race to tankers, when in fact, 70% of oil in surface waters comes from regular shipping activities and the oil people pour on land which eventually got washed by land runoff into surface waters.
Oil spillage is harmful to aquatic lives regardless of its source, although tankers release a huge amount of oil at a time, it is just as harmful as oil from other sources.
Oil depletes oxygen present in the water bodies, leading to the death of thousands of aquatic animals.
Improper Plastic Disposal
Most plastics are not biodegradable, when dumped on land, they do not decompose, they are washed by waves and runoff into surface waters instead.
Plastics contain chemicals which are just as harmful as those from sewage and pesticides. Sea animals confuse plastics for food and die of poisoning after ingesting them because of the noxious chemicals they contain.
It is sad to know that plastics in our natural water bodies now compete with the number of aquatic lives. Research shows that about 8 million tons of plastics are dumped into oceans each year, accounting for the death of thousands of sea animals.
Effects of Water Pollution
Water pollution has a grave effect on humans and aquatic lives alike.
Besides being the major cause of the death of aquatic lives, water pollution accounts for the death of millions of people across the globe also.
Most people do not have access to clean water, leaving them with no other choice but to consume polluted water, this leads to water-related diseases that could kill them if not treated properly.
People in developed countries with access to clean water are not left out too. Thousands of people in the United States are sickened every year by water-related disease.
Swimming in polluted water is yet another concern. According to the EPA estimate, about 3.5 million Americans contract water-related health issues (e.g. pinkeye, skin rashes and respiratory infections) just from swimming activities.
How You Can Prevent Water Pollution
The fight against water pollution should not be left to the government alone. Each individual has got a role or two to play.
Here are some of the ways we can contribute to the fight against water pollution and water scarcity at large.
- Be mindful of the amount of water you consume daily. Do not leave the tap running when not in use.
- Recycle used plastics instead of dumping them by the roadside or in water bodies.
- Chemicals, pharmaceutical drugs, and detergents should not be flushed down the toilets. They should be properly disposed of instead.
- Laws against illegal waste disposal should be obeyed strictly. Domestic, industrial and agricultural wastes should be disposed of properly.
- Laws should be made to reduce the use of plastics. Other materials can be used to make plastic products. An example is replacing plastic straws with bamboo straws.
- Motor vehicles should be well cared for. Oil leak from car tank is just as dangerous as pouring oil directly into surface waters.
- Excessive use of pesticides and herbicides in our gardens should be discouraged as they can be washed by runoff into water bodies.
- The use of fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides on farmlands should be moderated.
- Planting of trees should be encouraged as they help reduce soil erosion and water runoff.
- People in urban and rural areas should be educated about water pollution. What it actually means, its causes and how they can prevent it.
Water pollution is common in every country across the globe. It affects millions of people and businesses, posing a threat to the marine ecosystem and our economy. If you feel that you have a case or need a professional consultation from a legal professional, search your local area to see how they can help.