Water Pollution

Water pollution not only affects our environment, but also poses a serious threat to humans and wildlife. We are currently witness to the damage water pollution has inflicted upon our rivers, lakes, and ocean. The direct and indirect sources of water pollution come from every continent, making this issue a growing global concern.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identifies two major categories of water pollution: point source pollution and non-point source pollution.

  • Point source pollution is the result of waste directly expelled from stationary locations such as factories, sewage treatment plants and ships into waterways.
  • Non-point source pollution comes from many, diffuse areas (like farms) rather than one specific point; the movement of rainfall or snowmelt through the ground carries man-made contaminants (like herbicides) and natural pollutants (like sediment) into lakes, rivers, and other areas of our water supply.

Specific sources of water pollution

Agricultural: Waste from commercial livestock and farming such as fertilizer, herbicides, and insecticides along with manure. Runoff from rain and melting snow can carry these to nearby bodies of water, causing contamination.  Pollutants that contain nitrates and phosphates can lead to the overgrowth of aquatic plants and algae (called algal bloom), which results in clogged waterways The overabundance of algae in the water also depletes oxygen levels , killing  fish and other marine life. Organic waste from livestock adds bacteria and excess nutrients to the water.

Industrial: Chemical and organic waste such as heavy metals, oil, grease, ammonia, and volatile organic compounds that find their way from factories and industrial plants into our waterways. Improperly managed construction sites may be responsible for sediment waste and soil erosion. Industrial and power plants use lakes and rivers to dispose of heat waste.  Activities such as drilling for oil sometimes have disastrous consequences like oil spills, which have devastating effects on living things in the water. For example, the full ecological damage of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico will likely not be known for years to come.

Municipal: Waste that comes from commercial establishments and homes. Sewage and runoff from septic tanks, and the improper disposal of toxic household chemicals down the drain directly transport harmful substances into our ecosystem. Automotive waste such as oil and antifreeze leaks can be washed into the ground and on to nearby waterways.

Water pollution’s impact on the ecosystem

Our ocean and rivers are responsible for sustaining life and provide a habitat for many of Earth’s aquatic creatures. Clean drinking water is an essential resource for healthy human and animal existence. All of these pollutants have proven to harm ecosystems and compromise the health of the humans and wildlife.

Harmful effects to wildlife and humans

  • Infectious diseases such as typhoid or cholera can be spread easily through contaminated water.
  • Ingested toxic compounds are found in fish and animals consumed by humans, or other animals higher up on the food chain.
  • Changes in water chemistry due to pollutants can negatively impact marine life.
  • Acid rain precipitation contains sulfate particles,. which are harmful to plant life and fish.
  • Water pollution can lead to the contamination and even elimination of marine food sources,
  • Changes in water temperatures from heat waste causes thermal pollution, with negative impacts on marine life.

Considering that over 70% of our planet is covered in water, and water pollution is primarily caused by human activity, we need to work on a global level and take steps to reduce water pollution at the source.

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