Water composes a massive part of our planet. So the contamination of our seas impacts us in many significant ways. We discuss the steps we need to take to save this critical resource and influence future generations in a positive way.
Water covers 70% of the Earth’s surface. It’s a critical resource for the survival of all humans and the environment.
Water pollution goes hand-in-hand with air pollution when it comes to environmental concerns. It affects not just large but also small bodies of water around the world. Polluted water also affects entire ecosystems that exist in the water.
As of today, organizations are working hard to protect our waters from contamination. They have committed to restoring waterways and keeping bodies of water from contamination. Many organizations are helping to educate and encourage practices to preserve water ecosystems.
What is Water Pollution
Water pollution is the contamination of water, which causes a decrease in its quality. Pollution occurs when harmful substances contaminate water. The pollutants make it toxic to humans and the environment.
Common Types Of Water Pollution
Numerous types of pollution occur in water. They pose threats to marine life that can result in extinction. We are going to discuss the most common types of water pollution below.
One of the most natural primary resources we rely on for drinking.
Groundwater comes from rainfall that has seeped deep into the Earth. Pollution comes from contaminants such as the pesticides and fertilizers in the soil. These harmful substances reach groundwater making it unfit for drinking. Some cases of polluted groundwater take decades to repair.
Surface water refers to water on the surface of continents such as lakes and rivers. Pollution takes place when some bodies of water are no longer fit for drinking. Water pollution on our surface water has a catastrophic effect on our drinking water. Furthermore, surface water pollution can also make it unfit for swimming and fishing.
The leading type of contamination comes from Nutrient Pollution. These include phosphates, nitrates, and fertilizer runoff.
Extreme cases of pollution can occur when rivers are no longer fit for drinking. This affects our supply of fresh water and makes it challenging to find resources.
Ocean water pollution occurs when streams or rivers bring harmful matters into seas. They carry all the bacteria out into the ocean, which affects the ecosystem.
These contaminants come from different sources such as farms, factories, and major cities. Pollutants of the ocean are usually composed of plastic materials. They reached bodies of water in many ways, either it’s washed in via drains and sewers or blown in by the wind.
Point source pollution comes from a single source of contamination. One example is oil spilled straight into bodies of water. Immediately knowing the cause enables authorities to make prompt countermeasures. Organizations are now establishing limits on industries. They have set standards on the types of substances industries can discharge to the water.
Non-point source pollution is the exact opposite of point source. The contamination comes from a combination of different sources. Having no identifiable culprit makes it difficult to regulate these types of pollutants.
Trans-boundary pollution happens when contaminated water from one country spills into another. This means water pollution doesn’t stay in one boundary. The most common example of trans-boundary pollution is an oil spill.
Common Causes and Countermeasures
With our resources depleting every year, organizations are creating prevention countermeasures. Pinpointing the common causes is only the first step.
Causes of Water Pollution
Water comes from many sources that connect many different bodies of water. This makes it challenging to pinpoint the exact cause of water pollution. But, by categorizing them into the most common causes, we can split them into four common types.
Agriculture is the leading cause of the degradation of water. Farming and livestock production use more surface water compared to humans. Whenever it rains, fertilizers and animal waste wash out into our waterways. This makes agriculture the most significant contributor to water pollution.
- Sewage and Wastewater
Sewage water is wastewater which usually comes from household toilets or showers. But, it can also come from industrial or commercial activities. These activities can include disposal of metals and solvents from factories.
Most wastewater flows back into the ocean without going through any treatment. This makes them hazardous to the species within bodies of water.
- Oil Pollution
A notorious cause of water pollution is oil spills. You may have seen some of the major oil spills the world has experienced on the news. But, consumers are also accounted for water pollution. This is because the oil that drips from cars and trucks every day also pollute the waters. Most oil that comes into the ocean comes from farms and factories.
These are harmful to animals as they can ingest them through washing. These results in poisoning and can lead to their extinction.
- Radioactive Substances
Any pollutant that produces radiation is a radioactive waste. This applies to emissions that are way beyond what our environment can disperse. Radioactive waste comes from nuclear power plants and the production of military weapons. Universities that use radioactive materials for their research also produce radioactive waste. These include hospitals that use radioactive materials for medical research.
Radioactive waste can last for thousands of years. This makes disposal and treatment a significant challenge.
One example here is the Hanford Nuclear Weapons production site in Washington. Over 1 million gallons of radioactive waste leaked into the groundwater. This caused the fresh water in that area to become unfit for drinking. The cleanup would last through 2060 to repair damages. Repairing the natural source of clean water will be a different matter.
Water Facts Everyone Should Know
As we discuss the different factors on water pollution, here are a few facts about water.
- 70% of global surface water is used by agriculture.
- Water is also known as “the universal solvent” because it can dissolve more substances than any other liquid.
- 80% of water pollution comes from the land.
- 68% of fresh water is locked up in ice caps and glaciers. This makes 30% of freshwater coming from groundwater.
- 80% of the world’s wastewater goes back to the ocean untreated.
- 30% of freshwater comes from groundwater. This makes 1% of freshwater accessible to us.
- 50% of waterborne illness is associated with extreme rain.
What this Means
- To Humans
Unsafe water can make us sick and, every year, this affects up to 1 billion people. Diseases spread by polluted water include typhoid, cholera, and giardia.
Even swimming in polluted water can involve serious risks. You can catch different diseases such as pink eye, skin rashes, and even hepatitis.
At the moment, we only have 1% of freshwater as a source for drinking water. Experts predict that by 2050, we will have lesser than 1%.
- To The Environment
Water pollution is not only harmful to humans, but ecosystems suffer the most. They rely on each other to survive through a complex web of interacting variables.
There are significant types of water pollution that cause harm to our ecosystems. These create a chain effect to the aquatic environments.
1. Algal Bloom
An algal bloom is a toxic blue-green alga that is harmful to both people and wildlife.
2. Wastewater from chemicals and heavy metals
Stormwater runoff is also considered as wastewater. This occurs when rainfall carries oil, grease, road salts, or other matter into the ocean.
3. Ocean Acidification
Ocean acidification makes it harder for corals and shellfish to survive. Like a chain reaction, this will impact the nervous systems of sharks and other marine life.
Why It’s Important
Water pollution is getting rampant every year. This will take us decades, even thousands of years to do damage repair. If immediate action is not taken, there will be less and less drinking water available for us in the future.
Water Pollution Timeline
The past, present, and predicted future.
- 312 B.C.
The Roman aqueduct was created after the pollution of the Tiber River.
Cholera outbreak in Soho, London due to germ-contaminated water. The outbreak killed 616 people.
The first fire at Cuyahoga River due to an oil spill. It inspired a movement after the 13th it caught fire.
Rachel Carson published her book ‘Silent Spring’ documenting the effects of pesticides on water.
Second largest oil spill at 130 million gallons in the Campeche Bay, Gulf of Mexico.
The largest oil spill in history. About 480 – 720 million gallons of oil spilled in Kuwait. The full repair will take decades.
- Predicted Future
– By 2050, we’ll experience water quality deterioration.
– 1 in 5 people will be at a high risk of water pollution.
What Can Businesses Do To Help
- Review your daily operations
Check your regular processes and review if it is possible to cut back on solvents. See if there are machines you can use in a more efficient and responsible way.
- Try alternative Materials
Trying alternative materials to cut back on waste is making headway on many companies. But, you should still do proper research before you switch over. Some substitutes may generate a different type of harmful substance to our water.
- Find Ways to Reuse Materials
Try to look for ways on how your company can reuse materials. The most common way is reusing cardboard boxes. The best way to deal with materials that you can’t reuse is to look for off-site recycling.
- Minimize Impact on the environment
Use power strips and energy-efficient equipment. Try to clean using a mop or broom instead of hosing walkways, floors, and parking areas.
- Improve Work Practices
Set up a designated area where you can collect waste and treat a significant amount.
Keep waste segregated. This will create considerable cost savings for your company. You’ll increase the opportunity to recycle as well.
Have a cleanup plan designed if you don’t have one yet.
Store materials you’re not currently using.
Why Should Companies Care
As a business, the waste your company produces should be one of your primary concerns. Where it goes and how it’s taken care of are matters you shouldn’t overlook.
- Ridding Contaminants Can be Difficult
There is no doubt dealing with harmful substances will prove difficult. This is true, especially if you don’t have a proper plan on how to segregate waste. Not only will it cause damage to the environment, but it can also be fatal to people around the area.
One example we can use here is the cholera outbreak in Soho, London, back in 1854. The cholera epidemic was due to water supplied by companies at the time. The Southwark and Vauxhall Waterworks Company provided water coming from the Thames River.
The highly contaminated river caused the lives of 616 people. Microbiologist Hassall described it as “the most disgusting which I have ever examined”. The cholera outbreak in 1854 led to the death of 4,267 people. These people received water supplies from the company.
In 1855, the company responded to the legislation by building new waterworks.
- Water Pollution Can Take Decades to Treat
Without proper segregation and illegal disposal, polluted water can take decades to treat. This will cost you more money that is better invested in suitable waste disposal. The ecosystem also suffers from the created chain of cause and effect on the environment.
One example we can use in this scenario is the most massive oil spill known as the Gulf War Oil Spill of 1991. The oil spill damaged the ecosystem in the Persian Gulf, around Iraq and Kuwait.
Dousing the oilfield fires cost $1.5 billion and took 1.5 billion gallons of water. Oil sediment remained 12 years after the spill.
Small Steps and A Lifetime Of Prevention
Dealing with water pollution is something everyone should get involved with. These include governments, companies, and local councils. Learning about water pollution (like you are doing now) is the crucial first step to take.
As of today, governments have strict laws to lessen water pollution. Organizations are available to help educate people on how to reduce water pollution. They also share information about the dangers it can cause to our environment.