Water is imperative to life. It makes up over two thirds of the earth’s surface and three fourths of the human body.
As the world’s population increases, the amount that we tap this resource grows and grows. When our rivers, streams, lakes, groundwater, and oceans get polluted, it further cuts down the already limited amount we have available to share among us on this planet. This piece goes in depth on water pollution causes and solutions to hopefully inspire you to do your part to preserve this precious resource.
What is Water Pollution?
Water pollution occurs when contaminants infiltrate a body of water such as a lake, river, or ocean and hurt the quality of that water. A small amount of a contaminant may have little effect on a large body of clean water, but if there is a huge amount poured in or a small amount added each day over a long period of time, then it can become a major issue for many people.
Types of Water Pollution
There are two main types of water that can be affected by pollutants. Here is how to differentiate the two of them:
Surface Water Pollution
Surface water pollution is when pollution affects water that we see like oceans, rivers, and lakes.
Water that is located underground in rock structures called aquifers is groundwater. This water is what provides a lot of our drinking water and feeds rivers.
Groundwater pollution can occur when people dispose of a toxic material in their backyard and it seeps into the groundwater below.
Here are the three ways to describe the source of water pollution…
This describes water pollution that comes from a single source that you can pinpoint. For example, if an oil tanker spills oil into an ocean, that is surface water point-source pollution.
This describes water pollution coming from many different sources.
This describes water pollution that originates in one area but affects an area hundreds to thousands of miles away.
Water Pollution Facts
Only 2.5% of all the water on our planet is considered drinkable.
One in nine people across the world do not have access to clean drinking water.
10% of US beaches are not considered to have safe swimming water.
40% of US lakes are considered too polluted for plant and animal life or swimming.
Every year, 1.2 trillion gallons of untreated sewage, stormwater, and industrial waste are poured into US waters.
Most fashion brands use toxic chemicals in their manufacturing process, which get transferred into the garments they make as well as the bodies of water around their manufacturing plants. It is estimated that everyone on earth has chemicals in their bodies from these actions by clothing companies.
Every year, more people are killed due to unsafe drinking water than from any form of violence (war included).
70% of industrial waste in developing countries are improperly dumped, contaminating their water supply.
80% of sewage in developing countries is dumped directly into bodies of water.
It is estimated that industry dumps about 300-400 metric tons of contaminated waste into waters each year.
Causes of Water Pollution
There are many causes of water pollution around the world and unfortunately, most of it is at the hands of human beings. Here is more information on the top causes of water pollution:
Billions of people around the world still do not have access to proper sanitation. In developing countries without access to flushing toilets, sewage is often disposed of in bodies of water, which can lead to the spread of disease and death for many individuals living in these kinds of conditions.
Some illnesses that can potentially be passed through the infiltration of human waste in rivers and oceans include hepatitis, typhoid, and cholera.
Even in developed countries, including the United States and Britain, sewage waste is still sometimes dumped into oceans and rivers.
The water pollution that we most hear about is when oil tankers malfunction and spill massive amounts of oil into an ocean. When a lot of oil is dumped into one area of an ocean all at once, this can be extremely damaging to surrounding species of marine animals.
In 2010, the BP oil spill, otherwise known as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, was the largest oil spill in US history. An explosion on a well drilling platform led to the dumping of over 200 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The oil spilled for 87 days, affected 16,000 miles of US coastline, and killed over 8,000 animals.
Although these oil tanker instances cast a wide harmful net very quickly, the majority of oil pollution in our oceans comes from shipping boats and people pouring oil down drains in and near their home. You should never pour motor oil down a drain.
Here is the proper way to dispose of used motor oil:
Collect the oil in a drain pan and wait for it to cool.
Then transfer the oil using a funnel into an empty container that you can seal and easily transport, such as an empty laundry detergent bottle.
Take the oil to a local gas station or car repair shop that offers oil recycling.
Billions of tons of industrial waste is produced each year around the world.
Unfortunately, a significant amount of this waste is poured into oceans and rivers, which can be extremely dangerous. For a real life example, many may recognize the name Erin Brockovich. She led the investigation that discovered that Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) was leaking millions of gallons of toxic Chromium 6 into the groundwater in Hinkley, California. This water contamination was directly linked to the influx of illness and cancer among Hinkley residents
Factories also often release excessive amounts of heat, which can raise the temperature of nearby rivers. This may seem harmless since there is not a fancy chemical name involved, but it can actually cause a lot of the plant and animal life in that river to die off due to lower levels of oxygen in the water from the increase in temperature.
One of the scarier types of industrial waste that can be improperly disposed of is radioactive waste. This can happen from an operation as significant as a nuclear power plant reprocessing waste fuel or one as simple as a hospital employee pouring radioactive materials down a drain. There are strict guidelines for the proper disposal of radioactive waste in various arenas. This could also be the cause of radon in your home. If they are not closely followed it could do a great deal of damage to a lot of people.
Chemical Waste from Individuals
People improperly dispose of chemicals all the time by pouring certain ones down drains or toilets that they should not, which is a big cause of water pollution. There are also chemicals that come from households that we just have not figured out how to handle quite yet. For example, laundry detergent, dish detergent, and garden pesticides even get pumped into our rivers and oceans.
Another interesting way that our rivers and streams get polluted is through highway runoff. Cars leak all sorts of fluids onto the roads, as well as leave behind car parts and tire pieces. When it rains, these contaminants are swept up and added into the rain runoff and polluting our streams and groundwater.
Over a year period in a large city, since they see a lot of vehicle traffic and rain is a fairly common occurrence in most places around the US, the amount of oil contaminating the surrounding water can be as significant as an oil tanker spill.
An even more dangerous type of chemical waste is that from heavy metals,
which have been known to be improperly handled by individuals as well as companies. These include lead, mercury, cadmium, and tributyltin (TBT).
For many years, lead use in gasoline was widespread. Although it was eventually phased out, it still sometimes appears in plane fuel as well as in some developing countries.
Mercury and cadmium are in most batteries.
TBT used to be used on certain boat paints that were designed to protect them from the wear and tear of ocean waves, but it was discovered that the TBT was actually a dangerous ocean pollutant.
Excessive amounts of plastic materials get tossed into the ocean on a daily basis whether that be by people throwing them from boats or waves picking them up from along the shore.
Since plastic is not biodegradable, things like plastic bottles, fishing line, and plastic can rings can float along ocean waters for hundreds of years.
This type of pollution is particularly harmful to ocean animal life. When animals encounter plastics in the water they often try to eat them, which can lead to choking or internal damage, or they can get tangled in them and strangle themselves
Billions of tons of industrial waste is produced each year around the world.
This is particularly true for older lead pipes. An example of how this can be problematic is what happened in Flint, Michigan in 2014. When city officials switched the pipes that the city used for its water supply, they switched to corroded pipes that were leaching lead into the water. This caused and continues to cause many health problems for the people of Flint, including cognitive disorders and behavioral issues.
10 Ways To Reduce
Water Pollution From Home
Avoid keeping gasoline containers in your basement. If your basement floods, the gasoline will contaminate the water, making it unsafe for you as you stand in your basement as well as others who will be affected by it flowing down your basement drains.
Do not put things down the toilet that do not belong there. The only things that should get flushed are human waste and toilet paper. Nothing else.
Do not put cooking grease or oil down the sink.
Do not dispose of motor oil, antifreeze, or coolant down any drains in your home. Take them to your local gas station or car repair place that does vehicle fluid recycling.
Do not flush any medications down the toilet.
Switch to phosphate free soaps and detergents when washing clothes and dishes and only run those machines when you have full loads.
Do not use pesticides or fertilizers. These can pollute the groundwater around your home. In the case of heavy rain or flood, they can also seep in your home through cracks in your basement foundation. Consider basement waterproofing to prevent this and flooding in general.
Do not put cleaning solutions or paints down any drains in your home.
Make sure your sump pump and basement drains do not lead into your municipal sanitary sewer system.
Pick up after your pet. If you do not pick up your pet’s waste and dispose of it in a trash can, then you are leaving it to run into storm drains and water supplies