When we think cause of water pollution, we imagine the water being bombarded of plastics and garbage. But is that it? Sadly not. Water is contaminated at multiple levels. And the real contamination often begins from the land unlike popular notion. Studies reveal that approximately 80 percent of ocean pollution originates from the land. From there, it enters our seas and then into the oceans.

If you take a closer look, you will observe that almost all human activities affect the quality of water. For instance, when a farmer fertilizes his fields, he uses certain chemicals to get rid of weeds, pests and insects. These chemicals penetrate  into the soil and contaminate the groundwater held in its depths. 

Facts

In America 40% of rivers and 46% of the lakes are polluted and unsuitable for swimming, fishing or any other activity.

Even chemicals from factory chimneys rise and fall back on the earth in the form of rain. This rain reaches our surface waters like oceans, rivers, seas and even penetrates to the groundwater, thereby contaminating it. The causes of water pollution are surprising but unfortunately deeply rooted into our world today. Let’s take a look at the major causes of water contamination which make it rather difficult to solve.

What are the causes of water pollution?

1. Sewage

When we think of water pollution, we imagine the water being bombarded of plastics and garbage. But is that it? Sadly not. Water is contaminated at multiple levels. And the real contamination often begins from the land unlike popular notion. Studies reveal that approximately 80 percent of ocean pollution originates from the land. From there, it enters our seas and then into the oceans.

The world population as of September 2019 is 7.7 billion according to United Nations estimates. With such a large population looming over the earth, disposing sewage remains a gargantuan problem. So mostly, all of it is dumped into the water bodies, which are then deemed unfit for supporting life

Read :  Waste water recycling methods

According to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2015, approximately 2.1 billion people (which amounts to 28% of the world’s population) do not have the privilege of using safe and clean drinking water while another 2.3 billion (i.e 30% of the world’s population) do not have proper sanitation at their disposal.

causes of water pollution
Endangered species of turtle eating raw sewage being dumped near coast

Under these scenarios, sewage is dumped into water bodies (mostly after treating it in sewage treatment plants). However, its disposal still affects people’s health. It contaminates the water and leads us straight to water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea. Studies reveal that diarrhoea alone kills 525,000 children under five each year.

In 2002, the World Health Organization stated that water-borne diseases will kill close to 135 million people by the end of 2020. As 2016 approaches, the organization again estimated the death of 1 million people due to poor water quality and improper sanitation.

The problem of sewage disposal affects the water bodies in developing as well as developed countries. There is no exception.

You might wonder how sewage disposal is a problem in developed areas when you have a flush toilet which easily carries away of it away from your home. The answer is this – after you flush the toilet, the waste has to be taken to the sewage treatment plants. However, even after the treatment, there is still some waste which needs to be disposed of. 

Facts

The Ganges river in India is considered the most polluted river in the world and contains dirt, garbage, dead animals and humans.

This waste is let loose into the water bodies. Sometimes, if your area is heavily populated and the waste produced is beyond the capacity of the sewage treatment plant, the waste will be dumped into the water untreated.

History has it that right till the early 1990s, approximately 5 million tonnes of sewage was dumped into the water bodies from New York City alone each year.

Similarly, estimates from 2002 from the UK’s Department for the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA reveal that sewers in Britain gather 11 billion liters of waste water every day and other than this, there are still 31,000 sewage pipes which overflow. Because of this overflow, the sewage is often dumped into water bodies untreated.

Read : Water pollution in India

Another account has it that between the border of Mexico and United States of America, the New River once carried 20–25 million gallons of raw sewage each day. Unfortunately, even the richest and finest countries of the world are right in the grip of water pollution because they have been dumping all the sewage into their seas, lakes, and oceans.

sewage water pollution. Dumping of raw sewage in Gurgaon, India
Septic tank cleaner dumping raw sewage in Gurgaon, India

One might wonder if sewage is completely normal, what is the harm in dumping it into water. Well, in theory, sewage certainly is natural and should break down into the environment as harmlessly as possible. But reality suggests otherwise.  

Sewage includes all kinds of chemicals – ranging from the medicines people consume to the toilet paper and other plastics they flush down. 

When people catch viral diseases, the sewage carries those viruses further – into the water bodies and the vicious cycle of water borne diseases such as typhoid, diarrhoea, cholera, etc continues.

The world population as of September 2019 is 7.7 billion according to United Nations estimates. With such a large population looming over the earth, disposing sewage remains a gargantuan problem. So mostly, all of it is dumped into the water bodies, which are then deemed unfit for supporting life

Read :  Is reclaimed water safe for drinking?

According to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2015, approximately 2.1 billion people (which amounts to 28% of the world’s population) do not have the privilege of using safe and clean drinking water while another 2.3 billion (i.e 30% of the world’s population) do not have proper sanitation at their disposal.otherwise.  

Sewage includes all kinds of chemicals – ranging from the medicines people consume to the toilet paper and other plastics they flush down. When people catch viral diseases, the sewage carries those viruses further – into the water bodies and the vicious cycle of water borne diseases such as typhoid, diarrhoea, cholera, etc continues.

2. Nutrients

The cycle of nature is perfectly synchronized. Used in moderate quantities, sewage is a super fertilizer. It replenishes the earth with just the right minerals like nitrogen and phosphorus. These are consumed by plants and animals for their growth. The problem arises when is released in larger quantities and the environment cannot cope up with it.

And then farmers use chemical fertilizers which add more nutrients to the soil, adding to the effect fertilizing sewage. Now because the soil and groundwater are both enriched with extra nutrients, they can lead to a massive increase in the growth of algae or plankton which covers large portions of our water bodies like huge areas of oceans, lakes, or rivers. This burst of algae is harmful because it consumes oxygen present in the water which could otherwise be used by the rest of the aquatic life.

Phytoplankton Bloom off Iceland
plankton Bloom off Iceland coast as observed through Satellite by Nasa.

3. Chemical waste

If you live in an urbane city, take a look around yourself. On one side of the spectrum are detergents which are freely thrown into the water bodies and on the other are residual chemicals from the factories, which are highly toxic in nature. 

On one hand are polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) which were once used to circuit boards and their highly dangerous residues were thrown into water bodies, on the other hand is the oil and grease coming out of automobiles. No matter how mild the chemical is, if it is disposed of in a water body in large quantities, it will contaminate it and enter the food chain. 

Read :  Types of water pollution

Once it is in the food chain, it will affect all forms of life – animals, birds, plants and humans alike.  It is estimated that during the 20th century, half a million tonnes of PCBs were disposed into the environment. The effect of this chemical far and wide as its traces were seen in the birds and animals of the Arctic region. 

The question is how did they reach a barely populated continent such as the Arctic? The answer is this – OCEANS. Imagine is the impact of one chemical, shed in an urban city could travel thousands of miles, what would be the state of the ocean water today? Where would it stand in quality?

But that is not it – more toxic pollution comes from heavy metals like lead, cadmium, and mercury. While they are essential in making batteries, their residues are also disposed into the water bodies. Imagine the condition of the aquatic life which has to consume these harmful pollutants every second!

phosphate in water pollution it cause eutrophication
High Phosphate due to detergents in Yamuna river. detergents are one of the major causes of eutrophication

4. Radioactive waste

Radioactive waste is by far the most dangerous pollutant to exist. It raises an alarm with the media, civil society and environmentalists – and for good reason. Radioactive pollutants have the potential to eliminate life. If they are present in high concentration, they can kill animals, birds and plants alike. If present in low concentration, they can cause highly dangerous diseases like cancer and even cause genetic disorders. 

Today, there are two infamous plants in the world which discard their radioactive waste into the sea and both are from Europe – Sellafield on the north-west coast of Britain and Cap La Hague on the north coast of France. 

Both of them reprocess waste fuel from nuclear power plants. The radioactive wastes from these two plants spread their harms across many countries through the oceans and seas which link them to Britain and France. Norway is the worst hit with these radioactive wastes and its government has been repeatedly requesting to shut these plants. Your country too could be under its grip – despite the large distance!

improper disposal of radioactive barrel in English channel pollution ocean water
improper disposal of radioactive barrel in English channel

5. Oil pollution

When you imagine pollution in oceans, what is the first thing you imagine? Most of us think of plastics floating in the oceanic waters or oil slicks which result from tanker leakages. But is that it? 

Sadly, the answer is NO! Oil tanker leaks are just a small fraction of ocean pollution. Stats show that only 12 percent of the oceanic oil pollution comes from oil tankers leaks. This is because they are accidents which happen rarely. The major cause of oil pollution in oceans is the regular shipping and the oil which people pour over land or pour from the drains. 

Facts

The Gulf War spill directly affected the Saudi Arabian shoreline.While initial research found minuscule long-term impacts, recent studies show oil persistence in ocean habitats.

Read more facts :  Water Pollution in Saudi Arabia

These two hardly cross our minds but they contribute over 70% of the oceanic oil pollution. Oil tankers are more infamous because they spill huge quantities of oil at once. The biggest oil spill happened in the US waters in recent years when a tanker named Exxon Valdez leaked in Alaska in 1989. 

It is estimated that approximately 12 million gallons of oil were released into the water, killing almost 2800 sea otters, 250,000 seabirds and billions of salmon and herring eggs.  But that doesn’t make the latter any less destructive. Oil pollution can be controlled at an individual level as well. The results would be dramatically significant.

Exxon-Valdez-oil-spill .jpg
After the Exxon Valdez, Alaska oil spill many dead blue whales washed ashore.

6. Plastics

If you’ve ever being a part of the eco-club or participated in a community beach clean, you’ll agree when we say that the beaches are loaded with plastics. You will also have observed that it is mostly plastic which the waves bring along with themselves.  

It is estimated that approximately 8 million tons of plastic are dumped in the sea every single year. The reasons for this are many. Firstly, plastic is used in making almost everything on this planet – from clothing to storage to automobile parts. 

They are so common. Secondly, plastics are light and can float across massive distances (the ocean being an easy medium). Thirdly, plastics are not biodegradable (in most cases) because they do not break down under the laws of nature. 

It is said that a plastic bottle can survive for 450 years in a water body. And lastly, because people have no sense of accountability. We think that just because the ocean can hide it, we have the liberties to throw all our plastic wastes into it.

great pacific patch of garbage, mostly plastic
Great pacific patch of garbage is approx 1.6 million square kilometers in size

The damage caused by plastics is not immediate as is the case with chemicals. But it is surely there and makes itself known after decades or even centuries. The plastic wastes are a threat to the aquatic life such as seabirds and fish. For instance, they can strangle or choke fish. They can enter the aquatic food chain and cause poisoning of marine life.

7. Other forms of pollution

The forms of pollution in the present day world are so many that they cannot be enumerated. A classic example is thermal pollution which are a residue of factories. Nobody could have thought that they can cause a problem in the rivers. How?

 When the temperature rises, the amount of oxygen dissolved in the water reduces. This drastically affects the aquatic life because they will not have enough oxygen to support their life.

Read : How to Prevent water pollution?

Another type of pollution occurs when the process of rivers carrying their sediments to the sea is disrupted by dams and hydroelectric power projects. The dams reduce sediment flow. This in turn affects the formation of beaches, increases coastal erosion, and reduces the nutrient flow from rivers to the sea. 

Increased sediments in the rivers (caused due to construction) can also make the water too muddy and murky for human consumption. Besides, extra sediments can cause breathing issues for the fish and other marine animals.

Controlling water pollution is the need of the hour. If we don’t do it now, we might not get a second chance at it.

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