The earth provided us with every kind of resource we needed for survival – we had water to consume and cleanse, we had air to breathe, we had land to walk on – all of these elements would work in complete harmony with each other. Together they would provide for us.
However, this ideal scenario of a perfectly synced world is a thing of the past. Times have changed and so has the familiar air, water and land.
As the world population grew to 1.9 billion, so did the human need and intervention in the processes of nature. The quantity of water needed for consumption and survival grew and so did the wastewater.
Similarly, the need for things grew while their supply was limited. Hence began the age of industrialization. This wave of matching the demand and supply resulted in contamination of the environment on all fronts. The pollution spread like wildfire and engulfed our most precious resources. Consider the water – it was contaminated in ways we couldn’t even imagine.
Till date, water pollution remains a serious concern for the environmentalists and civil society alike. There is a dearth of fresh drinkable water because each and every reservoir of water has been infected with chemicals, sewage, wastewater or worse – radioactive substances.
Effects of water pollution on Human Health and Ecosystem
Think of the water bodies around you – lakes, streams, rivers, seas or oceans. Their shores are laden with plastic and canned foods which we consume. But that is just a small fraction of water pollution.
From leaking oil tankers to drainage systems which let untreated sewage into our water bodies, from 1 billion automobiles to routine ships which shed their oil and grease into the oceans, from chemical wastes of factories to radioactive substances let loose, everything infects our precious waters.
Read more fact : Water pollution in India
And these are just the ones which are visible to the naked eye. Water pollution goes a step further with groundwater pollution. Whatever chemicals, fertilizers and pesticides our farmers use to cultivate crops seep deep into the soil and contaminate our groundwater. As a result of this and the fact that only 1% of the world’s freshwater is fit for consumption, an acute water crisis is glaring at us.
This does not end here. Along with human beings, the worst hit are the marine animals and plants. The very medium which hosts life for them has been poisoned.
Studies reveal that remains of plastics and chemicals (which are generally used in factories) have been found in the bellies of certain dead aquatic animals. When the composition of water is changed, the aquatic life suffocates due to the inadequacy of oxygen. Do they have an alternative habitat? Sadly, no. The only way forward for them is to die a miserable death, while we build more industries and satiate our greed masked as basic need.
Water contamination has adverse effects and dangers which are classified as below:
Needless to say, all human beings need water for their survival. Doctors recommend drinking 8 – 10 glasses of water everyday. But what if our drinking water was contaminated, untreated and its composition affected by chemicals and sewage.
Would the doctors still advise us to consume it? The answer is a big NO. Sadly, all of the sources which provide us drinking water are contaminated today – lakes, streams, seas, oceans and groundwater alike. This in turn affects human health. In countries where the purification and screening process of water is rather poor, people are more prone to be affected by water-borne disease outbreaks such as cholera and tuberculosis.
Read more facts : Water pollution in Israel
World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 3–5 million cholera cases and 100,000–120,000 deaths due to cholera are reported every year. In addition to this, the study reveals that only 5-10% of the cases are reported. In remote areas, where accessibility to a hospital is still not available, the cases are not even detected before the patient’s death.
However, this does not mean that people in developed countries do not suffer. Despite the fact that their water purification methods are better and that their systems are better quipped, water contamination still affects people’s health.
It is reported that the creation of nuclear weapons in Washington in the United States of America led to billions of tonnes of radioactive waste. This health hazards of this waste are expected to linger on till 2060. Also, developed countries have a lot more industries (and hence industrial waste) associated with them.
The wastes and chemicals from these industries is ruthlessly thrown into the waters. Another example would be the toxins emitted by algae growth. They have the ability to cause excessive stomach aches and rashes.
Another menace is the excess of nitrogen and phosphorus in our drinking waters. The excess of these two in water is known to increase infant mortality rates and also poses a serious health threat to infants.
Now let’s take a look at some facts: In 2010, EPA conducted a study called the National Lakes Assessment. The assessment revealed that almost 20 per cent of the nation’s lakes were contaminated with very high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus. The report went on to suggest that due to the poor lake conditions related to nitrogen or phosphorus pollution, the likelihood of a poor ecosystem in the near future was doubled.
The numbers have not improved since then. So hasn’t the level of nitrogen and phosphorous.
Let us analyze the health hazards of water pollution:
- The fertilizers and detergents used by farmers to cultivate the fields and common people to wash and cleanse contain high levels of phosphorus and nitrates which contaminate surface waters by enriching them with excessive nutrients. These nutrients promote the growth of algae. When algae spreads, it depletes oxygen from the water body, thus suffocating fish and other forms of life it hosts.
- Industries create a lot of waste and residue. This residue is often chemical waste. The industrial effluents are disposed into our surface waters like oceans, seas, lakes and rivers and thus the water body is infected by harmful substances like Arsenic, Mercury, Cadmium, Lead etc., which kill or adversely affect the aquatic life and may even reach human body through popular seafood like fish. Despite government regulations in various countries, the on-ground reality is that these chemicals are often left untreated and disposed of into water bodies as such.
- Organic pollutants are no less. They are let loose into our freshwater resources in the form of domestic, commercial and industrial effluents. Popular examples are petroleum refineries, paper mills, breweries, tanneries, slaughter houses. They cause as much pollution as chemical pollutants do. Like nutrient pollution, organic pollution feeds the algae and micro-organisms which start breeding over the water bodies. Once this happens, they decompose organic matter and consume most of the oxygen available in the water. The DO level of the water is reduced and hence, the aquatic life suffers. They suffocate due to lack of oxygen, grow weak and eventually die. The water is thus rendered unfit for supporting life. A habitat is removed, a whole population of aquatic life terminated.
- Farmers these days use excessive pesticides and fertilizers to produce more crops. Most of these chemicals are non biodegradable pesticides (a classic example is organ chlorine). They seep deep into the ground and merge with the groundwater. When this water is consumed by plants or humans, the chemical enters right into the food chain, becoming an integral part of it. Because they are non biodegradable, it becomes impossible for a common man to dispose of them off. Once they reach humans, they accumulate in the fatty tissues and affect the immune system. Research shows that they also affect the nervous system and act as slow poison to the body, making it more susceptible to illness and disease.
- When waters are contaminated, they brew infections and disease. Water borne diseases are one of the most common reasons which lead people, especially in developing countries to death. Popular examples of these include typhoid, bacillary dysentery, cholera and amoebic dysentery. Taking a look at the statistics of waterborne diseases often leaves one startled and perplexed. The United Nations estimates that more than 3.4 million people die every year due to waterborne diseases, making it the leading cause of disease and death around the world. The worst part is that most of the dead are young children, about 4,000 a day. The research also reveals that at any given second in the world, almost half of the population of developing countries suffer from some type of waterborne disease. In many remote areas, people die oblivious to the fact that they have fallen prey to one of these diseases. But this is not it. A study conducted in the United States of America from 2013 to 2014 stated that waterborne diseases caused 289 cases of illness, 108 hospitalizations, and 17 deaths. Indeed, nobody is free from the hazards of water pollution.
- Many water pollutants, especially industry effluents contain fluoride. When this component enters the food chain, it causes a condition called fluorosis i.e. neuromuscular, respiratory, gastro intestinal and dental problems.
- Then comes the Thermal pollution of water. This type is rarely discussed but it also reduces the DO level of the aquatic system. When this happens, the water is no longer capable of supporting life.
- Oil pollutants resulting from routine shipping, oil tanker leakages and the dripping of automobile oils into the surface and groundwater have been responsible for the death of many water birds and fishes.
Read : Causes of water pollution
- Radio-active pollutants (derived from the mining and refining of Uranium, Thorium and other radioactive substances) enter the water bodies and wipe out life from them. Their adverse effects include genetic mutations, birth defects, hormonal changes, abnormalities in the body and a lot more. They enter the human body through food and water and get accumulated in the blood, thyroid gland, liver, bones and muscles.
Water feeds and breeds the ecosystem. Naturally, when water is contaminated, so is the ecosystem. Consider the nutrient pollution. From upstream (creeks and streams), it travels miles and merges into other larger water bodies. Because of excessive nutrients, algae and microorganisms bloom in the waters.
This algae attack affects fish and other aquatic animals because it absorbs their share of oxygen. Algae is also known to clog the gills of fish. This clearly alters the aquatic ecosystem in a negative way.
3. Death of animals
Water contamination to a certain extent is treated by natural processes itself. Taking this into account, humans exploited all of the water resources for which they are now repenting because clearly nature has a limit. Animals, especially aquatic ones die when water is contaminated beyond measure. Those who do not die, are stressed and their populations largely endangered.
A classic example of this was seen in the United States of America when 16000 miles of US coastline was polluted by an oil spill. That water pollution that followed caused immense death and destruction within the waters. It is estimated that over 8,000 animals (birds, turtles, mammals) died just 6 months after the spill and many of them were already endangered species.
4. Economic cost
When water is polluted, measures have to be taken to clean it because of the fact that it supports life. This causes some serious financial implications for the governments. As they say, prevention is better than cure. Preventing water pollution would have been a more economic solution but because we are heedless, we have to purify waters AFTER contamination and that definitely costs more.
Take for example, the United States of America – its tourism industry bears a loss of approximately $1 billion each year because of losses in recreational activities (thanks to nutrient pollution).
In Mississippi alone, tourism constitutes about $1.6 billion which is then used in visitor expenditures, 32 percent of state travel and tourism tax revenues, and 24,000 direct jobs.
Clearing up radioactive wastes also costs billions of dollars to developed countries.