A few decades back, nobody would have thought that one day, the earth will be struck with water crisis. Today, we are glaring into the issue of water scarcity because every resource we have is contaminated and infected with pollutants. To understand the types of water pollution and to eradicate it, we as the citizens of this world, need to understand it – its types and sources put together.

“Water is one of the most basic of all needs - we cannot live for more than a few days without it. And yet, most people take water for granted.
- Robert Alan Aurthur

Types of water pollution

So, let’s take a quick look at the most popular types of water pollution:

Agricultural Water Pollution

One could say that it is the most important sector in the world, supplying billions of people with its crop and produce. But nobody could have thought that the very same agriculture which provides for them, could be a contributor of water pollution

Global Statistics suggest that agriculture is the biggest consumer of our freshwater resources (because all crops feed on groundwater in order to survive and grow). They consume almost 70% of the freshwater available on planet earth. Not only this,  but agriculture also happens to be a water contaminator – and a serious one at that. 

It has led to degradation of water quality all over the world.  In the United States of America, agricultural tops the list of pollutants in rivers and streams, maintains a second rank in the list of wetland pollutants and third when it comes to lakes. 

Agriculture also poses a serious threat to groundwater and estuaries. These startling statistics often lead to a common question – How? How is it that a sector as productive as agriculture can cause harm to water. Wasn’t it supposed to be an eco-friendly occupation? The answer is rather simple but requires deep thought.  The population of the world is growing by leaps and bounds. 

herbicide type of water pollution
Agriculture produce large amount of herbicide and pesticide water pollution

The earth (in its natural state) does not produce enough food to feed every mouth. Therefore, farmers have resorted to the use of chemicals – pesticides, chemicals, fertilizers and even hormones which they spray on the crop to make them grow faster and plentiful. 

These chemicals of course seep into the ground and make their way into our aquifers, thereby polluting the groundwater. Moreover,  every time it rains, fertilizers, pesticides, animal & human waste from farms and livestock operations wash nutrients and pathogens such as viruses and bacteria into our water bodies. This in turn causes potential nutrient pollution.

Read : Categories of water Pollution

For those who are unaware of nutrient pollution, it is caused when nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus are present in the water (in excess, that is). This is because they lead us straight to algal blooms and alter the composition of water. The latter is something we don’t want to achieve while the former is harmful for life – both human and animal

Sewage and wastewater

A common question people have is the nature of wastewater – what is it? Is it the excretion from human or animal bodies or is it something more than that? Well, in essence, any water that is USED is wastewater. 

It may come from our sinks when we wash our dishes, showers, or toilets. It may even come from commercial, industrial, and agricultural activities. It also includes stormwater runoff (an excessive overflow of water which occurs when rainfall washes away all the land pollutants such as salts, oil, grease, debris, chemicals, etc). 

Imagine the millions of scenarios where water is used – ALL of them, without exception, lead to the creation of wastewater. 

John snow discovered the link between Cholera outbrake and sewage water of cesspool
John snow discovered the link between Cholera outbreak and broad St. pump contaminated by sewage water.

Now there is a noteworthy property of water. It makes way through anything and everything. And that includes your wastewater. UNESCO suggests that more than 80% of the world’s wastewater makes its way back to the environment without being treated while the ideal solution would have been to treat it to remove any impurities and then let it join back the water cycle. 

United Nations even went to the extent of saying that in some countries (which rank quite low in terms of development), 95% of untreated water is disposed into the environment. However, this trend is not restricted to developing countries.

Read : Causes of water pollution

Untreated wastewater is discarded into our water bodies almost everywhere in the world. This happens when the volume of wastewater exceeds the capacity of the treatment plant. 

For instance, EPA estimates that almost 34 billion gallons of water are treated in the facilities of the United States of America everyday. That is a massive volume. 

However, the same EPA also suggests that this massive capacity is not enough because the amount of wastewater is much more. 

untreated sewage being pumped into the Dublin bay
Untreated sewage being pumped into the Dublin bay by Ringsend Wastewater Treatment Plant

In fact, 850 billion gallons of untreated wastewater are discarded into the environment by the same system because they are easily overwhelmed. Now this is exactly where the vicious cycle of disease and pollution begins. 

Wastewater has to be treated because it reduces the amount of pathogens (virus and bacteria), chemicals, plastics, phosphorous and nitrogen from the water (which in most cases is sewage water). When this is not done, all these pollutants enter the water cycle – from there, they contaminate the air, land and our food chains, thus being harbingers of disease and disruption in the environment. The vicious cycle does not come to an end.

Oil pollution

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of pollution caused by oil? Perhaps a large tanker which may have broken down or leaked in the middle of an ocean?

Oil leakage during oil tanker accidents is a type of ocean pollution
Oil leakage during ship accidents is a type of ocean water pollution.

Well, most people do take oil pollution as a synonym to oil tanker spills or large large oil slicks which form as a result of these leakages. This is because accidents such as these dominate the news. Our day to day activities don’t. 

The reality is that oil spills only account for approximately 12% (or even lesser) of the oil pollution in the world. The vast majority (Over 70%) is caused by common people like you and us who delightfully live in oblivion, recline on the comfort of our sofas and blame the government for contaminated waters.

On the contrary, regular operations of the shipping industry (which include both legal and illegal discharges) – contribute about one-third and let us not forget the land pollutants. There are over 1 billion automobiles in the world today. ALL of them, no matter how many GO-GREEN slogans they chant, account for the vast majority of oil pollution in our seas. 

Facts

 Iraqi forces intentionally released over 300 million gallons of oil into the Persian Gulf in 1991 as part of the offensive in the Gulf War.

This is because oil and gasoline that drips from them everyday. Now if one car drips oil, it doesn’t make much difference. But when 1 billion cards do, it certainly rings a bell.  

All of this oil finds its way back into our water resources – whether by joining the nearest river or stream or by seeping deep into the ground and contaminating the groundwater resources which we ultimately end up consuming.

Read : Dangers of water pollution

In addition to this, it is estimated by World Ocean Review that  almost half of the estimated 1 million tonnes of oil which escapes into marine environments such as oceans, seas, lakes, rivers and streams each year does not come from oil tanker leakages but from sources we thought were unfathomable.

Popular examples of these are factories, farms, and cities. Can we make a difference? The answer is yes! We can reduce the number of oil based automobiles we are using, we can ensure that the oils we use in our day to day activities are disposed off properly.

It is important to say that one person doing this may not make a difference to the entire world. But when 1.9 billion people make efforts, the result will be quite evident and drastic – and it will be worth it.

It is interesting how oil is naturally present in the ocean, released in minor quantities from ocean floor cracks known as seeps. However, the quantity is just apt enough to support and host a myriad of aquatic life. But the same oil, when exceeds in limits due to human intervention, contaminates the water to the point that it is no longer fit for human consumption or as a medium of supporting life.

Radioactive substances

Radioactive waste – the very name stirs a certain level of discomfort to governments, individuals, scientists, environmentalists and civil society alike.  The hazards caused by radioactive substances are catastrophic.

They lead to harmful diseases like cancer, they hold the potential to eliminate life, they cause genetic mutations and deformations, they cause birth defects among the next generations. We could go on and on about the hazards of radioactive pollution and still, the list would be endless. But first, let us address the nature of radioactive wastes – what are they?

Scientists say that any type of pollution which actively emits harmful radiation beyond what nature itself releases into the environment is classified as radioactive waste.

nuclear waste landfill can leak into groundwater and cause water pollution
Nuclear waste landfill can leak into groundwater and contaminate ground water

It could be generated when uranium is mined, it could be brewed in powerful nuclear power plants, it could be a result of the production and testing of military weapons, it could be generated when universities, institutions and hospitals use radioactive materials for research and medicine.

It is important to say that one person doing this may not make a difference to the entire world. But when 1.9 billion people make efforts, the result will be quite evident and drastic – and it will be worth it.

Read : How to prevent water pollution?

It is interesting how oil is naturally present in the ocean, released in minor quantities from ocean floor cracks known as seeps. However, the quantity is just apt enough to support and host a myriad of aquatic life. But the same oil, when exceeds in limits due to human intervention, contaminates the water to the point that it is no longer fit for human consumption or as a medium of supporting life.

Whatever the cause and source, radioactive waste adversely affects the environment on all fronts – air, land and water. 

It can travel for thousands of miles without losing its impact, it can cross boundaries, it can linger on for thousands of years and thus, the disposal of radioactive wastes was and remains a major problem.

mutation in vegetable after radioactive pollution in water
Mutation in vegetable grown one year after fukushima nuclear disaster, Japan

Radioactive wastes contaminate the waters and render them unfit for human consumption or supporting life. Research suggests that aquatic life cannot breed in waters which have been contaminated by radioactive pollutants. 

What alternative habitat does the marine life has? Are we heading towards the extinction of the marine life because we are unable to discard our radioactive pollutants?

Consider this – the infamous and decommissioned Hanford site in Washington which was used to produce nuclear weapons for the United States of America gave birth to approximately 56 million gallons of radioactive waste. Disposal and clean up of such a massive amount of radioactive material can cost more than $100 billion.  

Hanford nuclear site. it cost $100 bn to clean nuclear waste pollutants from this site
Hanford nuclear site. it cost $100 bn to clean nuclear waste from this site

The environmental impact caused as a result of this will last till 2060. Till then, the population – be it humans, animals, birds or aquatic life has to bear the brunt.  Could the same amount of money which will be used in discarding this radioactive waste be put to better use? Yes, it could be used to end global poverty or food or water crisis.

Another example of this are the nuclear power plants in England and France. Both of these plants discharge their waters into the water, which crosses boundaries and leaves its impact in all neighbouring countries where the environmentalists are seriously concerned.

In developing countries like India, the Government regulations allow radioactive water from the nuclear water plant to be released into the environment. The fact of the matter is that no amount of permissibility makes radioactive pollutants safe. There is no threshold for radioactive safety.

Facts

The nuclear crisis created by the tsunami of 2011, unleashed 11 million liters of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean.

Allowing the radioactive wastes to enter the water programmed directly translates to cell death, genetic mutations, cancers, leukaemia, birth defects, and reproductive, immune and endocrine system disorders. Even if radioactive substances leak into the environment by accident, they could prove to be catastrophic for groundwater, surface water, and marine safety.

Other types of water pollution include microbiological pollution, suspended matter and chemical pollution, marine dumping, underground leakages and a lot more.

The question is – what can be done to prevent water pollution?

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