Causes and Effects of Water Pollution

Water covers 70% of the Earth’s surface and makes up over 60% of the human body.  Water pollution affects marine ecosystems, wildlife health, and human well-being.  The answer to solving pollution is to make changes in our daily habits and pay more attention to the types of products we consume.  The following lists display causes of water pollution and the effects it has on human health and the environment.

Causes of Water Pollution

  • Sewage from domestic households, factories and commercial buildings Sewage that is treated in water treatment plants is often disposed into the sea.  Sewage can be more problematic when people flush chemicals and pharmaceutical substances down the toilet.
  • Dumping solid wastes and littering by humans in rivers, lakes and oceans.  Littering items include cardboard, Styrofoam, aluminum, plastic and glass.
  • Industrial waste from factories, which use freshwater to carry waste from the plant into rivers, contaminates waters with pollutants such as asbestos, lead, mercury and petrochemicals.
  • Oil Pollution caused by oil spills from tankers and oil from ship travel.  Oil does not dissolve in water and forms a thick sludge.
  • Burning fossil fuels into the air causes the formation of acidic particles in the atmosphere.  When these particles mix with water vapor, the result is acid rain.
  • An increase in water temperature is caused by global warming and thermal plants that use lakes and rivers to cool down mechanical equipment.

Effects of Water Pollution

  • Groundwater contamination from pesticides causes reproductive damage within wildlife in ecosystems.
  • Sewage, fertilizer, and agricultural run-off contain organic materials that when discharged into waters, increase the growth of algae, which causes the depletion of oxygen.  The low oxygen levels are not able to support most indigenous organisms in the area and therefore upset the natural ecological balance in rivers and lakes.
  • Swimming in and drinking contaminated water causes skin rashes and health problems like cancer, reproductive problems, typhoid fever and stomach sickness in humans.  Which is why it’s very important to make sure that your water is clean and safe to drink.
  • Industrial chemicals and agricultural pesticides that end up in aquatic environments can accumulate in fish that are later eaten by humans.  Fish are easily poisoned with metals that are also later consumed by humans.  Mercury is particularly poisonous to small children and women.  Mercury has been found to interfere with the development of the nervous system in fetuses and young children.
  • Ecosystems are destroyed by the rising temperature in the water, as coral reefs are affected by the bleaching effect due to warmer temperatures.  Additionally, the warm water forces indigenous water species to seek cooler water in other areas, causing an ecological damaging shift of the affected area.
  • Human-produced litter of items such as plastic bags and 6-pack rings can get aquatic animals caught and killed from suffocation.
  • Water pollution causes flooding due to the accumulation of solid waste and soil erosion in streams and rivers.
  • Oil spills in the water causes animal to die when they ingest it or encounter it.  Oil does not dissolve in water so it causes suffocation in fish and birds.

Water Pollution Facts

Following are some facts on water pollution:

  • Fourteen billion pounds of garbage, which is mostly plastic, is dumped into the ocean every year.
  • The Ganges River in India is one the most polluted rivers in the world with sewage, trash, food, and animal remains.
  • According to United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) estimates, 1.2 trillion gallons of untreated sewage, stormwater, and industrial waste is dumped into U.S. waters annually.
  • About 700 million people globally drink contaminated water.
  • Aquatic animals face an extinction rate of five times more than that of terrestrial animals.
  • Over 30 billion tons of urban sewage is discharged into lakes, rivers and oceans every year.
  • The massive oil spill that was caused by British Petroleum (BP) in the year 2010 caused over 1,000 animals to die. Many of them were on the endangered species list.
  • According to UNICEF, more than 3,000 children die every day all over the world due to consumption of contaminated drinking water.
  • Pollution is one of the biggest killers in the world, affecting over 100 million people.
  • Lack of proper sanitation in water leads to diseases like cholera, malaria and diarrhea.
  • At least 320 million people in China do not have access to clean drinking water

Water pollution has been extensively documented as a contributor to health problems in humans and marine animal ecosystems.  It has a huge impact on our lives, and if we do our part by not throwing trash or chemicals into our water supplies and drains, we can contribute to the improvement of aquatic life and of our health in general. Since most of the Earth is covered by water, it’s important for you to do your part to keep our waters.

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