Why We Should Care About Water Pollution
Water pollution has increased significantly across the globe, causing serious negative social, economical and environmental impacts.
Water is a colourless, tasteless and odourless substance (WWF Global, 2017). It is essential to life given the fact that all forms of life need it to survive.
Water exists in different forms such as rivers, lakes, oceans, snow and rain water(Delltawerken, 2004). It is used for various activities such as cooking, washing, drinking and so on. Although water is essential to life it continues to be polluted, making it unsuitable for use.
Water pollution simply means the presence of unsuitable substances in waters which changes its properties, thereby contaminating it (EPA, 2015). The presence of contaminants in water can cause changes to its physical, chemical or biological conditions, thereby making it unsuitable for use.
Water pollution has increased significantly in recent years. For example, it has been estimated by the United Nations (UN) that a minimum of 1.8 billion people in the world “use a source of drinking water that is fecally contaminated “(UN, 2017). Water pollution is a pressing issue in today’s world, partly due to climate change (EPA, 2017). One of the impacts of climate change is believed to be water pollution and the scarcity of fresh water. It is believed that at least 1 in 4 people is likely to dwell in a country affected by serious fresh water shortages (UN, 2017). As a result, clean water is part of the UN sustainable development goals.
Water pollution is very bad for the environment. It is bad due to the negative impacts it creates.
One of the impacts of water pollution is that human health and animals are endangered when they come in contact with water that has been polluted (The World Counts, 2014). Contaminated water consumed by humans can cause Cholera, Dysentery and Typhoid (Enviropool, 2012). Around 3 to 5 million cholera cases and 100,000 to 120,000 deaths are recorded annually caused by cholera. Only 5-10% of cases are believed to be reported annually and a lot remains unreported, driving fears that the number of deaths caused by cholera is very high. It is also a known fact that over three and a half million people die from water-borne disease annually (The World Counts, 2014).
Also, marine life is not spared from the negative impacts of water pollution (Eschool Today, 2016). Water that has been polluted with substances such as detergents or garbage is destroying marine life at an alarming rate.
Furthermore, water pollution can interfere with the food chain and cause disease (ESchool Today, 2016). For example, if pollutants or toxicants such as lead or cadmium get into water bodies, they could be consumed by fishes. These fishes could be eaten by humans. Once eaten, they can disrupt multiple systems in human beings. They can cause high blood pressure and harm the kidney. Young children even have the ability to absorb 4-5 times more lead(chemical) than grown up adults when exposed to the same source of water pollution (containing lead). Water contaminated with lead, if consumed by children, can affect the brain and nervous system development.
Water pollution has the power to alter and disrupt ecosystems. Running water can carry nutrients/chemicals from up-hill and flush them down-hill into water bodies. These nutrients breed algae and other water organisms and compete with fish and marine life for the use of oxygen, thereby limiting the existing marine lifes chance of survival. Serious water pollution issues can also alter ecosystems significantly. For example, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It was reported by Enviropool that “8,000 animals (birds, turtles, mammals) were reported dead just 6 months after the spill, including many that are already on the endangered species list. Immediate impact on the wildlife includes oil-coated birds and sea turtles, mammal ingestion of oil, and dead or dying deep sea coral (Enviropool, 2012)
There are also financial impacts associated with water pollution. When natural water has been polluted, they are deemed to be unsafe to drink, thus requiring treatment. Cleaning up water pollution can be expensive. For example, the US uses at least 4.3 billion dollars on a yearly basis to treat water bodies that has been polluted with phosphorus and nitrogen. Without this, such waters will be unsafe and not suitable for drinking. Considering the global economic downturn, spending such is economically unsustainable.
Clean and suitable water also have social benefit (Science Daily, 2008). They are used for recreational activities and attract tourists, thus generating revenues. Polluted waters hinder their recreational use and drives away tourists. Polluted waters are generally eye-sores and emit odours, thereby driving away people who would ordinarily visit them to relax. The negative social impacts also have financial impacts as well. For example, the US tourism industry loses close to 1 billion dollars on a yearly basis as a result of nutrient-polluted waters polluted.
Before we understand the causes of water pollution, it is important to understand its sources. Water pollution comes mostly in two forms (The Guides Network, 2017). The two forms are single or point and non-point or diffuse sources of water pollution. A single source of water pollution is used to refer to water pollution occurring from a single source, such as an oil spill, while non-source water pollution is used to describe water pollution coming from multiple sources.
There are many causes of water pollution such as mining activities, marine dumping, oil leakages, the combustion of fossil fuels, global warming, industrial, animal, household waste and warming as well as animal waste.
Mining activities involve the crushing of rock and the extraction of coal and other minerals from underground aquifers. These minerals contain toxic chemicals and can be washed down into water bodies, thereby contaminating them.
Household waste not only contributes to landfill but also makes its way down drain pipes into water systems. They can take many years to decompose in water bodies. The presence of household waste and garbage in water bodies constitutes water pollution and also endangers marine life.
The burning of fossil fuels also contributes to water pollution. Fossil fuels such as coal produce ashes when burnt. When mixed with water vapour, it produces acid rain which could be dispersed into water bodies and cause water pollution. Furthermore, the burning of fossil fuels emits carbon dioxide and can be blown into water bodies by air and can degrade the quality of water.
The agricultural industry contributes to water pollution. Fertilisers and pesticides are used in the industry by farmers to enhance the growth of their crops and they contain harmful chemicals. These chemicals are often washed by rainfall into water systems – this then causes pollution that kills marine life and makes water unsuitable for human consumption.
Also, sewage pipes contain serious and harmful bacteria and must be kept controlled. Sewage pipes do rust, decay or leak, thereby releasing a lot of harmful waste to the environment which are then washed into water bodies, thus degrading the quality of water and making the waters unsuitable for both domestic and commercial uses.
Another cause of water pollution is global warming and climate change. Global warming increases the temperature of water and such increase can harm marine animals and even kill them. The excessive decomposition of dead marine animals in water also causes water pollution.
Furthermore, the activities of industries across the world have increased after the industrial revolution. As a result, more and more chemicals are being used in industries today. Chemicals like mercury, lead and sulphur are extremely harmful and some companies do not have a proper waste management procedures in place for the treatment and disposal of industrial waste. As a result, industrial waste is kept loose and could be flushed into water bodies, thereby contributing to water pollution.
Also, waste from animals causes water pollution. Animals such as dogs pass waste which is often washed into water systems by rainfall – another contributing factor that is affecting the quality of our water worldwide.
There is also the issue of radio-active waste from nuclear plants. Uranium is widely used in the nuclear industry to produce energy and it contains harmful chemicals. The end process of nuclear reaction produces huge radioactive waste and if not disposed properly, can pollute water bodies.
There are a lot of ways that can be used to reduce water pollution. Water conservation and management measures have proven to be effective in reducing water pollution.
Behavioural changes are a water management measure and it helps to reduce water pollution (Water Pollution Guide, 2015). For example, raising environmental awareness about how our daily activities such as household waste and marine dumping interrupts the ecosystem by endangering marine life can be a driver for people to change their ways. People who partake in water polluting activities are mostly oblivious of the fact that their activities can endanger life and create human disease. As mentioned earlier, fish derived from affected waters when consumed can cause disease such as cholera or even brain damage.
Also, the sustainable use of water presents a long-lasting solution to water pollution (Water Pollution Guide, 2015). Using less water to do more of our daily activities in essence means that amount of polluted water that needs to be treated will be reduced. This also helps to conserve fresh water and reduces water scarcity.
Furthermore, the use of sustainable procurement strategies can help reduce water pollution (Eschool Today, 2016). This strategy is mostly used in companies and by green individuals to source sustainable materials that have little or no environmental impacts. Buying eco-friendly household or business materials can help to reduce the amount of harmful substances released to the environment, thereby reducing water pollution.
It is also evident that water pollution can occur as a result of industrial activities. As a result, pollution abatement measures can be used to reduce water pollution. This involves three steps. First, is the identification of the pollution itself. The second step is to understand where the pollution is coming from and the third step is to use alternative strategies, processes or technologies that can help reduce the occurrence of the pollution. For example, dyes produced from batch processes in textile industrial sites flows into water bodies. This can be reduced by first limiting the use of dyes and/or by changing from a batch process of operation to a continuous one, thereby eliminating the rinsing stage in the production of clothes (which releases dyes from the plant).
Tackling water pollution requires a concerted effort from the global community (Ogbonmwan, 2012.). As identified in this report, the causes of water pollution are from various sources and everyone will be required to work as a team to resolve water pollution issues.
The only chance we have for reducing or reversing water pollution is to clean up our own act by becoming aware of our daily habits. We need to choose products that are safe to enter water systems when flushed down our drains. We need to become aware of how we dispose of rubbish. We need to become mindful consumers and ensure that we buy products that have not had a negative impact on our water systems in either the production or disposal stage. We need to become water wise and value each drop of water so that we reduce our water wastage.
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