The 10 Main Causes for Water Pollution

causes of water pollution
Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / yogendras31

Water pollution has vast and far-reaching consequences, not just for the environment, but for human beings as well. With an ever-growing global population and endlessly expanding industrialization, reducing and reversing water pollution has never been more important.

1. Causes of Water Pollution: Industrial Waste

Water pollution must be tackled globally to ensure basic health for future generations
Water pollution must be tackled globally to ensure basic health for future generations (Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / Thoxuan99)

Heavy industry produces a tremendous amount of harmful chemicals and pollutants including lead, mercury, sulfur, nitrates, asbestos, and others. Many industries, not having a proper waste management system, often expel these waste products into nearby canals, rivers, and the sea. Toxic chemicals not only merely change the color of water, but they can also increase the number of minerals in water – this is called eutrophication – leading to algal blooms that will starve water of oxygen. Chemicals that enter bodies of water can also alter the water temperature and pose a severe hazard to local aquatic wildlife such as fish, birds, and amphibians.

2. Sewage

Sewage and water waste that is produced by your average household is typically treated chemically and released into the sea along with fresh water. This toxic concoction causes water pollution with pathogens, bacteria, and chemicals that can cause serious health problems and diseases to both animals and humans that might be exposed to it. Microorganisms in water supplies are often responsible for deadly outbreaks of disease and polluted water can become a breeding ground for creatures that act as carriers. A typical example of this would be mosquitoes spreading malaria.

3. Marine Dumping

Marine dumping is a major cause of water pollution.
Marine dumping is a major cause of water pollution. (Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / tkremmel)

Another main cause of water pollution is garbage produced by households such as paper, plastic, food scraps, aluminum, rubber, glass, and so forth that has been dumped in the sea. Man-made materials can take incredible amounts of time to break down in the environment, if ever. The worst of these offenders is, of course, plastic, which is a primary cause of concern for environmentalists since it only breaks down to create incredibly damaging microplastics that can never be removed from our ecosystem.

4. Pesticides & Fertilizers

Chemical fertilizers and pesticides are used by farmers to protect crops from insects and bacteria and can also assist in helping crops produce a higher yield. However, the unregulated or careless use of these products is a major cause of water pollution, harmful to both plants and animals. Natural rainfall can also wash these chemicals into rivers and canals where again, pollutants can cause untold damage to local wildlife.

5. Urban Development

Bigger cities means more sewage and garbage.
Bigger cities means more sewage and garbage. (Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / Pexels)

Urban development also serves as one of the biggest causes of water pollution. As the human population grows, so does the demand for housing, food, and energy. As urban centers continue to expand, so does the use of fertilizers to produce more food and increased soil erosion due to deforestation. Add to this a rise in construction activities, inadequate sewage systems, more landfills, not to mention the waste produced by expanding essential industries, and you can see how all these combine to negatively impact water quality.

6. Landfill

Aside from the smell, landfills can be extremely damaging to local water supplies. When it rains, landfill will sometimes ‘leak’, which essentially means that the toxic, pathogen-loaded run-off can contaminate local waterways and even drinking water supplies with a host of nasty pollutants.

7. Animal Waste

Farming contributes to water pollution because the agricultural runoff is washed into rivers and lakes.
Farming contributes to water pollution because the agricultural runoff is washed into rivers and lakes. (Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / milesz)

Waste produced by farming stock can be washed away into the rivers when it rains. It then gets mixed up with other harmful chemicals and causes various water-borne diseases like cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, jaundice and typhoid just to name a few.

8. Oil Leaks

Oil spillage has long posed a serious threat to marine life, proving to be costly not just to the environment but also to local authorities tasked with a clean-up effort. Large amounts of oil in an aquatic system create irreparable damage and ultimately can never be ‘cleaned’ up entirely since oil will not dissolve in water. Aside from oil spills through accidental mishaps, seaborne vessels of every type inevitably produce some form of petrochemical waste product that will unavoidably cause water pollution.

9. Causes of Water Pollution: Mining

Mining is a very dirty process.
Mining is a very dirty process. (Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / pixel2013)

One of the worst offenders globally when it comes to water pollution is mining. Quite often, extracting raw minerals and ore from the earth requires the use of heavy solvents and chemicals to do so. This can increase the number of toxic elements with the ability to enter the water, which may result in health problems for local flora, fauna, and nearby communities.

10. Radioactive Waste

Nuclear energy is produced using uranium, which is a highly toxic element. Nuclear waste material needs to be disposed of correctly to prevent catastrophic and almost irreversible damage to humans and the environment. However, given how unstable this model of energy production is, it still remains a constant concern for ourselves and our environment. Contaminated water used inside nuclear power plants is filtered and re-released into the environment, but the water still contains radionuclides, which may cause DNA damage in marine life.

The most infamous examples of nuclear energy gone wrong are the incidents at Chernobyl and more recently Fukushima, where the long-term ongoing damage of these events on the ecosystem and water supply is still to be determined.

What Can Be Done?

An overwhelming task, but not impossible, everyone can play a part in combatting water pollution
An overwhelming task, but not impossible, everyone can play a part in combatting water pollution (Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / sergeitokmakov)

Given the daunting list of causes of water pollution outlined here, it can be extremely disheartening in the face of them to consider how we can possibly change these for the better. But be careful not to lose hope. Each of us can play a small part in alleviating our overall waste output, thus helping to reduce water pollution in the process.

1. Reduce Plastic Usage

Much of the plastic we consume ends up as water pollution, and once in the ecosystem, it is even harder to extract and safely dispose of. If you can use as few plastic items as possible, you are most certainly doing your bit in helping the environment. If you are visiting an area where there is a nearby lake, river, or ocean dispose of your trash carefully to ensure it has no chance of entering the water.

2. Recycle As Much As Possible

If there are two options for a particular item, try to pick the item that can be easily recycled. Glass bottles are much better for the environment than plastic, for example.

3. Dispose of Toxic Chemicals Responsibly

Toxic chemicals like ammonia, bleach, paint, solvents, and so on need not be dumped in the drain. There are many recycling centers and drop-off sites for safe disposal of these hazardous wastes. While there is nothing wrong with consuming oils in your food or applying them on your body, it is a bad idea to dispose of grease, fat and used cooking oil in the sink. Consider instead collecting all your excess oil in one bottle and then throwing that in the garbage.

4. Shop to Stop Water Pollution 

Try to avoid buying products that contain non-biodegradable or dangerous chemicals. Most producers are selling non-toxic and biodegradable cleaners that are always a safer bet both for you and the environment. If you spend a little extra money on those products, it helps to reduce water pollution.

5. Garbage Disposal

Even though many homes have a garbage disposal system in the sink, try to minimize its usage. Sure, this nifty device can break down solid objects, but some of those items are harmful to the water supply. It is better to throw them in the trash can where possible.

6. Use Environmentally Friendly Detergents

Use eco-friendly detergents, soaps, and dish-washing liquids. These are not hard to find and quite often will cost around the same as the more toxic alternatives, so there really is no excuse to not give them a shot. You could even make your own dish soap. Also, try to use your dishwasher or washing machine only when it is close to being full. Using these machines to clean one or two dishes or a few pairs of clothes is a senseless waste of water. The less water you use during your domestic washing routines, the less water pollution you will create.

7. Avoid Pesticides

It is so easy to keep your gardens vibrant and healthy without the need for harsh chemical herbicides or pesticides, and often it works out to be much cheaper. If you are unsure where to start, just talk with your local plant nursery or landscapers for some environmentally-friendly alternatives to help solve your particular issue.

8. Do Regular Car Maintenance

If you drive a truck, car or heavy farm machinery, you should endeavor to have them regularly serviced by a trained mechanic. Oil and other fluids leak from motor vehicles and cause water pollution by ending up in the local water system, lakes, creeks and rivers. Your own contribution to this problem can be avoided if you make sure your vehicles and equipment are always running smoothly and efficiently. Leaky seals, hoses, and gaskets have the potential to create even larger mechanical problems, so replacing or repairing worn parts can save you money in the long run.

9. Use Water Sparingly

There are a few simple habits that you can quickly develop at home can help reduce water pollution. For instance, turn off the tap while you are brushing your teeth, opt for a short 10-minute shower instead of a bath and install water-saving shower fittings and faucets. Water-saving toilet systems are also becoming affordable, so you may want to consider pulling out that old system and fitting your home with a new water-saving model instead.

The problem might seem daunting at first, but each of us can play our small part to help.

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