It has been estimated that 1.8 million children under the age of five die each year due to water-related diseases. Water pollution also destroys aquatic environments worth trillions of dollars. This article explains what water pollution is and how you can protect yourself and the planet.
Jim Toomey , a good friend and Blue Ocean Summit alumni is going to help with his “2 minute” video for the U.N. that takes us thru the impact of water pollution. Then Jon Godfrey will explain the different types of water pollution and the health risks for us and world’s marine life .
A Guide To Understanding Water Pollution
by Jon Godfrey
Concern over our environment and precious resources have increased over the last decade due to climate change. Water pollution, once a concern that focused mainly on freshwater sources, has expanded exponentially. Now, pollution doesn’t just affect our drinking and irrigation water; it has infested our oceans, resulting in the mass deaths of important sea life.
Over 269,000 tons of plastic litter float on our ocean’s surface, with millions more lying on the seabed. Large pieces of debris have been known to kill whales, turtles, and other marine animals. And scientists are still calculating the damage done to fish and other sea creatures by the chemicals that leach from this rubbish. At this time, 40 percent of rivers in the US and 46 percent of our lakes are too polluted for swimming or fishing. And worldwide, deaths from water-based disease account for over 5 million deaths each year, many borne by water contamination and pollution
What Exactly is Water Pollution?
Water pollution occurs when foreign and harmful substances become introduced into a body of water. Many contaminants include chemicals, foreign organisms, garbage, and sewage. Once introduced to a degree where it affects the water’s ecosystem, it becomes toxic. At that point, it can no longer support aquatic life and becomes toxic to humans and other animals living near the water.
Although all water pollution affects nearby ecosystems, it’s important to understand the different types that occur. Although many toxic bodies of water suffer from a combination of these factors, they often require different solutions.
Chemical Water Pollution
Chemical water pollution is the result of industrial waste dumping into sewers or nearby lakes and rivers. Environmentalists diagnose chemical pollution when organic or inorganic chemicals become introduced to waters where they’re not normally found. Generally, this occurs in areas where the influx is persistent, such as industrial and agricultural waste.
Common chemical pollutants are normally found near construction sites, mining operations, and large commercial farms. Household chemicals can also contribute to chemical water pollution.
Radiological Water Pollution
Radioactive contamination can occur in bodies of water. Unfortunately, nuclear energy plants are permitted to release water containing controlled levels of radiation into oceans, rivers, and lakes. Medical waste can also serve as a source of radiological water pollution.
These radioactive particles take a great deal of time to dissipate and until then infected the water supply and affect humans and animals. These carcinogenic substances can remain in the body for years. Long term exposure to low doses of radiation is well known as a cause of cancer.
Biological Water Pollution
Biological water pollution can affect any organism that makes its home in or near a polluted body of water.
Microbe sources can be present as man-made or natural, but lack of hygiene and proper water treatment results in water contaminated with bacteria and viruses. You’ll see their names in the news, usually from undeveloped areas and causing widespread disease in humans and animals. These include E coli,, typhoid, cholera, and others.
Other biological sources of water pollution can be natural, but out of control to the point of toxicity. These include algae blooms that result in the deaths of the water’s usual population of fish and wildlife.
Sources of Water Pollution
Water Pollution Exposure & Health Effects
Polluted Drinking Water
The most obvious method of exposure, improperly purified water can carry a host of contaminants. From arsenic deposits in the groundwater supply to radiation to chemical runoff, drinking water is the main source of human exposure to water pollution. In developed countries, well water serves as a likely suspect.
Well water often contains microorganisms, chemical runoff from farming, and heavy metals from industry. In undeveloped countries, the lack of water processing plants can lead to diseases of epidemic proportions, and may account for millions of deaths every year.
Many vegetarians cite the environmental impact of raising livestock for human consumption. But few note that the impact goes both ways. Many people unknowingly eat meat from animals whose food been affected by agricultural or industrial runoff. This serves as a direct threat to human health as much as any amount of saturated fats.
A recent study identified heavy metal contaminants above permitted levels in several developed countries. Up to 47 percent of cows were contaminated with arsenic, cadmium, or lead.
Pesticides play a major role in the production of grains, fruits, and vegetables. Exposure to these chemicals present in many and development disorders, including suppression of the immune system, cancer, and reproductive disorders.
Vegans and vegetarians aren’t immune to the effects of food contamination, with so many fields irrigated with polluted water or grown in an area suffering from agricultural chemical runoff. Arsenic has become a source of concern for many agricultural producers, due to irrigating with contaminated water.
Biological water pollution can certainly affect human health. Many biological contaminants in water include airborne diseases such as Legionellosis (Legionnaires disease).
Whether you’re bathing, showering, or just swimming, contaminants in polluted water can absorb directly into the skin through cuts and abrasions. Some can pass through the permeable dermal layers or enter through pores in the skin.
Researchers studying the Mediterranean, which has been the target of raw sewage dumping, havediscovered a higher death rate for bathers vs. non-bathers. 8 In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency even provides tips for beachgoers to avoid illness caused by water pollution.
Your household water supply may hold some dangers as well. A January 2018study showed that all 50 states had problems with their public water supply contaminated by radium, a known carcinogen.
Health Effects of Water Pollution
The most obvious effect of polluted water on human health is the spread of water-borne diseases. And although many are naturally occurring microorganisms, their growth is exacerbated by waste dumping into the water supply. Raw sewage and runoff from livestock result in infections from protozoans that cause gastric diseases. (photo – Reuters)
Bacterial infections include E. coli, cholera, botulism, typhoid, salmonellosis, and dysentery. Waterborne viral infections include SARS and Hepatitis A. Even the naturally occurring algae desmodesmus armatus can cause fungal infections in immune suppressed humans with open wounds. This is one reason that algal blooms are considered pollutants.
Along with biological water pollution and the resulting diseases, chemical water pollution can lead to serious health disorders. Nitrates from agricultural runoff contribute to infant mortality by gastric cancer as well as development disorders in children. Exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the water supply result in lowered IQs in children, and alters thyroid and reproductive health in adults.
The 1968 dumping of mercury-contaminated waste in the Shiranui Sea in Japanstill affects those in the area 50 years late with neurological problems from the consumption of fish from the polluted water.
How Water Pollution Effects Biospheres & Ecosystems
Pollution affects all components of the environment, including individual ecosystems as well as the entire biosphere. All water sources are connected over the planet through waterways, rivers, and the water cycle of evaporation and precipitation. This means that water pollution in particular is hard to contain.
The ecological damage sustained by water pollution affect both aquatic and land animals. Because all animals consume water, the contaminants are passed up the food chain, affecting prey and predators. These pollutants accumulate along each stop in the food chain. When one or two members of an ecosystem become endangered by poisons, the entire system starts to collapse.
Eutrophication, the excess of nutrients in a body of water, leads to fish kills and dead zones. When excessive nutrients from agriculture wash into bodies of water, they create “dead zones.” These low oxygen zones in large lakes and in oceans become devoid of marine life. Excess nitrates and raw sewage create hypoxia by encouraging the overgrowth of algae. Thisalgae then sinks to the bottom and decomposes, using oxygen to do so.
Currently, the second largest dead zone on the planet lies in the northern Gulf of Mexico, in the United States. In Finland, the increase in ocean dead zones affects 57% of their food supply and the products they can export.
Disruption of the Food Chain
Because of the accumulation of toxins in an ecosystem as one animal feeds on another, water pollution results in disruption in food chains in both aquatic and land animals. These contaminants accumulated in larger predators with longer lifespans, resulting in cancers and kidney damage.
Persistent water contamination, such as from agricultural and industrial waste, can cause endocrine disruption in wildlife. Pharmaceutical waste, such as steroids and hormonal medications, can alter the reproductive capabilities of wildlife. This can lead to the depletion of critical food sources for predator species, as prey are no longer capable of breeding to replace their numbers.
Water Pollution and Habitat Loss
It naturally follows that as more waterways become toxic from pollution, more animals will lose vital habitats. The use of commercial fertilizers cause toxic algae blooms, causing dead zones. Land animals that water and feed from aquatic plants and animals must migrate to find more vital water sources, severely limiting their territories.
Water Pollution and Death of Animals
Disruption of the food supply, interruption of the natural reproductive cycles, reduced habitats, and direct poisoning has lead to the increased deaths of wildlife. It seems we hear about the tragic deaths of some our favorite sea creatures on a daily basis from mistaking a grocery bag for seaweed. Experts estimate that over100 million marine mammals are killed by ocean debris on an annual basis.
Oil spills from offshore drilling and transport also result in the death of animal life. Along with being a serious source of toxicity, petroleum oil penetrates fur and feathers, destroying the animal’s insulation against the cold weather. In birds, the oil makes it impossible to fly to feed or to escape danger. The smell that permeates their fur makes it impossible for parents to find and identify their offspring. Repeated exposure to petroleum oils spills can result in blindness as well.
Part B, of Water Pollution will bring a multitude of ways in which we can control and prevent the harmful effects of water pollution.
By Jon Godfrey, Blue Ocean Contributor
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