Researching the Water Pollution Problem


Water pollution is the negative alteration in the state of any water system caused by the adding up of substances that are harmful to man, animals, and plants. Among the several environmental concerns facing our world today, water pollution ranks second to air pollution. It is a major problem from a global perspective, and studies have suggested that water pollution is the leading cause of global deaths and diseases, killing more than 14,000 people each day. To illustrate the depth of the problem, it has been shown that nearly 90% of Chinese cities suffer some form of water pollution, and almost half a billion people do not have access to safe drinking water (Kahn and Yardley, 2007, para. 3). This situation is replicated in most countries, especially developing industrialized nations. Therefore, this calls for an urgent intervention to curtail the problem of pollution of our water systems.

Types of Water Pollution

There are two categories of water pollution: point-source pollution and nonpoint-source pollution. Point source pollution occurs when pollutants enter a waterway through an isolated source, for instance, a pipe or a drain. Examples include effluents from an industry or sewage treatment plant. Nonpoint-source pollution occurs when pollutants do not enter the waterway through a single isolated source. It refers to the collective effect of small quantities of pollutants gathered from a big area. For example, when chemicals from agricultural inputs are deposited into the soil and leach into underground water or carried to waterways through surface run-off, this constitutes nonpoint source water pollution. Other forms of nonpoint-source water pollution include run-off from urban areas.

Classifying Water Pollution

The main sources of water pollution are divided into three categories depending on the source of the wastes, these are municipal, industrial, and agricultural water pollution.

Municipal Pollution

Municipal water pollution is mainly made up of wastewater from residential areas and commercial enterprises (Krantz & Kifferstein, N. d., para. 3). The water contains organic and inorganic matter such as phosphates, nitrates and harmful bacteria. Organic matter includes food and vegetable remains, while inorganic matter originates from soaps, detergents, and insecticides. People frequently dispose of these wastes into the nearby waterways, causing pollution of these water sources and this affects the Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD). BOD is the quantity of oxygen required by microorganisms to break down organic compounds in water into less harmful or useful products. Interestingly, soaps increase the concentration of phosphates and other organic compounds in waterways leading to algal bloom, especially in stagnant waters (Sandhrayani, 2010, para. 3). Algae use up the oxygen present in the water in a process known as eutrophication and this eventually leads to the death of fish and other aquatic animals and plants due to oxygen deprivation (Krantz & Kifferstein, N. d., para. 4).

Industrial wastes

Wastewater from industrial plants is a major cause of water pollution, especially in urban and industrial areas. Industrial discharges contain organic compounds and other harmful chemicals such as mercury, oils, lead, asbestos, etc. Food and chemical manufacturing plants emit effluents with a higher quantity of harmful chemicals than other industries. Apart from making the water harmful, the effluents change the color of water hence reducing light penetration. This affects the lives of aquatic plants and animals. Industrial water pollution has caused many deaths globally, for example, 1,784 people died from Minamata syndrome in Japan, a disease that was caused by the discharge of industrial wastewater from Chisso Corporation in Japan between 1932 and 1968 (Sandhrayani, 2010, para. 5). The wastewater contained methyl mercury and this bioaccumulated in fish, as of March 2001, more than 2,200 people had been affected by the syndrome, of which 1,784 died.

Agricultural waste

Agricultural wastes mainly consist of chemical wastes that are carried to waterways through surface run-off or leaching of chemicals (Sandhrayani, 2010, para. 6). Chemical wastes used to enhance plant and animal production include nitrates, potassium, phosphates and heavy metals present in chemicals used to clean animals. Heavy metals are not easily degraded and therefore accumulate in the waterways to toxic levels while nutrient pollution (from potassium, phosphorus and nitrates) causes eutrophication.

Prevention of Pollution

More than 1 billion people in the world do not have access to clean water, this calls for us to find ways of preventing water pollution. Municipal pollution can be reduced by using environmentally friendly products, for example, we can adopt the usage of soaps and detergents that are phosphate-free or low on phosphates. Besides, we can use water efficiently by avoiding wastage and disposing of contaminated water far from waterways. Local governments should establish household wastewater treatment plants where the water is treated before release to waterways.

Industrial pollution can be prevented by enacting legislation that compels industries to treat their wastewater before releasing it to waterways while agricultural water pollution can be reduced through contour plowing, mulching, crop rotation, and constructing riparian buffers. These mechanisms reduce the number of chemicals washed into our waterways.

Reference List

Kahn, J., and Yardley, J. (2007). As China Roars, Pollution Reaches Deadly Extremes. The New York Times. Web.

Krantz, D., and Kifferstein, B. (No date). Water Pollution and Society. Web.

Sandhrayani, N. (2010). What is water pollution? Web.