Types Of Water Pollution


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Water pollution is the contamination of water by pollutants such as bacteria, parasites, chemicals, and trash like plastic. The main types of water pollution include groundwater pollution, surface water pollution, suspended matter, oil spillages, microbiological pollution, chemical water pollution, thermal pollution, and oxygen-depletion pollution. All of these can cause pollutants and contaminants to enter our waterways. 

Water is everywhere; it covers 70% of the Earth’s surface. It is also the most basic resource of survival, supporting all life and ecosystems on our planet. 

After contaminated air pollution, water pollution is the most common type of pollution, therefore, understanding what water pollution is, and its effects are essential to improving water quality. 

However, not all types of water pollution come from the same source, so identifying where the pollution comes from is key to preventing and combating water pollution. 

What Is Water Pollution?

Water pollution is when waterways become damaged by contaminants, making them unsuitable for human use, or when it creates an undesirable or dangerous environment for aquatic life. When water becomes polluted, harmful substances contaminate the water, making it toxic. Water pollutants include chemicals, bacteria, parasites, and trash.

As water is a universal solvent, it is very vulnerable to pollution because water can dissolve more substances than any other liquid found on Earth. Water can become polluted both directly and indirectly, so understanding the different types of water pollution and the causes, can help improve water quality. 

What Are The Different Types Of Water Pollution?

The types of water pollution include:

  • Groundwater Pollution
  • Surface Water Pollution
  • Suspended Matter
  • Oil Spillages
  • Microbiological Pollution
  • Chemical Water Pollution
  • Thermal Pollution
  • Oxygen-Depletion Pollution

Groundwater Pollution

Groundwater comes from below the Earth’s surface, found in stores called aquifers. A key source of water pollution that ends up in groundwater resources comes from agriculture. Fertilizers and pesticides applied to farmland are easily absorbed into the ground, or they can be transported as runoff during rainfall. 

Groundwater can also become contaminated when waste from landfills and septic systems leaches into the ground. Once these harmful chemicals find their way into groundwater, they are often extracted from wells or boreholes, compromising the quality of water. Therefore, when water is extracted from groundwater resources, it is important that the groundwater must be tested and treated so that it is safe for drinking water supplies and other human uses.

Surface Water Pollution

Surface water refers to all bodies of water above the Earth’s surface, such as oceans, lakes, and rivers. Any hazardous substance that comes into contact with surface water is called surface water pollution. 

Surface water pollution occurs in three ways: naturally, accidentally, and intentionally. 

  • Naturally: Flooding or tsunamis, that pick up fertilizers, pesticides, debris, and other contaminants. 
  • Accidentally: Oil spills and agricultural runoff. 
  • Intentionally: Industries dumping waste directly into waterways. 

Suspended Matter

Waste such as plastics, rubber, and other man-made materials that are improperly disposed of and cannot be broken down easily in water is called particulate or suspended matter. 

The suspended particles either settle at the bottom of water sources, damaging marine life and leaching toxic chemicals into drinking water supplies, or they float on the surface of the water, preventing oxygen and sunlight from penetrating the water below. 

As the suspended matter breaks down into smaller particulate matter, the suspended toxic chemicals threaten the survival of aquatic plants and animals.

Oil Spillages

Water can be polluted from accidental oil spills, transportation, runoff, and intentionally dumping. Oil spillage can have devastating effects on water environments, and they are extremely difficult to remove; just one liter of oil can pollute one million liters of water.

Oil spills make up 12% of the oil that enters the world’s oceans. The rest of the oil spillages come from shipping/transport, draining, and dumping. Most oil spills are localized, but even a small amount of oil can be extremely hazardous to humans and marine life.

Once oil enters the water, it quickly spreads over the surface, reducing the amount of oxygen and sunlight that can penetrate the water’s surface preventing plants to photosynthesize, and suffocating fish. Water pollution from oil spillage also smothers the feathers of seabirds, preventing them from flying and exposes them to oil ingestion when they catch fish. 

Microbiological Pollution

Microbiological pollution is a type of naturally occurring water pollution. It comes from microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, and protozoa that can cause waterborne diseases such as cholera. This type of water pollution is common in areas where people drink untreated water. 

Humans are very sensitive to this type of water pollution, therefore adequate drinking water systems play an important role in eliminating microbiological pollution. If water is not treated, it causes serious illnesses to humans that drink the contaminated water, and it can also cause fish and other aquatic organisms to die. 

Chemical Water Pollution

Chemicals are the most common type of water pollution, and many industries use chemicals that can end up in water systems. These chemicals can be anything from metals and solvents in industrial operations, fertilizers and pesticides in the agricultural industry to chemicals used in pest control companies. When the chemicals enter the soil and water systems, it has negative impacts on humans, livestock, and fish that utilize these environments. 

In water settings, chemical water pollution is very toxic to aquatic life, inhibiting their growth, affecting their reproduction, or even causing death. 

Thermal Pollution

Heat is also considered a type of water pollution, as it reduces the ability of water to hold dissolved oxygen (DO); as the temperature of water increases, the level of DO decreases. Thermal pollution also increases the rate of metabolism in fish and damages larvae and eggs in rivers. 

The main source of thermal pollution comes from power plants discharging cooling water into rivers. The raising of temperatures due to global warming is also thought to be a type of thermal water pollution. 

Oxygen-Depletion Pollution

Another consequence of nutrient water pollution is oxygen depletion. When oxygen levels are too low, any life that relies on oxygen for respiration will be killed off, and anaerobic organisms will survive. 

As many anaerobic organisms produce ammonia and other harmful toxins, this can make water even more dangerous for aquatic life that lives in these environments, and humans that rely on water resources for drinking water. 

What Are The Effects Of Water Pollution? 

We have briefly touched upon how water pollution negatively affects both human health and the environment, but let’s dive deeper into the short and long-term effects. 

Water Pollution & Human Health 

To jump straight to the point, water pollution kills. Drinking contaminated water puts people at risk of serious illnesses from waterborne pathogens. Most people think that water pollution in drinking water is only common in third-world countries, however, even in wealthy nations such as the US, accidental and/or illegal waste, contributes to harmful pathogens entering waterways. 

The accumulation of chemical pollutants in water such as heavy metals, once ingested, can cause lots of health issues such as cancer and hormone disruption in humans. Increases in human health issues from water pollution put a large strain on our healthcare system. 

Water pollution not only affects humans when they ingest it but can also pose risks to human health when swimming in polluted waters. Health issues such as pinkeye, hepatitis, skin rashes, and even respiratory infections have been linked to water containing poor water quality from sewage spills. 

Water Pollution & The Environment

Ecosystems rely on healthy water conditions to function. When water pollution causes algal blooms from excessive nutrients, it reduces the oxygen levels in the water, creating dead zones which starve organisms of oxygen, causing them to die. 

Chemicals and heavy metals from different types of water pollution can reduce the lifespan of aquatic animals and their ability to reproduce. Also, metals that accumulate in water for long periods, can also make their way up the food chain to larger predatory fish such as tuna, which in turn we consume, leading to metal poisoning. 

Aquatic environments are also threatened by marine debris pollution, a type of water pollution we are far too familiar with, because of the media. Marine debris can starve, entangle, and suffocate animals; this is particularly common in marine mammals and seabirds.

Solutions To Water Pollution

We are responsible for reducing water pollution, and that starts with environmental monitoring. Monitoring water at the source (surface water and groundwater systems) is critical to measure the water quality and remove any pollutants. 

Luckily now we have advanced probes and sensors to treat water pollution, many which can be connected to cables and lowered into well systems. Water treatment sensors include pH sensors, conductivity sensors, temperature sensors, and oxidation-reduction potential (ORP) sensors.

But measuring water quality shouldn’t be the only solution to water pollution. There are many ways we can prevent water pollution. We can use water-efficient toilets, install septic tanks, be mindful of what we flush down toilets and drains, manage stormwater, and follow greener agriculture methods. 

Summing Up 

Water surrounds us, but so does water pollution. Water pollution is when our waterways become contaminated by bacteria, parasites, chemicals, and trash. This can be caused naturally, accidentally, or intentionally. 

When water becomes polluted by types of pollution such as suspended matter, oil spillages, and microbiological/chemical/thermal pollution, it reduces the water quality, disrupting aquatic ecosystems, and making it unsafe for human use. If you have any questions regarding water pollution or the environmental monitoring equipment we have to offer, do not hesitate to contact our world-class team at Atlas Scientific.

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