Water covers 71 percent of the earth’s surface, but only 1 percent of that water is accessible and drinkable freshwater. Sadly, much of that 1 percent has been polluted by human activity. The water pollution facts aren’t in our favor – but there’s still a lot we can do to stop pollution, even as individuals.
The simple truth of the matter is that, as humans, we need water to live. Why, then, do we continually mismanage water resources and leave billions with polluted water? It’s not a simple question to answer, because there are many different types of water pollution, caused by everything from plastic waste to industrial sewage.
The fact is, we need to take better care of our dwindling water resources, particularly as the human population is projected to increase at an exponential rate. Let’s start by learning the facts about water pollution, then we can start acting to prevent it.
Here’s why we need to stop polluting our waterways!
What is Water Pollution?
Water pollution occurs when contaminants enter a waterway or a water source. These pollutants are potentially toxic, harmful, or dangerous to humans, wildlife, and the surrounding environment and ecosystem.
Pollutants can be visible. Watercourses and oceans can be polluted by large waste products such as plastic or industrial quantities of sewage or waste runoff from factories.
Water is also uniquely soluble, meaning it can dissolve almost anything. While that might be great when we want to brew a coffee or mix up a few drinks, it’s not great when it comes to pollution. Water pollutants can therefore also be microscopic – invisible on the surface – while containing harmful bacteria or viruses such as Cholera or dangerous substances such as arsenic.
Water pollution can directly destroy the ecosystem (think of all the marine life killed by plastic waste) – and it can cause preventable diseases in people. The United Nations estimates that polluted water sources kill more people every year than all conflicts combined.
For humans, then, the only course of action should be staying green and acting to prevent water pollution.
Water Pollution Facts: The Causes
So, what causes water pollution? Unfortunately, there’s no single cause, which makes it much more difficult to isolate and eliminate the direct causes of water pollution around the world.
Water is easily polluted, and it can be contaminated in a wide range of locations and by a wide range of pollutants. With that said, here are the major causes of water pollution that contribute to polluted waterways and oceans:
- Plastic pollution
- Industrial waste
- Sewage and wastewater
- Animal waste
- Marine dumping
- Oil spills
- Fossil fuel extraction and burning
- Chemical fertilizers and pesticides
- Radioactive waste dumping
- Leaking landfill sites
- Acid rain
Some of these causes are more pronounced than others. For example, it’s estimated by the United Nations that up to 80 percent of human sewage and wastewater is dumped straight into waterways before it’s been treated. This results in freshwater being contaminated, and eventually, this polluted water makes its way into the ocean, where it can cause more damage to marine life.
The solution to this particular problem, of course, is better wastewater and sewage management – a goal which is achievable with greater investment and the allocation of resources worldwide. Wastewater can be broken down through natural processes (a septic tank is the most basic example) and released back into the environment cleanly.
We can limit plastic and other pollutants from household waste by recycling (using a can crusher like this product, for instance, can help), rather than throwing them in the trash. rom where they enter landfills and can get into the waterways.
Freshwater supplies are also frequently contaminated by pollutants such as herbicides and pesticides. These are needed in the fields to ensure that fruit and vegetables can be grown on the scale that our growing human population requires. These pollutants are washed away into waterways or end up in groundwater. As with many more causes of water pollution, there’s no quick or simple solution to this issue!
Water Pollution Facts: What Are the Effects of Water Pollution?
The causes of water pollution are various, but it can be difficult to understand (let alone visualize) the scale of the problem until you start looking at the tangible effects of water pollution.
Water pollution is harmful, not just to humans, but to the natural world around us. Here are the most visible effects of water pollution:
- Human diseases (e.g. Cholera, diarrhea)
- Contamination of the food chain (e.g., from industrial waste)
- Scarcity of drinking water
- Destruction of biodiversity
All of these effects are preventable with better awareness and management of water pollution. Sadly, though, billions of people worldwide still have very little access to clean, potable drinking water or proper sanitation.
This not only leads to a rise in waterborne diseases and adult deaths, but it increases infant mortality rates too. Diseases that we associate with the Victorian-era, such as Cholera, are still very much a real issue in some parts of the world where freshwater is contaminated by sewage and wastewater.
Wildlife suffers as well. Biodiversity is destroyed by water pollution. Rivers and lakes are habitats for a wide variety of wildlife, but they can become toxic when waste is pumped into them. Polluted water that makes its way to the ocean introduces contaminants to marine life across the world.
Plastic has always been the biggest concern for marine life, as this man-made material takes up to 1000 years to degrade. Plastic can kill animals that accidentally ingest it, even in small amounts. The problem is widespread, and indeed, microscopic plastic particles are even being found in freshwater supplies.
Larger plastic waste kills animals and birds that get trapped in it – plastic straws, for example, are one of the biggest killers of wildlife. Water pollution, be it from plastic or sewage, is out of control – that’s a fact. The surprise, though, is how little seems to be done about it worldwide!
Water Pollution Facts: It’s Time to Take Action
The facts about water pollution are there for us all to see – and it’s not pleasant viewing. While freshwater resources are dwindling, the human population increases and water scarcity is inevitably increasing.
To better manage resources for the world, water pollution needs to stop; otherwise, the freshwater we take for granted here in the US could become a distant memory in the near future.
While a large proportion of water pollution is caused by industries or by sewage runoff, you can start at home by learning how to prevent water pollution as an individual. Use biodegradable products, avoid throwing plastics or other pollutants away (start recycling!), and avoid using pesticides in your garden.
There’s a lot of work left to be done, but armed with the right water pollution facts, we can make a difference!