Water Pollution – Concept, causes and consequences

We explain what is water pollution, what are its pollutants and causes. Consequences and solutions to avoid it.

Water contamination
Pollution modifies the water making it unhealthy and harmful to life.

What is water pollution?

Water pollution or water pollution takes place when natural water bodies (lakes, rivers, seas, etc.) have presence of various types of chemical substances outside their original composition, which modify its properties making it unhealthy, harmful to life, and therefore useless for fishing, agriculture, recreation and human consumption.

Water is the most abundant liquid substance on the planet and the universal solvent present in most substances and in all living beings, which could not exist without it. Life itself originated in the seas of our planet.

However, this has not prevented numerous human activities from generating a significant impact on the quality of the planet’s water, through the disposal of liquid, solid and even gaseous substances in the environment. And although also there are natural processes and human initiatives that seek to counteract water pollutionIt is much easier to get it dirty than to make it drinkable.

According to many international organizations, the amount of drinking water available in the world predicts future shortage crises. According to the UN, 3.1% of the people who die annually on the planet do so from the consumption of contaminated water, which is equivalent to 2.2 million people.

What are the pollutants in water?

Water contamination
Garbage and solid waste are among the main pollutants in water.

The main water pollutants are:

  • Sewage water. Product of urban consumption (sewage), industrial processes or other daily human uses.
  • Garbage and solid waste. Such as waste materials, metals, plastics, glass, objects that fall from ships, etc.
  • Chemical and pesticide products. Chemicals used for the agricultural industry, to treat soils or for other specific uses, are often washed away by rain and run off into the seas or groundwater.
  • Sediments and minerals. Such as volcanic ash, sediments and particles from the soil or buildings, such as dust, lime, etc.
  • Radioactive materials. Resulting from nuclear plants, they are highly toxic elements that are stored in lead containers and are often thrown into the ocean when there is no better place to dispose of them.

Causes of the contamination of the water

As has been seen, the main (if not the vast majority) of the causes of water pollution come from the way of life of human beings and, especially, the way we consume natural resources and dispose of by-products and waste from our activities.

Since the Industrial Revolution and the exponential growth of the world population during the 19th and 20th centuries, humanity’s needs for water, energy and raw materials have only increased. And the pollution of water, air and land is a direct consequence.

Consequences of water pollution

Water contamination
Pollution is not alone in the water, but spreads to the land and air.

The main consequences of water pollution can be:

  • Biological imbalances. The presence of certain chemicals in the water can cause the abnormal proliferation of certain microbes or algae, which unbalances the food chain and generates abnormal powers that, in the long run, cause the excessive death of certain species that are going to decompose adding organic matter to the Water.
  • Chemical alterations. Changes in water chemistry can reach lethal extremes, in which local fauna and flora become extinct or migrate to other areas, causing severe ecological damage.
  • Climate impact. Changes in temperature, pH and other properties of water as a result of added substances or suspended solids affect the behavior of the masses of the liquid, reducing its evaporation and therefore its precipitation and altering the local climate.
  • Land and air pollution. Water pollution is not alone in water, but spreads to land and air, according to the water cycle, in a domino effect with unpredictable consequences.

How to avoid water pollution?

To avoid or reduce water pollution, it is enough to become aware of it and to ensure its most economical, efficient and responsible use. This happens by:

  • More responsible urban and industrial policies. That they force the correct disposal of the by-products of industry and sewage, mitigating the impact that these wastes inflict on the sea and lakes.
  • Consumer awareness campaigns. The waste of drinking water is a daily reality, ranging from the tap that remains open while we lather our hands, to the drinking water that we waste “cleaning” the sidewalk.
  • Recycling culture. The reduction of the solid waste that is going to give, in one way or another, to water or sanitary landfills in contact with groundwater, can occur through recycling and more responsible consumption.

Solutions for water pollution

Contaminated water often has a solution. There are purification and cleaning processes such as:

  • Bacteriological control methods and biological control of waters.
  • Wastewater treatment and reuse before returning it to the sea.
  • Filtering mechanisms of various kinds.
  • Also combat air and land pollution.