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Facts About Water Pollution

Water is the most essential constituent needed for sustaining life on earth. By polluting this necessity we are posing a serious threat to Mother Nature and to our very own existence.
Water! From drinking a glass of cold water to power generation, water has so much utilitarian value that perhaps it would not be an understatement to say that when God thought about life, probably he thought of water first.
But for something that is precious and absolutely vital, we humans take it for granted. Rapid growth of human population and indiscriminate use of water has led to widespread pollution of major water resources around the globe. Contamination of water is fast threatening its very existence on earth.
Before we take a look at some water pollution facts, let's first understand what does water pollution mean. Water pollution is the contamination of water with various waste products, including untreated sewage or industrial wastes that contain chemicals which are released into the water bodies; these make the water unsuitable for utilization.
The aim of this story is to create awareness required to stop the suicidal act of contamination of water so that we all can live in harmony with Nature, appreciating the gifts it has given to us humans.

Quick Facts About Water Pollution

- According to UNICEF, more than 3000 children die everyday due to consumption of contaminated drinking water.
The U.S. EPA estimates that about 1.2 trillion gallons of untreated sewage, industrial wastes, and large amounts of surface water due to heavy rain are dumped into the lakes every single year.
- According to the World Health Organization and UNICEF, around 2.5 billion people do not have access to improved sanitation.
- The WHO reports that in developing nations, almost 3.2 million children under the age of five die each year from diarrhea-related diseases, as a result of unsafe drinking water and poor sanitation.
- According to a report by the Worldwatch Institute on nuclear waste, Lake Karachay in Russia is regarded as the most polluted spot on earth due to decades of dumping of nuclear waste. Spending an hour there can probably kill a person!

- A survey by Food & Water Watch cites that by 2025, two-thirds of the world's population will face scarcity of water and five times as much land is likely to be under drought.
- Food & Water Watch mentions that the water quality in 40% of rivers and streams and 46% of lakes in the U.S. are too dangerous for fishing, swimming, or drinking because of toxic waste produced from the massive use of industrial weeds killer, farms, and livestock operations.

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Sources of Water Pollution

The sources of water pollution can be classified into point sources and non-point sources. Point sources refer to the pollutants that enter directly into the water bodies from factories, manufacturing units or sewage treatment plants.
They discharge waste directly into the water sources leading to water pollution. Non-point sources refer to contaminants from agricultural runoffs, domestic sewage, and water runoffs from paved roads.
Domestic Waste
It originates from household activities including waste water from kitchens, bathrooms and utility rooms and includes sewage water too.
Detergents and soaps that you use to wash your clothes or car and domestic sewage are carried through the drains and ditches into your nearby streams and lakes, thus contaminating the water and polluting the water resources.
- According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it is estimated that one ounce of bleach has to be diluted with about 312,000 ounces of water to make it safe for fish.
- A study by National Academy of Sciences (NAS) estimates that out of the 14 billion pounds of trash that is dumped into the oceans every year, plastic is the most common waste.

- According to the National Resources Defense Council, in 2005, around 2 million tons of water bottles were dumped in U.S. Landfills. Industry sources estimate that Americans purchase around 29 billion bottles every year, out of which only 13% are recycled.
- An estimate by the organization Worldcentric states that, in the United States alone, almost 40 billion plastic utensils are used each year, a majority of which are thrown away after just one use. While an estimated 300,000,000 pounds of single-use plastic bags are disposed off in landfills annually.

Agricultural Runoffs

Agricultural runoffs include soil particles, pesticides, fertilizers, and other pollutants that are washed away by rainwater and dumped into the water bodies. Pesticides and fertilizers are rich in nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium that stimulate enrichment of the water bodies.
This process is called eutrophication/hypertrophication, which leads to the blooming of water plants like algae and phytoplankton, secreting toxins that are fatal for animals as well as humans.

- A study by the EPA found that approximately 1.2 billion pounds of pesticides are used by Americans alone which remain in the environment for very long and through runoffs contaminate the water resources.
- A dead zone nearly the size of New Jersey is created every summer in the Gulf of Mexico, when the Mississippi river channelizes approximately 1.5 million metric tons of nitrogen into it. This kills many forms of aquatic life and triggers allergies in humans who are sensitive, causing death in many cases.
- According to an EU study in 2011, nitrogen pollution costs Europe between 70 to 320 billion euros ($100bn-$460bn) per year. It is estimated that agriculture produces 70% of the nitrous oxide emissions in Europe.
- According to the World Health Organization (WHO), annually, around 3 million workers from agricultural fields in developing countries suffer from severe pesticide poisoning,
and as a result about 18,000 people die.

Mining Activities

Mining sites expose heavy metals, sulfur compounds, and other metals. The waste that is generated as a result of mining activities is leached by rainwater and ultimately ends up polluting soil, groundwater, and surface water.
This can result in very high concentrations of chemicals like arsenic, sulfuric acid, mercury, cyanide, and heavy metals like lead or cadmium in the water sources that are used for various mining processes.
- In the US, Acid Mine Drainage and other toxins from abandoned mines have polluted 180,000 acres of reservoirs and lakes and 12,000 miles of streams and rivers. It has been estimated that cleaning up these polluted waterways will cost US taxpayers between USD 32 billion - USD 72 billion.
- Mining of gold causes mercury pollution. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), approximately 400 metric tons of elemental mercury is released in the atmosphere by small scale and artisanal gold mining annually. It then mixes with rainwater and through runoffs is sent to the water bodies and pollutes them.
- After years of mining and processing lead and cadmium in Kabwe, Zambia, the children here have been found with 10 times the permissible EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) level of lead in their blood.
- In Sukinda Valley, Orissa, India, about 70% of the surface water and 60% of groundwater contains hexavalent chromium. It is found to be double the international standards set by EPA and levels of up to 20 times above the standard have also been recorded. Approximately 85% of deaths in the mining areas and nearby industrial villages occur due to chromite mine-related diseases.

Chemical and Industrial Waste

The chemicals present in various household products, litter, and trash and the ones in industrial wastes (chlorinated solvents, organic solvents, metals, etc.) mix with the water. 80% of the medicines that we consume are excreted into the water.
They also seep through the soil and contaminate the groundwater, the major source of drinking water in the world. Industrial wastes are also a significant sources of water pollution, often giving rise to contamination with heavy metals.
- A study undertaken by a volunteer organization Clean up the World found that one cigarette butt can contaminate 7.5 liters of water in one hour.
It percolates nicotine, heavy metals, benzene and other carcinogens along-with plastic fibers from the cigarette in the water bodies. The world's waterways are clogged up by an estimated 1.7 billion pounds of cigarette butts annually.
- Dzerzhinsk in Russia is the most chemically polluted city in the world. Part's of the city's water contain dioxins and phenols that are found to be 17 million times above the safe limit. According to Mother Nature Network, in 2003, the death rate surpassed the birth rate in the city by 260%.

- According to an estimate, if every family in the United States bought a four-pack of 260 sheet recycled tissue paper, it would eradicate 60,600 pounds of chlorine pollution, preserve 356 million gallons (1.35 billion liters) of freshwater and save nearly 1 million trees.
- According to a report by the UN World Water Assessment Program (2003), 97% of groundwater samples in France did not meet the WHO standards for nitrate contamination.
Apart from the above mentioned anthropogenic sources, there are natural sources contributing to water pollution. Natural disasters like floods, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions create havoc in our environment and cause the ecological status of water to deplete.
They destroy sewage systems, factories and dams, generating huge amounts of demolished waste that contains hazardous chemicals, organic matter, and debris that accumulate in the environment. This contaminates the environment and the water.

Effect on Flora and Fauna

- Over 1 million seabirds and over 100,000 sea mammals and countless fish are wiped out every year due to pollution. Pollution affects animals like polar bears and otters indirectly when they ingest the animals and fish that are contaminated by the chemicals and toxins from the water. This is called bio-accumulation.
- The heavy metals and other chemicals like lead, cadmium, and mercury found in water due to activities like mining accumulate in the fat tissues of fish and their concentration increases as they move up the food chain. This is called biomagnification. It results in tumors and death for predatory animals such as lake trout, herring gulls, and even humans.
- The exposure to chemicals like dioxins, PCBs and furan show birth defects in terns at 31 times the normal levels. It also leads to large tumors in fish and three-legged frogs.
- The plastic and litter that is thrown away ends up in the water resource and is consumed by aquatic animals. It affects their metabolic processes and causes choking, eventually leading to their death.
- Eutrophication suffocates aquatic organisms leading to their death. It increases the toxicity of the water, adversely affecting the flora and fauna and creates imbalance in the ecosystem. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service estimate that, between 6 and 14 million fish are killed by pesticides annually.
- Over 1 billion people worldwide lack proper access to safe and healthy drinking water. Most of the sources of drinking water today are polluted and non-drinkable.
Effect on Humans
The pollutants lead to acute symptoms like nausea, vomiting, dizziness, fever, sore throat, headache, muscle and joint pain. The pollutants can also trigger allergic reactions such as asthma, eye irritation, skin rashes, blisters around the mouth and nose, lung irritation, liver damage, and sometimes, even death.
- Drinking polluted water and prolonged exposure to chemicals in it causes major health issues like cancer, nervous system disorders, liver and kidney damage, hereditary and birth defects. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) the rates of these diseases and defects are on the rise.
- According to the World Health Organization, contaminated water is the major source of over 80% of all sickness and diseases like diarrhea, gastroenteritis, hepatitis, cholera, or typhoid infections.
- The cadmium found in water kills human fetal sex organs. Mercury is a very harmful neurotoxin and exposure to it can cause adverse health effects and can even lead to permanent brain and
neurological damage.
Phosphorous run-off from industry and farms create harmful algal blooms in the water bodies. These blooms have been associated with higher occurrences of paralytic shellfish poisoning in humans, leading to death.
- Animal waste contains disease-causing pathogens, such as Salmonella, E. coli, Cryptosporidium, and fecal coliform, which can be 10 to 100 times more concentrated than in human waste. More than 40 fatal diseases can be transferred to humans through manure.

Preventive Measures

- Go Green. Buy nontoxic, ecofriendly household products, and low or non-phosphorous detergents.
- Use of natural fertilizers like compost for lawn maintenance or farming should be encouraged.
- Avoid litter and properly dispose wet and dry garbage in separate garbage bags.
- Conserve water. Do not keep the tap running while brushing your teeth, washing hands, or shaving. Remember, each drop of water that we save is important in the long run.
- Avoid buying packaged drinking water as the plastic bottles will pollute the environment.
- Strict anti-pollution and mining laws need to be enforced. Changes in technologies and attitudes will ensure that we follow these laws and work towards a healthier future.
The effects of water pollution are not spontaneous or instant. Scientists are coming up with shocking discoveries about the extent of damage to our environment and the ecosystem. It's high time we wake up and take steps to curb the effects of water pollution.
Some strict environment protection measures will have to be adopted to overcome this issue, or else the time is not far when our 'blue planet' would become a 'dirty blue planet'.

 Ranjan Shandilya

Timofei Ryazanov, Dietmar Reichle, Del Barrett