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When toxic substances enter lakes, streams,

rivers, oceans, and other water bodies, they
get dissolved or lie suspended in water or get
deposited on the bed. This results in the
pollution of water whereby the quality of the
water deteriorates, affecting aquatic
ecosystems. Pollutants can also seep down
and affect the groundwater deposits.

Water pollution has many sources. The most

polluting of them are the city sewage and
industrial waste discharged into the rivers. The facilities to treat waste water
are not adequate in any city in India. Presently, only about 10% of the waste
water generated is treated; the rest is discharged as it is into our water
bodies. Due to this, pollutants enter groundwater, rivers, and other water
bodies. Such water, which ultimately ends up in our households, is often
highly contaminated and carries disease-causing microbes. Agricultural run-
off, or the water from the fields that drains into rivers, is another major water
pollutant as it contains fertilizers and pesticides.

Domestic sewage refers to waste water that is discarded from households.

Also referred to as sanitary sewage, such water contains a wide variety of
dissolved and suspended impurities. Biochemical oxygen demand, or BOD

The amount of organic material that can rot in the sewage is measured by
the biochemical oxygen demand. BOD is the amount of oxygen required by
micro-organisms to decompose the organic substances in sewage. Therefore,
the more organic material there is in the sewage, the higher the BOD. It is
among the most important parameters for the design and operation of
sewage treatment plants. BOD levels of industrial sewage may be many
times that of domestic sewage. Dissolved oxygen is an important factor that
determines the quality of water in lakes and rivers. The higher the
concentration of dissolved oxygen, the better the water quality. When
sewage enters a lake or stream, micro-organisms begin to decompose the
organic materials. Oxygen is consumed as micro-organisms use it in their
metabolism. This can quickly deplete the available oxygen in the water.
When the dissolved oxygen levels drop too low, many aquatic species perish.
In fact, if the oxygen level drops to zero, the water will become septic. When
organic compounds decompose without oxygen, it gives rise to the
undesirable odours usually associated with septic or putrid conditions.

It amounts to a very small fraction of the sewage

by weight. But it is large by volume and contains
impurities such as organic materials and plant
nutrients that tend to rot. The main organic
materials are food and vegetable waste, plant
nutrient come from chemical soaps, washing
powders, etc. Domestic sewage is also very likely
to contain disease-causing microbes. Thus,
disposal of domestic waste water is a significant
technical problem. Sewage generated from the urban areas in India has
multiplied manifold since 1947.

Today, many people dump their garbage into streams, lakes, rivers, and
seas, thus making water bodies the final resting place of cans, bottles,
plastics, and other household products. The various substances that we use
for keeping our houses clean add to water pollution as they contain harmful
chemicals. In the past, people mostly used soaps made from animal and
vegetable fat for all types of washing. But most of today’s cleaning products
are synthetic detergents and come from the petrochemical industry. Most
detergents and washing powders contain phosphates, which are used to
soften the water among other things. These and other chemicals contained
in washing powders affect the health of all forms of life in the water.

What is the Cause of Water Pollution?

Water pollution refers to the changes in the physical, biological, and chemical
conditions of any body of water which harmfully disrupts the balance of the
Like any type of pollution, water pollution results when an overwhelming
amount of waste coming from different sources of pollutants can no longer
be accommodated by the natural ecosystem. Consequently, when the
wastes are not destroyed as fast as they are produced, they make it
unfavorable to humans and many other organisms. But that's not all. Learn
more about what causes water pollution.
There are actually many
specific reasons behind
what causes water
pollution. However, it is
important to familiarize
yourself with the two main
categories of water
pollution. Some pollution
comes directly from one’s
specific location. This type
of pollution is called point
source pollution such as
sewage pipes that empty
polluted water into the
river and farmland.
Meanwhile, non-point
source pollution is pollution that comes from large areas like gasoline and
other dirt from highways that go into the lakes and rivers.
What are the causes water pollution? Who are the culprits who should be
responsible for the harm brought by their pollutants? How do these sources
of pollution pollute different bodies of water?
One major cause of water pollution that has caused serious environmental
and health problems are the pollutants coming from chemical and industrial
processes. When factories and manufacturers pour their chemicals and
livestock wastes directly into streams and rivers, the water becomes
poisonous and oxygen levels are depleted causing many aquatic organisms
to die. These wastes include solvents and toxic substances. Most of the
wastes are not biodegradable. Power plants, paper mills, refineries,
automobile factories dispose waste into the rivers.
The heated water from the power plants is called thermal pollution. This kills
aquatic animals and plants by reducing the oxygen content of the water.
Power plants use water to cool their machineries, thus changing the
temperature of the water.
Aside from thermal pollution, there are also organic and inorganic pollutants.
The organic wastes include refuse from slaughter houses, fish and meat
canning factories, and leather tanning companies, manufacturing plants,
pesticides and crude oil companies. Since organic wastes are decomposed
by microorganisms, much of the dissolved oxygen in water is used up and
the waster begins to stink.
Inorganic wastes include toxic and corrosive substances like acids, heavy
metals, mercury, cadmium and lead which can impair the normal body
processes. Battery manufacturers, mining, paper mills increase the
concentration of mercury making the water dangerous and poisonous for
most living things.
Another cause of water pollution is from pesticides. Farm pesticides poison
aquatic plants and animals. Animal manure, chemical fertilizers, phosphate
detergent pollute water by supplying excess nutrients. This pollution is
known as eutrophication. This greatly increases the growth of algae in water
thereby decreasing the amount of oxygen level in water causing the death of
many aquatic organisms.
Water is also being polluted by garbage specifically plastics and other
plastic-like substances. Some plastic like nylon can entangle fishes and other
marine animals. Plastics that have broken down into tiny pieces can be eaten
by sea creatures which may cause their death. Since plastic is non-
biodegradable, it will continue to kill more fishes.
One more cause of water pollution is sewage coming from households. Since
no one wants to live in a polluted area, near a dumpsite or landfill, the
wastewater and untreated sewage are carried away from the home polluting
different bodies of water. Most developing countries practice this type of
sewage disposal. Even modern countries carry poorly treated sewage to
canals leading to major bodies of water. The danger is when the sewage
pipes gets broken and waste contaminates the drinking water. When this
happens, the breakage will open a wide array of water borne diseases that
will surely pose peril to consumers.
Last among the causes of water pollution are personal care and household
products. Shampoo, lotion, moisturizer, hair dye, bleach, laundry detergent,
fabric softener, and many others contribute to water pollution. Human waste
is not the only thing that goes to sewage. These products also join the
wastewater to contaminate the streams, rivers, and lakes.
Although the world abounds with water, only three percent of it is potable.
Included in the 3% source of potable water are the streams, spring, rivers,
lakes, and waterfalls that are continuously being threatened and
contaminated by the different factors that cause of water pollution. If the
sources of water pollution are not controlled, this basic necessity will
eventually become a rare commodity only a few can afford to have.

Agricultural Run off


When fresh water is artificially supplemented with nutrients, it results in an

abnormal increase in the growth of water plants. This is known as
eutrophication. The discharge of waste from industries, agriculture, and
urban communities into water bodies generally stretches the biological
capacities of aquatic systems. Chemical run-off from fields also adds
nutrients to water. Excess nutrients cause the water body to become choked
with organic substances and organisms. When organic matter exceeds the
capacity of the micro-organisms in water that break down and recycle the
organic matter, it encourages rapid growth, or blooms, of algae. When they
die, the remains of the algae add to the organic wastes already in the water;
eventually, the water becomes deficient in oxygen. Anaerobic organisms
(those that do not require oxygen to live) then attack the organic wastes,
releasing gases such as methane and hydrogen sulphide, which are harmful
to the oxygen-requiring (aerobic) forms of life. The result is a foul-smelling,
waste-filled body of water. This has already occurred in such places as Lake
Erie and the Baltic Sea, and is a growing problem in freshwater lakes all over
India. Eutrophication can produce problems such as bad tastes and odours as
well as green scum algae. Also the growth of rooted plants increases, which
decreases the amount of oxygen in the deepest waters of the lake. It also
leads to the death of all forms of life in the water bodies.

The use of land for agriculture and the practices followed in cultivation
greatly affect the quality of groundwater. Intensive cultivation of crops
causes chemicals from fertilizers (e.g. nitrate) and pesticides to seep into the
groundwater, a process commonly known as leaching. Routine applications
of fertilizers and pesticides for agriculture and indiscriminate disposal of
industrial and domestic wastes are increasingly being recognized as
significant sources of water pollution.
The high nitrate content in groundwater is mainly from irrigation run-off from
agricultural fields where chemical fertilizers have been used indiscriminately.

Industrial effluents

Waste water from manufacturing or chemical processes in industries

contributes to water pollution. Industrial waste water usually contains
specific and readily identifiable chemical compounds. During the last fifty
years, the number of industries in India has grown rapidly. But water
pollution is concentrated within a few subsectors, mainly in the form of toxic
wastes and organic pollutants. Out of this a large portion can be traced to
the processing of industrial chemicals and to the food products industry. In
fact, a number of large- and medium-sized industries in the region covered
by the Ganga Action Plan do not have adequate effluent treatment facilities.
Most of these defaulting industries are sugar mills, distilleries, leather
processing industries, and thermal power stations. Most major industries
have treatment facilities for industrial effluents. But this is not the case with
small-scale industries, which cannot afford enormous investments in
pollution control equipment as their profit margin is very slender.

Transport and chemical reactions of water pollutants

Most water pollutants are eventually carried by the rivers into the oceans. In
some areas of the world the influence can be traced hundred miles from the
mouth by studies using hydrology transport models. Advanced computer
models such as SWMM or the DSSAM Model have been used in many
locations worldwide to examine the fate of pollutants in aquatic systems.
Indicator filter feeding species such as copepods have also been used to
study pollutant fates in the New York Bight, for example. The highest toxin
loads are not directly at the mouth of the Hudson River, but 100 kilometers
south, since several days are required for incorporation into planktonic
tissue. The Hudson discharge flows south along the coast due to coriolis
force. Further south then are areas of oxygen depletion, caused by chemicals
using up oxygen and by algae
blooms, caused by excess nutrients
from algal cell death and
decomposition. Fish and shellfish kills
have been reported, because toxins
climb the foodchain after small fish
consume copepods, then large fish
eat smaller fish, etc. Each successive
step up the food chain causes a
stepwise concentration of pollutants
such as heavy metals (e.g. mercury)
and persistent organic pollutants
such as DDT. This is known as
biomagnification which is
occasionally used interchangeably
with bioaccumulation.

The big gyres in the oceans trap floating plastic debris. The North Pacific
Gyre for example has collected the so-called "Great Pacific Garbage Patch"
that is now estimated at 100 times the size of Texas. Many of these long-
lasting pieces wind up in the stomachs of marine birds and animals. This
results in obstruction of digestive pathways which leads to reduced appetite
or even starvation.

Many chemicals undergo reactive decay or chemically change especially

over long periods of time in groundwater reservoirs. A noteworthy class of
such chemicals are the chlorinated hydrocarbons such as trichloroethylene
(used in industrial metal degreasing and electronics manufacturing) and
tetrachloroethylene used in the dry cleaning industry (note latest advances
in liquid carbon dioxide in dry cleaning that avoids all use of chemicals). Both
of these chemicals, which are carcinogens themselves, undergo partial
decomposition reactions, leading to new hazardous chemicals (including
dichloroethylene and vinyl chloride).
Groundwater pollution is much more
difficult to abate than surface
pollution because groundwater can
move great distances through
unseen aquifers. Non-porous
aquifers such as clays partially
purify water of bacteria by simple
filtration (adsorption and
absorption), dilution, and, in some
cases, chemical reactions and
biological activity: however, in some
cases, the pollutants merely
transform to soil contaminants.
Groundwater that moves through
cracks and caverns is not filtered
and can be transported as easily as surface water. In fact, this can be
aggravated by the human tendency to use natural sinkholes as dumps in
areas of Karst topography.

There are a variety of secondary effects stemming not from the original
pollutant, but a derivative condition. Some of these secondary impacts are:

Silt bearing surface runoff from can inhibit the penetration of sunlight
through the water column, hampering photosynthesis in aquatic plants.

Thermal pollution can induce fish kills and invasion by new thermophilic
species. This can cause further problems to existing wildlife.

The effects of water pollution are seen in Thermal, Heavy Metal, Agricultural
regions and due to fertilizers, chemicals, oil and contaminated ground water.

Effects of Run-off Pollution

Rain picks up dirt and silt and carries it into the water. If the dirt and silt
settle in the water body, then these sediments prevent sunlight from
reaching aquatic plants. If the Sun can't reach the plants, these perish. These
sediments also clog fish gills and smother organisms that live on the bottom
of the body of the water.

Effects of Oil Pollution and Antifreeze

If oil is spilled on the water, the effects on the ecosystem and the
components are harmful. Many animals can be annihilated in case they
ingest oil. Oil contaminated prey may be a reason of death for many. If the oil
coats the feathers of birds, these may die. Oil and antifreeze makes the
water have a foul odor and there is a sticky film on the surface of water that
kills animals. Oil is the most harmful pollutant in the water.

Contaminated Ground Water Effects

If contaminated water enters the ground, there may be serious effects.
People may become very sick and there is a probability of developing liver or
kidney problems and cancer or other illnesses.

Fertilizers and other chemicals

Nitrates in drinking water leads to diseases of infants that may lead to their
death. Cadmium is a metal in sludge-derived fertilizer. This can be absorbed
by crops. When people ingest this, they may cause diarrheal disorders, liver
and kidney damage. The inorganic substances like mercury, arsenic and lead
are the causes of pollution. Other chemicals can also lead to problems
concerning the taste, smell and color of water. Pesticides, PCBs and PCPs are
all poisonous to all sorts of life. Pesticides are used in farming, homes and
forestry. PCBs are found as insulators in old electrical transformers. PCPs are
found in products like wood preservatives.

Effects of Agricultural Water Pollution

Rain and irrigation water drains off cultivated land that has been fertilized
and treated with pesticides, the excess nitrogen and poisons are mixed with
it into the water supply. These pesticides are toxic and pollute the water in a
different mode. Aquatic plants growth cause de-oxygenation of water and
annihilate flora and fauna in a stream, lake and river. Fertilizers enhance the
growth of bacteria that are in water and increase the concentration of
bacteria to hazardous levels.

Effects of Thermal Water Pollution

Machinery in the industries are cooled with water from lakes and rivers. This
water reaches the river in a heated state. This water decreases the ability of
the aquatic system to hold oxygen and raises the growth of warm water

Effects of Heavy Metal Water Pollution

Heavy metals like lead, mercury, iron, cadmium, aluminum and magnesium
are present in water sources. If these metals are present in the sediment,
these reach the food chain through plants and aquatic animals. This causes
heavy metal poisoning in case the level in the water is very high.

Some other effects of water pollution

In rivers, oceans and seas, water pollution effects flora and fauna in them.
Further, the birds and animals that consume this contaminated food supply
can perish. Blood diseases, nervous system disorders and heart diseases are
some of the effects of water pollution. Many toxins in polluted water lead to
cancer. Rarely, the body's chromosomal makeup can be altered. Some of the
less potent effects are skin lesions, vomiting and diarrhea.
The effects of water pollution are not only devastating to people but also to
animals, fish, and birds. Polluted water is unsuitable for drinking, recreation,
agriculture, and industry. It diminishes the aesthetic quality of lakes and
rivers. More seriously, contaminated water destroys aquatic life and reduces
its reproductive ability. Eventually, it is a hazard to human health. Nobody
can escape the effects of water pollution.

The individual and the community can help minimize water pollution. By
simple housekeeping and management practices the amount of waste
generated can be minimized.


Estimates suggest that nearly 1.5

billion people lack safe drinking water
and that at least 5 million deaths per
year can be attributed to waterborne diseases. With over 70 percent of the
planet covered by oceans, people have long acted as if these very bodies of
water could serve as a limitless dumping ground for wastes. Raw sewage,
garbage, and oil spills have begun to overwhelm the diluting capabilities of
the oceans, and most coastal waters are now polluted. Beaches around the
world are closed regularly, often because of high amounts of bacteria from
sewage disposal, and marine wildlife is beginning to suffer.


Clearly, the problems associated with water pollution have the

capabilities to disrupt life on our planet to a great extent. Congress has
passed laws to try to combat water pollution thus acknowledging the fact
that water pollution is, indeed, a seriousissue. But the government alone
cannot solve the entire problem. It is ultimately up to us, to be informed,
responsible and involved when it comes to the problems we face with our
water. We must become familiar with our local water resources and learn
about ways for disposing harmful household wastes so they don�t end up in
sewage treatment plants that can�t handle them or landfills not designed to
receive hazardous materials. In our yards, we must determine whether
additional nutrients are needed before fertilizers are applied, and look for
alternatives where fertilizers might run off into surface waters. We have to
preserve existing trees and plant new trees and shrubs to help prevent soil
erosion and promote infiltration of water into the soil. Around our houses, we
must keep litter, pet waste, leaves, and grass clippings out of gutters and
storm drains. These are
just a few of the many ways in which we, as humans, have the ability to
combat water pollution. As we head into the 21st century, awareness and
education will most assuredly continue to be the two most important ways to
prevent water pollution. If these measures are not taken and water pollution
continues, life on earth will suffer severely.
Global environmental collapse is not inevitable. But the developed world
must work with the developing world to ensure that new industrialized
economies do not add to

the world's environmental problems. Politicians must think of sustainable

development rather than economic expansion. Conservation strategies have
to become more widely accepted, and people must learn that energy use can
be dramatically diminished without sacrificing comfort. In short, with the
technology that currently
exists, the years of global environmental mistreatment can begin to be