Water covers about seventy percent of the earth surface and about 80 percent of the human body mass. Of all the resources on the plane, water is the most important as without it no life can exist. Other than the terrestrial animals that must have constant supply of water for their metabolic functions, there are very many species of plants and animals living in water bodies all over the world (peter, 2001)
Every living organism on the plant depends on water for its survival. An organism may consume water directly or it may live on another organism that directly consumes water. Water is indeed life as only where there is water can life really exist. Given the precious nature of water, its pollution is a very serious environmental concern for the experts and should be for all humanity. One would not be wrong to state that the pollution of water is such a big threat to the existence of life on the planet that it can not even be paralleled by such threats as nuclear disasters. This is not to diminish the significance of the said disasters but to emphasize the gravity of water pollution (peter, 2001)
So what is water pollution? There are many ways in which water pollution can be defined or described. Out of the many definitions possible however, the basic thing about water pollution is that it involves the contamination of water bodies. Water pollution is the introduction of substances or energy into water bodies such as list them here which results in the contamination of the water within these bodies (Rachel, 1962).
What this means is that the quantities of one or more substances in water have build up to such levels as to bring about harm to life forms such as animals, people and even plants. When the quantity of the pollutant i.e. substance that pollutes is so high that it could negatively affect organisms whose lives depend on the river, then pollution is said to have occurred(Rachel, 1962)
There are two ways in which water pollution occurs; point source and non-point source.
Point sources of pollution refer to a situation where harmful substances enter the water body through a direct means of conveyance such as a pipe or a ditch. In point source, the pollution comes from a single location and into the water body. Examples of point source pollution includes such forms of pollution as an oil spill from a tanker is in the oceans, discharges from a plant that treats sewage into a river and even discharges from a factory which have an attached discharge pipe into a nearby dam. Other examples of point source pollution include a discharge from a factory chimney, or even a person who pours oil from their car down a draining pipe in some city (peter, 2001)
A source of pollution is said to be non point source if pollutants are indirectly delivered into water through it. In non-point source pollution, the contaminants diffuse into the water system, not from a single discrete source but from many different scattered sources. Very often with this kind of pollution, pollutants accumulate from very small quantities into very large ones. Examples of non-point source pollution include runoff of fertilizers from agricultural fields. In this case rain water may carry the fertilizer from the field into a stream (Rachel, 1962)
A significant difference between point-source pollution and non point source pollution is the effect that each has on the environment that is around the source. In point source pollution, the place that is usually most affected is normally the area that is of the closest proximity to the source. This is opposed to non-point source where the effects are less likely to be felt at one particular area around the source since the pollutants enters the environment from many different places at once. An oil spill at a particular place in the ocean when contrasted with runoff from fertilizer clearly brings out this difference. In the case of the oil spill the closer the area to the point of spillage the more the harm. This is not the case with the runoff from fertilizer (Ayres, 1997)
Apart from the two ways mentioned above, there also is trans-boundary pollution where then pollutant enters the environment in a single are but the negative effects are also felt at areas that are of very great geographical distance from the point of entry. A very good example of this is the mode of spread of radioactive waste when it quickly travels from a nuclear processing plant in one area of the world through the oceans to another region of the world tat is indeed very far off(Ayres, 1997)
Causes of water pollution
There are numerous and diverse causes of water pollution. Whereas there are natural causes of water pollution such as volcanic activity, Most of the water pollution on the planet is caused by the activities of man. Of the very many causes of water pollution is Sewage. The disposal of sewage is a major problem in the world partly because of the high population of people and also because of the nature of the settlement patterns of people around the globe. Many people in third world and developing countries do not have basic hygienic toilet facilities. Because of this lack of basic sanitation, most human waste finds its way into water bodies. Even though people in developed countries use toilets and flush waste away from their homes, the problem of sewage disposal still persists. This is because in spite of the existence of sewage treatment works, sewage waste is sometimes pumped untreated into the sea (Ayres, 1997)
Theoretically sewage should not be much of a problem since it is a completely natural substance. It is expected the breaking down of sewage should be quite easy. However from a practical point of view, sewage contains all kinds of other chemicals and microorganisms that are very much hazardous.Sewage discharges may result in high levels of pathogens such as bacteria and viruses (Krantz 2008).
Industrial Waste water is also another cause of pollution. Chemicals washed down drains and discharged from factories are major pollutants of water around the globe. The amount of industrial waste discharged into water is very high especially in the industrialized nations of the world. Much of the waste is usually pumped untreated into water bodies. Many factories take clean water from rivers, for their manufacturing processes after which they pump the byproduct of their work, polluted water into the water bodies (Ayres, 1997)
Silt and suspended solids also cause Pollution the silt may come from construction sites or even from people’s farms. Water bodies naturally undergo an aging process that slowly fills whose result is the filling of the water body with sediment and organic matter. Organic materials which act as pollutants also enter water bodies in many forms such as grass and even leaves (Krantz 2008)
Water pollution is also caused by Chemicals such as Detergents and highly toxic chemicals. While these chemicals may have good industrial use, there polluting effects are great. Pollution by chemicals also comes in the form of heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, and mercury.
Radioactive waste is another significant cause of water pollution. High concentrations of radioactive discharge from factories that engage in the processing of waste fuel from nuclear power plants have really polluted water in areas such as Europe. When the waste is discharged into the sea, it finds its way around the world by way of ocean currents (Ayres, 1997)
Oil pollution is another common form of water pollution. Oil spills have occurred in the oceans of the world. These accidents are only but a small fraction of all the massive oil pollution in the oceans today. Most of the oil pollution comes from routine shipping. It also comes from the oil that is poured by people down drains on land (Ayres, 1997).
Plastics are also very common pollutants seen on the edges of water bodies because of the wide manufacturing applications of the same. Its light nature and insolubility enables plastic to travel enormous distances across the oceans. It also happens that most plastics are not biodegradable so they last long in water bodies. Even though plastics are not chemically toxic, they are a major hazard to water creatures (Krantz 2008).
Another not so easily recognized cause is that of the introduction of animals or plants from a different ecosystem. Without the natural population checks such as normal predators the newly introduced species may exhibit rapid population growth therefore becoming a pollutant (Ayres, 1997).
Pollution may also be in thermal pollution. Thermal pollution occurs when water is used as a coolant by factories causing a rise in water temperature in the water bodies (Krantz 2008)
Effects of water pollution
The effects of pollution are as numerous as are the causes. Some of them are:
People who drink polluted water can become infected with the following waterborne diseases such as Cholera and typhoid. Chemicals released in water are hazardous to humans. They cause various health risks such as nervous and blood disorders, skin eruptions, vomiting, fever and diarrhea, Water pollution is a big threat to marine life and also terrestrial life that directly depends on the water.polluted water kills aquatic life, and coastal vegetation (Ayres, 1997)
Water pollution starves organisms of oxygen. The excess nutrients such as nitrates and phosphates in the pollutants cause algae to grow quickly. The algae are fed on by bacteria which use up oxygen. The quantity of oxygen in the water reduces leading to suffocation of fish. Oil from spills result in the exposure of many animals to cold water and air, which in turn kills them (Carson, 1962).
It is quite evident that the environmental problems that come as a result of water pollution have the potential to disrupt life not only in the water bodies but also everywhere else on the planet. With this knowledge, in mind it is imperative that the problem be combated with the greatest possible effort (Krantz 2008)
Since the causes of water pollution are diverse the plan to solve this problem is not simple. It requires an integrated approach that involves not only individuals but also governments all over the world.A possible plan is one that is aimed at both preventing and reducing the effects of pollution on the planet. A careful study of water pollution in specific areas should be carried out after which the following general ideas should be followed.
As a preventive measure, laws have to be put in place to control the discharge of wastes into any water bodies. Industries should become subject to regular inspections and control. Deterrent measures should also be incorporated in the laws. With punitive regulations, the amount of pollution will reduce significantly. Individuals should also be monitored (Michael, 1992).
Another very crucial step is to educate individuals on the significant threat of water pollution to human existence. With this knowledge prevention of water pollution will be recognized as the moral issue that it also is. A person will for example control the amount of fertilizer he uses in the farm. The use of plastic bags will reduce and people will be encouraged to use biodegradable material. Laws should make polluters of water responsible for their actions.
The other part of the plan will be to minimize the effects by rehabilitating the water bodies that have already been polluted. There should be proper disaster control protocols for emergency situations. For accidents such as oil spills, there should be emergency procedures to minimize losses. Such a plan can not be specifically mentioned here because of the nature of the many pollutants of water. For a specific kind of pollution identified ways should be put in place to minimize spread.
Adequate infrastructure should be put in place to ensure that human waste is hygienically collected and treated before being released into any water body. Recycling of waste products which would otherwise find pollute water should be carried out. In the same vein, the private sector should also be encouraged to participate in the mitigation of the effects of water pollution. Contaminated water should be recycled depending on the nature of the pollutant.
Some of the problems in carrying out this plan may be economic challenges such as the high cost of building good sewerage facilities. Another problem is that it assumes that with the right knowledge people will be morally responsible. This may not be the case.
The issue of water pollution is of great significance and should be tackled immediately as the planet can not wait for the full effects of this disaster. A full and concerted effort of all players is necessary to tackle a problem of such magnitude.
Allaby, Michael. (1992) Water: Its Global Nature. New York:
Alloway, B.J., and D.C. Ayres, (1997), Chemical Principles of Environmental Pollution. London/New York: Blackie/Chapman and Hall.
Carson, Rachel. (1962), Silent Spring. New York: Houghton-Mifflin,
D Krantz (2008) water pollution and society. Web.
Swanson, Peter. (2001) Water: The Drop of Life. NorthWord.