Over the past decade, water pollution has increased significantly across the globe, causing serious negative social, economical and environmental impacts.
For many of us we don’t see the negative effects first hand, therefore it can be easy to bury our heads in the sand and continue about our normal day as if everything is perfect. However, what if I were to tell you that your daily habits are killing turtles, dolphins, our planet and other humans. The truth is – we all have an important role to play in cleaning up our waters.
Even if you live in the middle of a desert, you daily habits are still poisoning our waters. Here are the three top habits that are poisoning our waters:
Personal care products: Unless you use non-toxic and “truly green” personal care products then the shampoos, conditioners and body washes you use on a daily basis are poisoning our waters once they go down your drain.
Household cleaners: Just like the personal care products, unless you are using natural household cleaners and detergents, you are poisoning the waters every-time you put on the dishwasher, wash a load of clothes, clean your bathroom or mop your floor.
Your plastics: Everyday we are surrounded by plastics from our mobile phones, keyboards to the polyester blend shirt we are wearing. Now you might think that the majority of plastic gets recycled and then turned into new water bottles and into those wonderful shoes and hand-bags that are made from recycled plastic. Alarmingly, only about 5% of plastic actually gets recycled. The reason for this varies from people being lazy, regions not having proper recycling programs in place to plastic being blown out of over-filled rubbish bins and landfill. Oh, and all those exfoliators and skin scrubs you use, the little hard beads are often made out of plastic and they get washed straight into our waterways once they go down the drain.
The problem with plastic is that not only does it physically litter our water – causing animals to die from either eating it or getting tangled up in it, the chemicals it is made from leach into our water and land slowly poisoning everything it comes in contact with.
So how does all this water pollution affect the world around us? Lets have a look shall we?
It has been estimated by the United Nations (UN) that a minimum of 1.8 billion people in the world “use a source of drinking water that is fecally contaminated “(UN, 2017). Water pollution is a pressing issue in today’s world, partly due to climate change (EPA, 2017). One of the impacts of climate change is believed to be water pollution and the scarcity of fresh water. It is believed that in today’s current world, at least 1 in 4 people live in a country affected by serious fresh water shortages (UN, 2017). As a result, clean water is part of the UN sustainable development goals.
One of the impacts of water pollution is that human health and animals are endangered when they come in contact with water that has been polluted (The World Counts, 2014). Contaminated water consumed by humans can cause Cholera, Dysentery and Typhoid (Enviropool, 2012). Each year a whopping 3 to 5 million cholera cases are reported, out of these cases there are 100,000 to 120,000 human deaths recorded annually.
You thought these were staggering numbers! Well get this, it is estimated that only 5-10% of cases are actually reported per year – so leaves an unthinkable amount of cases and deaths that remain unreported, driving fears that the number of deaths caused by cholera are extremely high. It is also a known fact that over three and a half million people die from water-borne disease annually (The World Counts, 2014).
Dying Marine Life
Also, marine life is not spared from the negative impacts of water pollution (Eschool Today, 2016). Water that has been polluted with substances such as detergents, body washes, bleach or rubbish [especially plastic], and it is destroying marine life at an alarming rate.
Furthermore, water pollution can interfere with the food chain and cause disease (ESchool Today, 2016). For example, if pollutants or toxicants such as lead or cadmium get into water bodies, there is a high chance they will be consumed by fish. These fish are then eaten by humans. Once eaten, they can disrupt multiple systems in human beings. They can cause high blood pressure and harm the kidney. Young children even have the ability to absorb 4-5 times more lead(chemical) than adults when exposed to the same source of water pollution (containing lead). Water contaminated with lead, if consumed by children, can affect the brain and nervous system development.
Water pollution has the power to alter and disrupt ecosystems and this is the very reason why we need organic farming and gardening to become the mainstream or “norm”. No matter how far inland, polluted water will always seep into the ground and make its way to larger water bodies, these water bodies eventually make their way into our rivers, lakes and oceans.
These polluted waters breed algae and other water organisms and compete with fish and marine life for the use of oxygen, thereby limiting the existing marine lifes chance of survival. Serious water pollution issues can also alter ecosystems significantly. For example, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It was reported by Enviropool that “8,000 animals (birds, turtles, mammals) were reported dead just 6 months after the spill, including many that are already on the endangered species list. Immediate impact on the wildlife includes oil-coated birds and sea turtles, mammal ingestion of oil, and dead or dying deep sea coral (Enviropool, 2012)
Negative Effect On Tourism + And Small Business
There are also financial impacts associated with water pollution. When natural water has been polluted, it is then deemed to be unsafe to drink, thus requiring treatment. Cleaning up water pollution can be expensive. For example, the US uses at least 4.3 billion dollars on a yearly basis to treat water bodies that has been polluted with phosphorus and nitrogen. Without this treatment, such waters will be unsafe and not suitable for drinking. Considering the global economic downturn, spending such “big money” is economically unsustainable.
Having clean water has tourism benefits (Science Daily, 2008). Pristine waters often attract tourists, which in turn generates revenue for small local businesses. When waters become polluted or no longer pristine – they no longer become tourist destinations and the local economy can suffer drastically from this.
The US tourism industry loses a whopping 1 billion dollars per year due to polluted water.
What Are The Main Causes Of Water Pollution
There are many causes of water pollution such as mining activities, marine dumping, oil leakages, the combustion of fossil fuels, global warming, industrial, animal, household waste and warming as well as animal waste.
Mining: Mining activities involve the crushing of rock and the extraction of coal and other minerals from underground aquifers. These minerals contain toxic chemicals and can be washed down into water bodies, thereby contaminating them.
Household Waste: Not only does our rubbish contribute to landfill but the chemicals from our household cleaners and personal care product also makes its way down drain pipes into water systems. The chemicals in our household products take many years to decompose in water. The presence of household waste and garbage in our ocean constitutes to water pollution and also endangers marine life.
Fossil Fuels: The burning of fossil fuels also contributes to water pollution. Fossil fuels such as coal produce ashes when burnt. When mixed with water vapour, it produces acid rain which could be dispersed into water bodies and cause water pollution. Furthermore, the burning of fossil fuels emits carbon dioxide and can be blown into water bodies by air and can degrade the quality of water.
Plastics: Even in Australia, where we have a system for recycling plastic and treating consumer waste it is astounding how much plastic we still contribute to the oceans. An analysis of waters around Australia found on average there were around 4,000 microplastic fragments per square kilometre, whilst some hotspots had concentrations of around 15,000 to 23,000.
The vast majority of the microplastic fragments came from plastic packaging such as cups, bottles, bags, as well as fragments of fishing gear.
Agriculture: The agricultural industry contributes to water pollution. Fertilisers and pesticides are used in the industry by farmers to enhance the growth of their crops and they contain harmful chemicals. These chemicals are leached into the soil which then with rainfall it makes its way into water systems – this then causes pollution that kills marine life and makes water unsuitable for human consumption.
Sewage Sludge: A big portion of sewage gets washed into our ocean untreated – this is common practice by almost every country. Sewage sludge contain serious and harmful bacteria and must be kept controlled, which often this doesn’t happen. Due to the rapid increase in population this method is quite concerning as it not only destroys marine life and marine ecosystems, it also degrades the quality of all our water.
Climate Change: Another cause of water pollution is global warming and climate change. Global warming increases the temperature of water and such increase can harm marine animals and even kill them. The excessive decomposition of dead marine animals in water also causes water pollution.
Industrial Waste: Furthermore, the activities of industries across the world have increased after the industrial revolution. As a result, more and more chemicals are being used in industries today. Chemicals like mercury, lead and sulphur are extremely harmful and some companies do not have a proper waste management procedures in place for the treatment and disposal of industrial waste. As a result, industrial waste is kept loose and could be flushed into water bodies, thereby contributing to water pollution.
Animal Waste: Also, waste from animals causes water pollution. The farming of animals is a big contributing factor, where animal waste is often washed into water systems by rainfall – another contributing factor that is affecting the quality of our water worldwide.
Radio-active Waste: There is also the issue of radio-active waste from nuclear plants. Uranium is widely used in the nuclear industry to produce energy and it contains harmful chemicals. The end process of nuclear reaction produces huge radioactive waste and if not disposed properly, can pollute water bodies.
Ways To Prevent The Pollution
There are various ways we can stop the destruction. It just comes down to prioritising water conservation and management measures. Here are some very basic steps to begin our journey to cleaner waters:
Raise Awareness: Behavioural changes are a water management measure and it helps to reduce water pollution (Water Pollution Guide, 2015). For example, raising environmental awareness about how our daily activities such as household waste and marine dumping interrupts the ecosystem by endangering marine life can be a driver for people to change their ways. People who partake in water polluting activities are mostly oblivious of the fact that their activities can endanger life and create human disease. As mentioned earlier, fish derived from affected waters when consumed can cause disease such as cholera or even brain damage.
Become Water Wise: Also, the sustainable use of water presents a long-lasting solution to water pollution (Water Pollution Guide, 2015). Using less water to do more of our daily activities in essence means that amount of polluted water that needs to be treated will be reduced. This also helps to conserve fresh water and reduces water scarcity.
Use Green Products: Furthermore, the use of sustainable procurement strategies can help reduce water pollution (Eschool Today, 2016). This strategy is mostly used in companies and by green individuals to source sustainable materials that have little or no environmental impacts. Buying eco-friendly household or business materials can help to reduce the amount of harmful substances released to the environment, thereby reducing water pollution.
Making it a legal requirement for companies to manufacture sustainably: It is also evident that water pollution can occur as a result of industrial activities. As a result, pollution abatement measures can be used to reduce water pollution. This involves three steps. First, is the identification of the pollution itself. The second step is to understand where the pollution is coming from and the third step is to use alternative strategies, processes or technologies that can help reduce the occurrence of the pollution. For example, dyes produced from batch processes in textile industrial sites flows into water bodies. This can be reduced by first limiting the use of dyes and/or by changing from a batch process of operation to a continuous one, thereby eliminating the rinsing stage in the production of clothes (which releases dyes from the plant).
Tackling water pollution requires a concerted effort from the global community (Ogbonmwan, 2012.). As identified in this report, the causes of water pollution are from various sources and everyone will be required to work as a team to resolve water pollution issues.
The only chance we have for reducing or reversing water pollution is to clean up our own act by becoming aware of our daily habits. We need to choose products that are safe to enter water systems when flushed down our drains. We need to become aware of how we dispose of rubbish. We need to become mindful consumers and ensure that we buy products that have not had a negative impact on our water systems in either the production or disposal stage. We need to become water wise and value each drop of water so that we reduce our water wastage.
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