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Water pollution has become a serious concern for over a century as industrial and agricultural activities continue to dispose of wastes in rivers, lakes and oceans. The increasing levels of water pollution have continued to harm the environment and food supplies. Also, pollution of drinking water has been associated with various waterborne diseases such as cholera. The aquatic life has been exposed to unimaginable danger due to continuous water pollution. Whereas different countries have distinct approaches for handling water pollution and responding to the problem, a majority of them focus on the water pollution that occurs at the water sources and try to mitigate the problem from that end. The causes of water pollution can either be direct or indirect depending on the time it takes for the factor to contaminate water. The direct causes of pollution tend to have an instant impact on the quality of water while the indirect causes lead to delayed impact on the water quality.
Although the indirect factors that cause water pollution have delayed impacts, research indicates that their persistence reaches a point where it becomes too late to address their impacts. The factors require long-term intervention measures since they relate to human activities that tend to cause changes in the environment and water sources. Environmental conservation efforts that aim at addressing water pollution tend to leave out some causes since governments and individuals hold the notion that they cannot suspend some activities to address water pollution (EPA, 2017). For instance, some governments consider it unsustainable to put on hold agricultural activities that cause water pollution since they feel that such activities contribute to their countries’ income. Although factors of water pollution might be different in various countries, mining, urbanization, deforestation, agriculture, industrialization and damming of rivers are some common factors that contaminate water.
Exploration of underground minerals produces wastes in the form of leaks and salts that find their way into water bodies and cause pollution. In countries such as India, mining has been cited as one of the leading direct factors of water pollution (Akhtar et al., 2014). Minerals that contain heavy metals usually find their ways into water bodies that are near mines given that it is difficult to clean all the leaks. Although some of the minerals are good for animals and human beings, having an excess of the minerals in the water affects the health of people and their livestock (Ashraf et al., 2010). Severe illnesses such as heart failure are associated with water pollution from mines. Also, some minerals make water to the point of making plants to fail to absorb water. In such cases, the pollution that results from mining leads to the death of plants and subsequent desertification.
Soils and debris that result from mining are also pollutants in that they make water murky and unfit for human consumption. According to Chaudhry and Malik (2017), the direct effect of these pollutants is the death of the aquatic life that cannot survive in murky water. For instance, dirty water can block the gills of fish and cause death on other aquatic animals. The instant changes in the mineral concentration of water bodies also cause death of aquatic life given that such animals are not used to some levels of mineral concentration.
The increasing population in urban areas in many countries can directly or indirectly cause water pollution. Several cities across the world do not have adequate sewerage systems. As a result, raw waste finds its way into water bodies as more and more people continue to settle in urban areas (EPA, 2017). The activities that take place as people try to expand cities to accommodate the growing populations lead to water pollution. For instance, continuous construction works in various urban centers cause water pollution. Construction works lead to piling up of debris as some structures are brought down to pave way for new developments. The debris causes water pollution when it is washed into water bodies. Besides, urbanization calls for increased food production to feed the growing population in cities. Therefore, farmers in areas around urban centers tend to use chemicals to boost their yields and meet the growing demand (Chaudhry and Malik, 2017). As a result, some chemicals are washed into rivers and lakes thereby causing water pollution. Thus, although urbanization is a good measure of development it needs to be controlled as a way of keeping water safe from pollutants.
Although deforestation is associated with clearing land for agriculture, logging of trees for timber and firewood have become common activities that are making countries lose forest cover. Deforestation strips off soil the protective cover and makes it prone soil erosion. As a result, water reaches rivers and lakes when it is murky and unfit for human and aquatic consumption. The destruction of the ecosystem that holds soil leads to damage that causes water pollution (EPA, 2017). As aquatic animals such as fish try to survive in soiled water, they become vulnerable to death as their gills are blocked. Dirty water is also prone to bacteria that have serious health impacts on human life. Plants are also exposed to bacteria when they absorb dirty water. Addressing the effects of deforestation on the quality of water requires that one plants more trees to cover the cleared land.
Agricultural activities that are not eco-friendly have been said to be the leading cause of water pollution in various countries. Agriculture, as a factor of water pollution, presents a dilemma to individuals and governments as they try to regulate it (Ashraf et al., 2010). The dilemma emanates from the need to reduce agricultural factors that cause water pollution and at the same time ensure availability of enough food to feed the population. Agriculture leads to water pollution as soil is loosened to make it absorb water. Loose soils are vulnerable to erosion that make water murky and unfit for human and aquatic consumption.
Fertilizers that are used to boost agricultural yields in countries such as in the US cause water pollution when they are washed away into water sources through runoff water. The runoff water from agricultural fields causes water eutrophication that makes water to dissolve chemicals such as phosphate. According to Chaudhry and Malik (2017), eutrophic water is vulnerable to algae growth and cyanobacteria that reduce oxygen in water. Deoxygenated water is unsafe for plant and human consumption. Also, cyanobacteria contribute to the intoxication of the food chain. Besides phosphate-rich fertilizers, nitrogen compounds that are used to make fertilizer are leading causes of dissolved oxygen deficiency in water. As Chaudhry and Malik (2017) point out, aquatic animals and plants cannot survive in oxygen deficiency water. Nitrogen has high water solubility and leaching rate. High leaching rate is associated with increased runoff that causes underground water pollution. Thus, in agricultural fields that use nitrogen-made fertilizers, the underground water is not safe for plants since it is polluted through leaching.
The use of pesticides and herbicides in agriculture also cause water pollution especially when the application of the chemicals is uncontrolled. Some pesticides and herbicides have high leaching potential and they contaminate the underground water (Chaudhry and Malik, 2017). The leaching of some of the herbicides and pesticides cause the accumulation of Selenium, a heavy metal in the soil and that is toxic and unsafe when it reaches water bodies. Besides, some pesticides do not easily degrade and cause harm since they reach water bodies before degradation. As a result, they can cause death of plants and animals.
Industrial activities can directly or indirectly cause water pollution. For instance, fuel emissions from industries have an indirect relationship with water pollution. Almost every natural resource is facing the threat of impacts of fuel emissions (Chaudhry and Malik, 2017). Industries use fossil fuels that, when burned release toxic particles into the air. Also, some fossil fuels can spill into water bodies and contaminate it. The gasoline burnt to run factories gives rise to carbon compounds that fill the atmosphere. When it rains, the carbon compounds find way into water as they are washed into the ground thereby causing water pollution.
Emissions of wastes from industries also cause water pollution through groundwater or surface water contamination. Alkaline and acidic compounds contained in industrials wastes can make water unsuitable for plants, animals and people. According to Akhtar et al. (2014), waste from industries provides suitable conditions for bacteria to thrive in water since some bacterial elements and algae thrive in dirty water. The presence of bacteria in water is a leading cause of waterborne diseases in the industries nations. The emission of hot air from factories also causes high temperatures on water bodies as the atmosphere gets contaminated with toxic particles. The high temperatures in water provide an environment for bacteria growth.
Industrialization leads to high demand for energy from fossil fuels and renewable sources. Fossil fuels that are used in industries can spill into water bodies and cause water pollution. For instance, the water pollution that occurred in Michigan in 2016 is associated with toxic wastes that companies dumped in water sources in the past (Smith, 2017). The pollution raised health concerns and prompted the then US president Barrack Obama to visit Flint (Mclntee, 2016). Also, nuclear power plants can experience leaks that can cause deaths and destruction of the environment. Burning coal to provide energy to industries also contributes to water pollution since it leads to air contamination with smoke particles that affect water quality after rains. Thus, various industrial activities pose danger to water in that they lead to leaks and air contamination that make water unfit for human, plant and animal consumption.
Constructing dams on waterways affects the quality of water in various ways. For instance, water that flows out of dams is likely to be saline since it is depleted of nutrients (Chaudhry and Malik, 2017). Plants and aquatic animals may not survive in the saline environment. Eutrophication can also occur in river dams as water spends a lot of time without moving. As a result, such water is polluted and can affect the life of people and animals.
Water pollution continues to be an issue of concern across the world given the necessity of the commodity. The understanding of factors that cause water pollution can help in identifying intervention measures that can address each factor. For instance, understanding how mining causes water pollution can be used to make policies that guide mineral exploration activities around water bodies. Controlling urbanization can also be used as a policy to address water pollution that results from urban expansion. Besides, investing in eco-friendly agriculture can be a way of addressing water pollution that results from the use of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. Since industrial activities cause water pollution, investing in renewable energy can help in addressing such pollution.
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