Krantz and Brad Kifferstein
Comprising over 70% of the Earth’s surface, water
is undoubtedly the most precious natural resource that exists on our planet.
Without the seemingly invaluable compound comprised of hydrogen and oxygen,
life on Earth would be non-existent: it is essential for everything on
our planet to grow and prosper. Although we as humans recognize this
fact, we disregard it by polluting our rivers, lakes, and oceans. Subsequently,
we are slowly but surely harming our planet to the point where organisms
are dying at a very alarming rate. In addition to innocent organisms
dying off, our drinking water has become greatly affected as is our ability
to use water for recreational purposes. In order to combat water
pollution, we must understand the problems and become part of the solution.
POINT AND NONPOINT SOURCES
According to the American College Dictionary, pollution
is defined as: “to make foul or unclean; dirty.” Water pollution
occurs when a body of water is adversely affected due to the addition of
large amounts of materials to the water. When it is unfit for its
intended use, water is considered polluted. Two types of water pollutants
exist; point source and nonpoint source. Point sources of pollution
occur when harmful substances are emitted directly into a body of water.
The Exxon Valdez oil spill best illustrates a point source water pollution.
A nonpoint source delivers pollutants indirectly through environmental
changes. An example of this type of water pollution is when fertilizer
from a field is carried into a stream by rain, in the form of run-off
which in turn effects aquatic life. The technology exists for
point sources of pollution to be monitored and regulated, although political
factors may complicate matters. Nonpoint sources are much more difficult
to control. Pollution arising from nonpoint
sources accounts for a majority of the contaminants in streams and
CAUSES OF POLLUTION
Many causes of pollution including sewage and
fertilizers contain nutrients such as nitrates and phosphates. In
excess levels, nutrients over stimulate the growth of aquatic plants and
algae. Excessive growth of these types of organisms consequently
clogs our waterways, use up dissolved oxygen as they decompose, and block
light to deeper waters.
This, in turn, proves very harmful to aquatic organisms as it affects
the respiration ability or fish and other invertebrates that reside in
Pollution is also caused when silt and other
suspended solids, such as soil, washoff plowed fields, construction and
logging sites, urban areas, and eroded river banks when it rains.
Under natural conditions, lakes, rivers, and other water bodies undergo
Eutrophication, an aging process that slowly fills in the water body with
sediment and organic matter. When these sediments enter various bodies
of water, fish respirationbecomes impaired, plant productivity and water
depth become reduced, and aquatic organisms and their environments become
suffocated. Pollution in the form of organic
material enters waterways in many different forms as sewage, as leaves
and grass clippings, or as runoff from livestock feedlots and pastures.
When natural bacteria and protozoan in the water break down this organic
material, they begin to use up the oxygen dissolved in the water.
Many types of fish and bottom-dwelling animals cannot survive when levels
of dissolved oxygen drop below two to five parts per million. When
this occurs, it kills aquatic organisms in large numbers which leads to
disruptions in the food chain.
River in the United Kingdom
The pollution of rivers and streams with
chemical contaminants has become one of the most crutial environmental
problems within the 20th century. Waterborne chemical pollution entering
rivers and streams cause tramendous amounts of destruction.
Pathogens are another type of pollution that prove
very harmful. They can cause many illnesses that range from typhoid
and dysentery to minor respiratory and skin diseases. Pathogens include
such organisms as bacteria, viruses, and protozoan. These pollutants
enter waterways through untreated sewage, storm drains, septic tanks, runoff
from farms, and particularly boats that dump sewage. Though microscopic,
these pollutants have a tremendous effect evidenced by their ability to
ADDITIONAL FORMS OF WATER
Three last forms of water pollution exist in the
forms of petroleum, radioactive substances, and heat. Petroleum often
pollutes waterbodies in the form of oil, resulting from oil spills.
The previously mentioned Exxon Valdez is an example of this type of water
pollution. These large-scale accidental discharges of petroleum are
an important cause of pollution along shore lines. Besides the supertankers,
off-shore drilling operations contribute a large share of pollution.
One estimate is that one ton of oil is spilled for every million tons of
oil transported. This is equal to about 0.0001 percent. Radioactive
substances are produced in the form of waste from nuclear power plants,
and from the industrial, medical, and scientific use of radioactive materials.
Specific forms of waste are uranium and thorium mining and refining.
The last form of water pollution is heat. Heat is a pollutant because
increased temperatures result in the deaths of many aquatic organisms.
These decreases in temperatures are caused when a discharge of cooling
water by factories and power plants occurs.
Oil pollution is a growing problem, particularly
devestating to coastal wildlife. Small quantities of oil spread rapidly
across long distances to form deadly oil slicks. In this picture, demonstrators
with "oil-covered" plastic animals protest a potential drilling project
in Key Largo, Florida. Whether or not accidental spills occur during the
project, its impact on the delicate marine ecosystem of the coral reefs
could be devastating.
Workers use special nets to clean up a California
beach after an oil tanker spill. Tanker spills are an increasing environmental
problem because once oil has spilled, it is virtually impossible to completely
remove or contain it. Even small amounts spread rapidly across large areas
of water. Because oil and water do not mix, the oil floats on the water
and then washes up on broad expanses of shoreline. Attempts to chemically
treat or sink the oil may further disrupt marine and beach ecosystems.
The major sources of water pollution can be classified
as municipal, industrial, and agricultural. Municipal water pollution
consists of waste water from homes and commercial establishments.
For many years, the main goal of treating municipal
wastewater was simply to reduce its content of suspended solids, oxygen-demanding
materials, dissolved inorganic compounds, and harmful bacteria. In
recent years, however, more stress has been placed on improving means of
disposal of the solid residues from the municipal treatment processes.
The basic methods of treating municipal wastewater fall into three stages:
primary treatment, including grit removal, screening, grinding, and sedimentation;
secondary treatment, which entails oxidation of dissolved organic matter
by means of using biologically active sludge, which is then filtered off;
and tertiary treatment, in which advanced biological methods of nitrogen
removal and chemical and physical methods such as granular filtration and
activated carbon absorption are employed. The handling and disposal
of solid residues can
account for 25 to 50 percent of the capital and operational costs of
a treatment plant. The characteristics of industrial waste waters
can differ considerably both within and among industries. The impact
of industrial discharges depends not only on their
collective characteristics, such as biochemical oxygen demand and the
amount of suspended solids, but also on their content of specific inorganic
and organic substances. Three options are available in controlling industrial
wastewater. Control can take place at the point of generation in
the plant; wastewater can be pretreated for discharge to municipal treatment
sources; or wastewater can be treated completely at the plant and either
reused or discharged directly into receiving waters.
Raw sewage includes waste from sinks, toilets,
and industrial processes. Treatment of the sewage is required before it
can be safely buried, used, or released back into local water systems.
In a treatment plant, the waste is passed through a series of screens,
chambers, and chemical processes to reduce its bulk and toxicity. The three
general phases of treatment are primary, secondary, and tertiary. During
primary treatment, a large percentage of the suspended solids and inorganic
material is removed from the sewage. The focus of secondary treatment is
reducing organic material by accelerating natural biological processes.
Tertiary treatment is necessary when the water will be reused; 99 percent
of solids are removed and various chemical processes are used to ensure
the water is as free from impurity as possible.
Agriculture, including commercial livestock and poultry farming,
is the source of many organic and inorganic pollutants in surface waters
and groundwater. These contaminants include both sediment from erosion
cropland and compounds of
phosphorus and nitrogen that partly originate in animal wastes and
commercial fertilizers. Animal wastes are high in oxygen demanding
material, nitrogen and phosphorus, and they often harbor pathogenic organisms.
Wastes from commercial
feeders are contained and disposed of on land; their main threat to
natural waters, therefore, is from runoff and leaching. Control may
involve settling basins for liquids, limited biological treatment in aerobic
or anaerobic lagoons, and a variety of other methods.
Ninety-five percent of all fresh water on earth
is ground water. Ground water is found in natural rock formations.
These formations, called aquifers, are a vital natural resource with many
uses. Nationally, 53% of the population relies on ground water as
a source of drinking water. In rural areas this figure is even higher.
Eighty one percent of community water is dependent on ground water.
Although the 1992 Section 305(b) State Water Quality Reports indicate that,
overall, the Nation’s ground water quality is good to excellent, many local
areas have experienced significant ground water contamination.
Some examples are leaking underground storage tanks and municipal landfills.
Several forms of legislation have been passed
in recent decades to try to control water pollution. In 1970, the
Clean Water Act provided 50 billion dollars to cities and states to build
wastewater facilities. This has helped control surface water pollution
from industrial and municipal sources throughout the United States.
When congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, states were given primary
authority to set their own standards for their water. In addition
to these standards, the act required that all state beneficial uses and
their criteria must comply with the “fishable and swimmable” goals of the
act. This essentially means that state beneficial uses must be able
to support aquatic life and recreational use. Because it is impossible
to test water for every type of disease-causing organism, states usually
look to identify indicator bacteria. One for a example is a bacteria
known as fecal coliforms.(Figure 1 shows the quality of water for each
every state in the United States, click on the US link). These indicator
bacteria suggest that a certain selection of water may be contaminated
with untreated sewage and that other, more dangerous, organisms are present.
These legislations are an important part in the fight against water pollution.
They are useful in preventing Envioronmental catastrophes. The graph
shows reported pollution incidents since 1989-1994. If stronger legislations
existed, perhaps these events would never have occurred.
GLOBAL WATER POLLUTION
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.
Perhaps the biggest reason for developing a worldwide
effort to monitor and restrict global pollution is the fact that most forms
of pollution do not respect national boundaries. The first major international
conference on environmental issues was held
in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1972 and was sponsored by the United Nations
(UN). This meeting, at which the United States took a leading role, was
controversial because many developing countries were fearful that a focus
on environmental protection was a means for the developed world to keep
the undeveloped world in an economically subservient position. The most
important outcome of the conference was the creation of the United Nations
Environmental Program (UNEP).
UNEP was designed to be “the environmental conscience of the United Nations,”
and, in an attempt to allay fears of the developing world, it became the
first UN agency to be headquartered in a developing country, with offices
in Nairobi, Kenya. In addition to attempting to achieve scientific consensus
about major environmental issues, a major focus for UNEP has been the study
of ways to encourage sustainable development increasing standards of living
without destroying the environment. At the time of UNEP's creation in 1972,
only 11 countries had environmental agencies. Ten years later that number
had grown to 106, of which 70 were in developing countries.
Water quality is closely linked to water use and to
the state of economic development. In industrialized countries, bacterial
contamination of surface water caused serious health problems in major
cities throughout the mid 1800’s. By the turn of the century, cities
in Europe and North America began building sewer networks to route domestic
wastes downstream of water intakes. Development of these sewage networks
and waste treatment facilities in urban areas has expanded tremendously
in the past two decades. However, the rapid growth of the urban population
(especially in Latin America and Asia) has outpaced the ability of governments
to expand sewage and water infrastructure. While waterborne diseases
have been eliminated in the developed world, outbreaks of cholera and other
similar diseases still occur with alarming frequency in the developing
countries. Since World War II and the birth of the “chemical age”,
water quality has been heavily impacted worldwide by industrial and agricultural
chemicals. Eutrophication of surface waters from human and agricultural
wastes and nitrification of groundwater from agricultural practices has
greatly affected large parts of the world. Acidification of surface waters
by air pollution is a recent phenomenon and threatens aquatic life in many
area of the world. In developed countries, these general types of
pollution have occurred sequentially with the result that most developed
countries have successfully dealt with major surface water pollution.
In contrast, however, newly industrialized countries such as China, India,
Thailand, Brazil, and Mexico are now facing all these issues simultaneously.
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.
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
Aquifers - natural rock formations,
which contain ground water.
Eutrophication - The process
of slowly filling in a water body with sediments and organic matter.
Non point source - delivers
pollutants indirectly through environmental changes. One way in, which
this occurs, is through run-off.
Pathogens - or disease producing
Point source - occurs when
harmful substances are emitted directly into a body of water.
One way in which this occurs, is when someone throws a coke can into a
body of water.
Pollution - to make foul
or unclean; dirty.
Sediments - minerals or organic
matter deposited by water, air, or ice...matter which settles to the bottom
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