Water, water everywhere... And only 3% is fresh.
The planet's fresh water is found in glaciers, lakes, reservoirs, ponds, rivers, streams, wetlands and groundwater. These freshwater habitats constitute less than 1% of the world’s total surface area yet they are home to 10% of all known animals and nearer to 40% of all known fish species. Despite their imperative to life as a drinking water source, sustaining crops, providing food, and creating power from dams – freshwater habitats are disappearing at an alarming rate.
Half the world’s wetlands have been drained, filled, planted, or paved. Of the world's 177 longest rivers, longer than 600 miles long, just 70 run uninhibited by dams or barriers and only 21 retain a direct connection with the sea. Freshwater animals are disappearing faster than marine species and tropical forest species. People are also affected by the loss of freshwater; more than 1 billion people lack access to clean drinking water and 2 billion lack adequate sanitation.
This lack of fresh water is one of the most urgent environmental and development issues of the 21st century.
One of the largest environmental issues is with fertilizers running off into waterways. Extra nutrients such as nitrogen can cause algae blooms. Large numbers of algae use up all of the oxygen in the water. When oxygen levels drop too much, fish and other organisms do not have enough oxygen to survive. Entire fish populations can be wiped out, turning entire ecosystems upside down.
Heavy metals are also a huge problem in marine ecosystems. Concentrations of the metal or toxin accumulate as it moves up the food chain. This can cause adverse effects all throughout the food chain and can even affect people. High mercury concentrations in large fish like tuna are a great example.
Acid leaching from mines can also have an effect on aquatic ecosystems. When sulfate is added to water ways through acid rain and acid leaching, the pH of the water can drop significantly. A change in pH can significantly alter the fabric of a delicate ecosystem like a coral reef.
It is true that people are directly impacted by water pollution. Over 1.9 million children die each year from drinking unsafe water. All of these children die because the water they are drinking causes diarrheal diseases that lead to poor nutrition and other problems. Unsafe drinking water is the second largest cause of child mortality worldwide and contributes to 15% of child deaths. Scientists and humanitarians are working to improve clean water resources for these children and their families. This includes stopping pollution from entering their drinking water and by finding ways for people to clean their water before they drink it.
Although most people become ill and die from microbial and sewage pollution, there are still many other people affected by water pollution. Heavy metals and other toxins are known to cause many adverse health effects including mental retardation, especially when the toxins are introduced in the womb or at a young age. Problems with this type of pollution must also be addressed and prevented.
Water pollution occurs when polluting substances are actively or accidentally discharged into water bodies without treatment to remove harmful compounds. This then affects plants and organisms living in these bodies of water. In almost all cases the effect is damaging to entire ecosystems rather than just individual species and populations.
Every day more than 2 million tonnes of sewage, industrial and agricultural waste is dumped into water. More than the weight of the entire human population.
More than 80% of sewage in developing countries is simply dumped outside completely untreated, polluting useable water supply.
Many industries – some of them known to be heavily polluting (such as leather and chemicals) – are moving from high-income countries to emerging market economies where policy lacks, and so are even more likely to cause pollution.
Approximately 945 million kilograms of fertilizers and chemicals are used each year.
At least 320 million people in China do not have access to clean drinking water.
20% of the groundwater in China is used as drinking water which is highly contaminated with carcinogenic chemicals which cause high levels of water pollution.
Approximately 85% of Bangladesh is contaminated with the extremely toxic and poisonous carcinogen arsenic.
In America, 40% of the rivers and 46% of the lakes are polluted and are considered unhealthy for swimming, fishing or aquatic life.
Fourteen billion pounds of garbage mostly plastic, is dumped into the ocean every year.
90% of deaths in young children are caused by polluted water, about 2,000 a day.
Most water pollution doesn't begin in the water itself. About 80% of ocean pollution enters our seas from the land. Virtually any human activity effects quality of water, run off into soil to air pollution. There are so many causes, and this is one of the reasons why it is such a difficult problem to solve.
Between 1990-2000 there were huge improvements in offering 1 billion people access to safe drinking water. However, a staggering 40% of the global population don't have proper sanitation (hygienic toilet facilities). 2.1 billion people defecate and dump sewage in open areas creating an extremely dangerous immediate environment that causes diarrhoeal diseases which kills 6 million people every year from - 90% of these are children under 5, mostly in developing countries.
Unfortunately, even in some of the richest nations, the practice of dumping sewage into the sea continues. In theory, sewage is a completely natural substance that should be broken down harmlessly in the environment: after all 90% of sewage is water. In practice, sewage contains a compilation of caustic chemicals, from pharmaceutical drugs to paper, plastic, and other wastes flushed away.
When suitably treated, in moderate quantities; sewage can be a fertilizer. Nature follows beautiful, waste-free cycles, and so sewage waste can return important nutrients to the environment, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, which plants and animals need for growth. However on an increasingly busy planet, in increasingly crowded areas, sewage is released in much greater quantities, creating an imbalance that the natural environment can't cope with.
Additionally, chemical fertilizers used by farmers also add egregious nutrients to the soil, which drain into rivers and seas. Sometimes, sewage and fertilizers can unite to cause a massive increase in the growth of algae or plankton that overwhelms vast areas of oceans, lakes, and rivers. This is known as a harmful algal bloom (also known as an HAB or red tide, which tursn the water red). It removes oxygen from the water which smothers and kills other forms of life, leading to what is known as a dead zone. The Gulf of Mexico has one of the world's most spectacularly enormous and dismal dead zones.
ach year, the world generates approximately 5–10 billion tons of industrial waste water, which drains in chemical infused discharge from factories. These innumerable factories are huge sources of water pollution. But virtually everyone pours chemicals of one sort or another down their drains or toilets. Washing detergents, cosmetics, shampoo, garden pesticides. A good reason to go organic.
Highways are typically covered with a cocktail of toxic chemicals—everything from spilled fuel and brake fluids to bits of worn tires (themselves made from chemical additives) and exhaust emissions. During rain, these chemicals wash into drains and rivers. It is not unusual for heavy summer rainstorms to wash toxic chemicals into rivers in such concentrations that they kill large numbers of fish overnight. In one year, highway runoff from a single large city can leak equivalents of oil into to match a typical tanker spill.
Whilst damaging to people and planet, on the spectrum: domestic detergents are relatively mild when compared with highly toxic chemicals such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). They were once widely used to manufacture electronic circuit boards, but their incredibly harmful effects were recognized and encountered high restrictions. Nevertheless, around half a million tonsof PCBs were discharged into the environment through the 20th century. Carried thousands of miles in the ocean, traces of PCBs have even been found in birds and fish in the Arctic. Although PCBs are widely banned, their effects will be felt for many decades because they last a long time in the environment without breaking down.
Another kind of toxic pollution comes from heavy metals, such as lead, cadmium, and mercury. Lead was once commonly used in gasoline (petrol), though its use is now restricted in some countries. Mercury and cadmium are still used in batteries. Until recently, a highly toxic chemical called tributyltin (TBT) was used in paints to protect boats from the ravaging effects of the oceans. Ironically, boats painted with it were doing as much damage to the oceans as the oceans were doing to the boats.
In1938 when a Japanese factory discharged a significant amount of mercury metal into a nearby by, contaminating fish stocks there. It took a decade for the problem to come to light, and as many local people had eaten the fish, around 2000 were poisoned. Hundreds of people were left dead or disabled.
People view radioactive waste with great alarm—and for good reason. At high enough concentrations it can kill; in lower concentrations it can cause cancers and other illnesses. The biggest sources of radioactive pollution in Europe are two factories that reprocess waste fuel from nuclear power plants: Sellafield on the north-west coast of Britain and Cap La Hague on the north coast of France. Both discharge radioactive waste water into the sea, which ocean currents then carry around the world. Countries such as Norway, which lie downstream from Britain, receive significant doses of radioactive pollution from Sellafield. The Norwegian government has repeatedly complained that Sellafield has increased radiation levels along its coast by 6–10 times. Both the Irish and Norwegian governments continue to press for the plant's closure.
Spectacular accidents and sprawling oil spills at sea represent a small fraction of all the pollution entering our oceans. Although, the sheer quantity of oil discharged in one place during these spills is utterly devastating for the ecosystems there. But over 70% of ocean oil pollution comes from routine shipping and from oil people pour down drains on land.
Plastic is far and away the most common substance that washes up with the waves. We dump enough each year to wrap 4 times around the Earth. Almost all plastic is not biodegradable and so it smothers ecosystems all over the planet for 400 - 600 years until it breaks down.
About half of all the world's seabird species are known to have eaten plastic residues and by 2050, there will be enough plastic in the ocean to out weight all animals in it.
Pollution can be biological as well as chemical. In some parts of the world, alien species are a major problem. Invasive species are animals or plants introduced into an ecosystem where they do not belong naturally. Outside their normal environment, they have no natural predators or abundant food sources, and so they rapidly run wild, crowding out the usual animals or plants that thrive there.
In the Black Sea, an alien jellyfish calledMnemiopsis leidyi reduced fish stocks by 90% after aits arrival. It was estimated that alien invaders like this cost the US economy $123 billion a year.
Other forms of pollution
Heat or thermal pollution from factories and power plants also causes problems in rivers. By raising the temperature, it reduces the amount of oxygen dissolved in the water, thus also reducing the level of aquatic life that the river can support.
Dams built for hydroelectric power or water reservoirs can reduce the sediment flow which effects the formation of beaches and increases coastal erosion. These adverse effect reduce the natural flow of nutrients from rivers into seas which could damage fish stocks. On the other side of the coin, construction work can increase fine powder content in nearby rivers causing it to become turbid (muddy or silted). This extra sediment can block the gills of fish, effectively suffocating them. Although construction firms o
The environments we live in are ever being polluted, more and more voraciously from the growth in demand from industtry. From surfers swimming in plastic oceans to Indian rivers infused with egregious garbage, from caustic chemicals to ravaging radioactivity. Infecting the waters cause obvious concern for the water we drink, swim in, bathe in and fish from.
And the industries that are causing the damage are also causing climate change. Which will warrant a worse effect on our waters - from more severe and frequent droughts to unprecedented flooding. Many of the most profound and immediate impacts of climate change will relate to water.
More than one-third of all counties in the lower regions will face higher risks of water shortages by mid-century as a result of global warming. Other impacts will include sea level rise, saltwater intrusion, harm to fisheries and more frequent and intense storm events.
By 2050 some 60 per cent more food will be needed to feed the world as healthy water supplies dwindle, placing added stress on water supplies as global agriculture rushes to meet that demand.
More people from the public, through business to government knowing about a topic is the first step to solving it. In the early 1990s, when surfers in Britain got fed up of catching illnesses from water polluted with sewage, they formed a group called Surfers Against Sewage to force governments and water companies to clean up their act. Beach-cleaning sessions have become a key activity of coastal communities. And anglers who can't catch such copious quantities of fish have campaigned for tougher penalties against factories pouring pollution into our rivers. Greater public awareness makes a great difference.
One of the biggest problems with water pollution is its transmuting, transboundary nature. Rivers cross countries, and seas span whole continents. Pollution discharged by factories in one country with low environmental standards can driftt to neighboring nations. Environmental laws can make it tougher for people to pollute, but to be really effective they have to operate internationally, which would challenge the global markets.
This is why we have international laws governing the oceans, such as the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (signed by over 120 nations), the 1972 London (Dumping) Convention. The European Union has water-protection laws (known as directives) that apply to its member states. Crafted over decads, it's these directives that make staying in the EU imperative for quality assurance for industry, people and planet.
Most environmental experts agree that the best way to tackle all kinds of pollution is through a 'polluter pays' principle. Whoever causes pollution should pay to clean it up. Simple, and sensible. and fair. Especially when many of the huge companies responsible for vast pollution have billions in their porfit margins.
Polluter pays could mean that tanker owners should have to take out insurance that covers the cost of oil spill cleanups, for example. Or that shoppers should have to pay for their plastic grocery bags. Maybe factories that use rivers must have their water pipes downstream of their effluent outflow pipes, so they themselves are the first people to suffer downstream pollution!
Ultimately, the polluter pays principle deters people from polluting by making it costly for them to carelessly pollute.
Unfortunately, policy lags behind industrial development. And lobbyists get right in the way (think Tobacco advertising wars).