Each day, we rely on countless amounts of clean water to perform everyday activities, be it doing the dishes, taking a drink, or cooking. But recently, rates of contaminated, polluted water have increased at concerningly fast speeds, affecting oceans, surface water, and groundwater. After years of collective abuse of water by the global community, the time has come for us to reap what we have sown. The result is nearly unfathomable: entire bodies of water made uninhabitable, entire ecosystems eradicated, and a seemingly never-ending number of people in desperate need of freshwater.
Water pollution occurs when water becomes contaminated by toxic, harmful substances. Such substances can take shape in many forms, such as oil, plastic, fertilizer, sewage, chemical waste, and more. As humans have become increasingly active in utilizing the environment, such as agriculture or oil drilling, the amount of water pollution has drastically increased. In fact, there exists in the Pacific Ocean a patch of garbage with an estimated surface area of 1.6 million square kilometers, twice the size of Texas. Obviously, such an astronomical amount of garbage littering our waters brings with it a slew of issues including human health, the economy, and the biosphere.
Around the globe, citizens of developing countries are being stricken by disease as a result of dirty, polluted water. This problem is particularly prominent within poor slums, where there is simply no access to drinkable water. As a result, these people stuck in poverty contract diseases such as cholera, dysentery, and diarrhea. Such diseases are especially dangerous to vulnerable individuals, such as children or those without health care options. For example, the United Nations estimates that 1,000 children die a day due to diarrheal diseases related to a lack of hygiene. Within the developing countries where these cases so often occur, families must travel for hours to reach a water source that isn’t even clean. This forces them into a cycle of poverty that can’t be broken lest a freshwater source is provided, which will save time and energy.
Additionally, diseases and disorders can also be spread through less direct means. For example, as deadly chemicals accumulate in fisheries and oceans, fish ingest dangerous levels of these toxins. Then, after they are caught, they are sold at stores for us to eat. Through methods such as this, humans have been increasingly exposed to harmful chemicals that have been proven to increase the risk of reproductive disorders, developmental disorders, cancers, and other diseases. To understand the magnitude of the situation, we can look to the Flint water crisis as a warning sign for the future. In Flint, Michigan, water wasn’t treated correctly, leading tens of thousands of residents to be exposed to lead, which can stunt development and increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The crisis lasted for nearly five years from 2014 to 2019, costing the economy an estimated 140 million dollars. As an even larger example, in the early 2000s, it was revealed in a court case that Dupont had been carelessly dumping the chemical PFOA, which eventually contaminated the water supply in West Virginia and Ohio. Later, medical studies concluded that the chemical had probable connections to multiple cancers, high cholesterol, and thyroid disease. In conclusion, water contamination should not be taken lightly, for it is extremely harmful and very easily spread.
On a more global scale, water pollution has significantly decreased economic growth. Because people are impoverished due to deteriorating water quality, they don’t contribute to the economy or help circulate money. Furthermore, many industries are impacted by poor water quality. For example, agricultural yields have decreased within past years due to increasing salinity caused by manmade factors, like irrigation and fertilizer. On the most basic level, simply the harm done to the water itself can cost upwards of billions of dollars.
Even with all these problems presented by polluted water, yet another, perhaps even more pressing issue looms ahead. It is a dire matter that concerns not only human life, but all life on Earth. To put it simply, when fertilizer runoff enters a body of water, a process called eutrophication occurs, during which excessive plant growth occurs due to an abundance of nutrients. In the long term, this produces algal blooms, which are patches of overgrown algae that produce harmful toxins. Eutrophication also causes dead zones, areas of water with low oxygen levels. Because wildlife can’t survive in either algal blooms or dead zones, populations of organisms either die off or emigrate, leaving an area uninhabited. This lowers biodiversity and disrupts the food chain, which can cause a ripple effect that reaches all trophic levels.
While much of water pollution is caused by large organizations and businesses, of which we individually have little control over, collectively, we can still have a profound impact. For example, simply educating others can produce a benefit, as it will pressure governments and companies into changing policies to become more eco-friendly. By only purchasing products manufactured by companies with environmentally conscious practices will incentivize other businesses to adopt green practices as well. We can also contribute to the prevention of water pollution through small acts. When going about everyday activities, one should strive to avoid or at least limit the usage of plastics, pesticides, and any otherwise harmful substances. For example, recycling plastic or using reusable containers instead of plastic ones can be extremely helpful in limiting water pollution.
Water pollution, as with most other environmental issues, comes from human negligence and incompetence. In recent years, attention has finally been directed to environmental issues, and now there remains no excuse for them to increase in scope. As we are acutely aware of the causes of water pollution, it should be brought to a standstill as long as the global community makes an effort to be more environmentally conscious.