We discuss the causes of drinking water pollution in North America. The effects of agriculture, big business, and fracking reach right into our homes. How did things get so bad?
Water is not just for satisfying a person’s thirst or helping them to stay clean, it is also needed to keep the world from turning into a literal desert. Most of the water on the Earth is not for drinking. This is especially true for drinking water sources within the United States. There are many different reasons as to why the water within the US is no longer fit for consumption.
What Causes Drinking Water to Become Contaminated?
As much as two-thirds of America’s bays and estuaries are contaminated by nitrogen and phosphorous. These substances are dangerous because they severely degrade fresh water sources. Pollution caused by agriculture and fossil fuels are two of the main culprits. High levels of nitrogen and phosphorous cause algae to grow in fresh water systems at rates too quick for the ecosystem to handle. High levels of algae can affect the “water quality, food resources and habitats, and decrease the oxygen that fish and other aquatic life need to survive.” (EPA). In fact, algae can also allow harmful toxins and bacteria to thrive.
Keep in mind that some contaminants are placed into the water by businesses that dump them directly into water sources, with almost immunity from the government. At other times water is contaminated indirectly by chemical and minerals that are found in nature. Examples of naturally occurring contaminants include substances such as radon, arsenic and uranium. Once they enter into the water they have to undergo a sophisticated purifying process until these substances can be removed.
Farmers also contribute to the problem of water pollution. Many of them uses fertilizers, pesticides and concentrated feeding operations to care for their crops and animals. When these substances are utilized by farmers they tend to seep into the soil and cause problems with the groundwater. This process is called runoff and it takes place when it rains, snow and when there is a flood. Chemicals are also washed into the drinking water when runoff occurs.
Fracking is a controversial and divisive process of finding fuel resources that modern society needs to keep it going. While fracking for natural gas and oil is widespread in American society; this process also contaminates drinking water in the communities where people reside. The fracking process uses water mixed with sand and chemicals. Once this water has been deposited onto the ground it will usually seep into the ground and cause contamination.
Here is another important point about water pollution. At least 40 percent of the drinking water in the U.S. has 1.5 million metric tons of nitrogen chemicals. The Mississippi River carries this water into the Gulf of Mexico on an annual basis. This much pollution causes an area the size of Massachusetts to become a coastal dead zone every year in the summer. Manufacturing processes and sewer overflows also contribute to waste water contamination.
Another way that water becomes polluted has to do with various microorganisms that can affect plants, animals and humans. If any of these microscopic creatures are found within a water source they usually cause people to become sick or gravely ill. Ten microorganisms in particular are usually responsible for harming different life forms on the Earth. These ten microorganisms include giardia, legionella, norovirus, shigella, campylobacter, copper, salmonella, hepatitis A, cryptosporidium and E. coli. Excessive fluoride can also contaminate water sources.
Flint’s Water Crisis Reveals America’s Water Pollution Crisis
Various water testing agencies have found at least 70 different pesticides in America’s drinking water. They can effectively filter out most of the pesticides but this clearly reveals a problem exists with keeping water clean for people to consume. Since 2014 various American cities had problems with their drinking water. Places such as Toledo, Ohio and Flint, Michigan are two cities that had to be literally shut down in terms of water pollution.
Flint, Michigan has close to 100,000 residents. Starting in 2014 the city began to have problems with off colored water coming out of their sinks and showers. When some of these residents called the local water supplier to complain; they were told the water was suitable for drinking; nothing could have been further from the truth. Flint’s water became contaminated when the city decided to stop using Detroit’s water system to save money. This proved to be a big mistake because Flint’s water supplying infrastructure was seriously eroded. Lead from the aging pipes within the infrastructure seeped into the water and it was not able to be filtered out.
A lot of people had already consumed this water. Many of them had to be examined for various illnesses and changes to their physical condition. Flint’s water problems are still taking place until this day. The city is paying a heavy price to change its water supplying infrastructure. Once they complete this process they should have safe drinking water for everyone in the city. However, it may be a lengthy process and costly process.
Water pollution is a big problem within the US. Many state and city officials are working hard to ensure that the water is safe for consumption. In fact the White House, and around 150 other institutions, recently set aside over $5 billion to improve water quality and the access to water across the nation. The process of stabilizing America’s drinking water is not just limited to water infrastructure, it also involves working with farmers, local manufacturers and the refuse industry. Keeping water safe for drinking is necessary for stabilizing communities and ensuring that people have good health.