Water Pollution: Its Causes, Effects, and Solutions

In this post, we take a close look at the different causes of water pollution. We’ll also discuss some of the ways in which you can help limit your impact on freshwater reserves.


Water Pollution Definition

In order to figure out what types of water pollution may be affecting you, you need to know what water pollution is in the first place.

Water pollution occurs when large bodies of water, such as lakes, rivers, oceans, and groundwater, are fully contaminated with bacteria, pharmaceuticals, or other harmful chemicals.

This happens when pollutants are directly dumped into the water, usually at the hands of people, companies, industries, etc. This is a crisis that is facing the world today, especially for the millions around the world without access to clean drinking water. If the Flint water crisis was a grave issue that did not find a solution yet, around the world, millions of people do not have access to clean water. Moreover, children in water crisis-stricken countries suffering from water scarcity are still dying from waterborne diseases. According to experts, 2.5 billion people lack access to proper sanitation around the globe.

Water Pollution Facts You Should Know

We have talked about water shortages before, but here are some water pollution facts and figures you might want to consider. Think about the world you want your children to grow before buying that plastic water bottle, plastic bag, or before throwing expired medicine into the toilet!

Research has revealed that one pollutant, in particular, is more common in our tap water than anyone had previously thought: PFAS. It is used to make everyday items resistant to moisture, heat, and stains; some of these chemicals have such long half-lives that they are known as “the forever chemical.

Here are some more water pollution facts that might open your eyes regarding this global crisis:

  • Freshwater in the world is only 2.5% of the total water available on this planet.

  • Around 70% of the industrial waste is dumped into the water bodies where they pollute the usable water supply.

  • Over14 billion pounds of garbage – mostly plastic – is dumped into the ocean every year.

  • Around 15 million children under the age of five die each year because of diseases caused by harmful drinking water.

  • In the United States of America, around 40% of the rivers and 46% of the lakes are polluted and are considered unhealthy for swimming, fishing, or aquatic life.

  • A survey conducted by Food & Water Watch estimates that approximately 3.5 billion people in 2025 will face water shortage issues. This will be mainly due to water pollution. This is likely to happen because the world pollution is increasing tremendously with more water sources getting contaminated as a result of water pollution.

As you can see, these facts are disconcerting, to say the least. If we as humankind do not make a step to change both our lifestyles/habits and legislation, our children may grow up in a world without clean water to drink or fresh air to breathe.

Why Should We All Concern More with Water Pollution?

The main reason we want to spend our time focusing on water pollution and its effects is that we want to protect some of the larger bodies of fresh water. We need water to survive, and in order to keep that water fresh, we have to take drastic measures in the right direction.

There are many types of water pollution that we are going to discuss today. We believe the first thing to do is to become knowledgeable about the subject. If someone knows how to keep their water fresh and knows what not to throw in the water, then maybe real change can be possible.

Types of Water Pollution

We are going to take the time to tell you about the various types of water pollution so you can feel confident moving forward and keeping the water near your home safe to drink.

Surface Water Pollution

The first type of water pollution that we are going to be talking about is usually also the most common one: surface water pollution.

What is surface water pollution?

As the name states, it is the pollution of a body of water that is above the ground. This is usually a stream, a lake, or a river. This is a commonplace that a lot of pollution winds up, especially in freshwater areas. For the most part, these bodies of water above ground become polluted when the water from a runoff after a rainstorm, carries a lot of bacteria and pollutants into that body of water.

The pollutants can range from salts on the roads during winter, to chemicals used for cleaning, to fertilizers being used on farms nearby. All of these things, while beneficial to us, can be detrimental to a body of freshwater.


Whenever a nutrient or a fertilizer causes surface water pollution, scientists label this as a “nutrient pollution problem.”

What are the effects of surface water pollution?

First, it creates much more algae and other aquatic plants to begin growing in the water. If there are too many plants and algae, this can cause problems for the entire water source because they begin to cover the surface of the body of water and prevent the sunlight from reaching the plants on the bottom.

Without enough sun, there will be less oxygen produced, which can harm any fish or animal in the water that needs oxygen to survive.

Fish, the number one organism in the water, desperately need this oxygen to live. Are you starting to see that even something as small as putting salt on the roads, can have huge repercussions on wildlife in the water? We’ll be touching on this subject in a bit, but keep this in mind.

The Correlation Between Surface Water Pollution and Diseases

Surface water pollution can also be caused by diseases and pathogens that are waterborne. This usually happens if there is a leak in the sewage system or by runoff created by factories that process animal products. There are deadly viruses that can get into the water and can cause fatal health issues for us. Such a phenomenon can lead to hepatitis, typhoid, and giardia, just to name a few.

In order to check that your water does not have pollutants from a sewage pipe, or animal factory, we recommend that you see if it has any fecal coliform bacteria. This is the type of bacteria that usually comes from the feces of humans and animals. If your water has any of this type of bacteria, then you are at risk that there may be other types of bacteria in there too.

Just as you use hardness water tests to see if you need a water softener or a water descaler for your home, you should also perform water tests for bacteria, heavy metals, chlorine, and more. If you do not want to rely on store-bought water testing kits, taking water samples to a certified laboratory is the wisest step.

Surprisingly, fecal coliform bacteria cannot harm a human, but it is a sign that there may be even more bacteria at play here, as they usually develop because of the same issues.


Surface Water Pollution and Chemical Wastes

Another way that surface water pollution happens is due to toxic chemicals released into the water.

Usually, this comes in the form of pesticides, and fluids that come from vehicles such as petroleum. Mercury can also be a huge issue, and also lead and arsenic can be found in water as well. They usually come from drainage from rain due to a mining site being nearby. Not only are toxic chemicals horrible for the environment, but they are also deadly to the organisms in the water and the surrounding area.

As you can see we have only covered surface water pollution so far and there is so much left to explore. What are the other types of water pollution? How can we stop it?

Oxygen-Depleting Pollution

In any body of water, there are micro-organisms. While we cannot see them with the naked eye, they are there and have a direct effect on the water life in the body of water. There are two main types of micro-organisms: aerobic and anaerobic.

If there is too much matter in the water that is biodegradable, meaning that it can easily decay, this makes microorganisms grow more readily; they love biodegradable stuff, and they want to eat as much as they can from it. However, the more microorganisms, the more oxygen they need. If they use up all the oxygen in the water, the aerobic organisms will die. This can also lead to life in the water, such as various types of fish, dying as well.

However, the anaerobic organisms do not die, but if they run out of oxygen, they produce ammonia and sulfides within the water that is very toxic and harmful. This is why we cannot be throwing any waste that is biodegradable into our water sources.


Microbiological Pollution

This type of pollution is not as well known to many. There are so many places around the world where people drink water that has been untreated, such as directly from a river or a lake.

Sometimes these bodies of water can be polluted naturally without humans causing the pollution. This can usually happen because of microorganisms within the water that can be various forms of bacteria and protozoa. Because of this natural pollution at a microbiological level, much of the water life can eventually die. This can also cause serious and even fatal illnesses to humans, which is why it is recommended to drink from a treated source of water.

Suspended Matter Pollution

Another form of pollution is one that cannot dissolve easily in water; these are a variety of substances and chemicals that do not dissolve in the water, but settle at the bottom. They lie there, unknown to us, and kill aquatic plant life. This can lead to a cycle that will kill fish because their food source will die.

Water Pollution Due to Oil Spillages

We have all heard of “oil spills,” but until you actually see a poor sea creature covered in oil, you really don’t see the dreaded effects from it. This is purely caused by man, due to the accidental dumping of oil in our water. There have been multiple oil spills within the past decade, with thousands of animals—birds, turtles, mammals, and fish, all dying because of it.

This type of pollution can cause incredible stress to our wildlife and eventually lead to even more death. Oil has the potential to spread for many miles, resulting in a disastrous effect on our wildlife. It is sad, but it is true, and something must be done to prevent oil spills.


Thermal Pollution

Again, this is another type of pollution caused by humans because of our influence on the water. It causes a change in the physical properties of the water. Because of humans, this results in a change in the temperature of the water. Imagine right now, wherever you live, that all of a sudden, the temperature got 5° colder every year. Eventually, you would have to change your entire lifestyle. This is what happens to the wildlife in these waters effected by thermal pollution.

Bottom Line

If you want to learn more about groundwater pollution, we also recommend you to check our guide here. We offer plenty of information resources for you to check out, complete with solutions you can implement to reduce this type of water pollution, and stay safe from drinking contaminated water.

The Effects of Water Pollution

There are so many types of water pollution, and we have named many types, but we want to reiterate the hazardous effects that can happen.

First of all, pollution in the water can lead to the death of animals within the water

It kills a lot of these organisms such as fish, birds, seagulls, dolphins, and they usually can be found washed up dead on the beach. If you kill a certain animal’s food source, that animal will die as well. This is all about a cycle that always starts with pollution caused by man.

Pollution causes considerable disruption within the sea’s food chain. Imagine the smallest fish in the water which needs to eat small organic particles. If those organic particles die, then those fish cannot eat and they die.

Then the medium-sized fish, who would eat the smaller fish, starve and dies. Then the larger fish, such as a shark, goes hungry as well. Even if you are killing at the smallest level, it has a direct effect on the entire cycle.

water-pollution cause

Now, many humans, unfortunately, won’t be affected by the death of wildlife, but they will feel the effects if the water affects humans, and that is exactly what can happen.

Diseases such as hepatitis can develop by eating seafood that has been caught in polluted water

There can also be disease outbreaks such as cholera because of contaminated water, that has killed many people around the world. And this is not only in foreign countries. Just take a look at what was happening in Flint, Michigan, and what is still happening right now. It is happening right in the United States in our drinking water supply.

At the end of the day, water pollution is destroying the entire ecosystem

An ecosystem can only work if all parts of that system are healthy and normally interacting. It is our fault that many of these bodies of water are now polluted, and this directly results in the vegetation being destroyed, which leads to many areas dying off. This is going to have a huge result in our own lives, and something must be done.

Prevention and Solutions to Water Pollution

So, what’s the solution for water pollution? A big problem is that many people aren’t sure how to prevent water pollution when it is incredibly easy to make a difference to your impact on the environment.

The main thing an average person can do is never throw garbage away or litter outside. Throw it in the proper bin. Use your water effectively, and do not just keep it running all day. Also, do not put chemicals or oils down the sink or the toilet as this can end up right in the groundwater.

To use cleaning liquids, ensure they are environmentally safe. Never overuse pesticides and fertilizers on your lawn. Get in contact with your local government and tell them that these matters mean something to you. Be the change you want to see in the world!

A few more ways to prevent water pollution

  • If you live close to water, it would be a good idea to plant trees or any type of plant around your home so that when it rains, the topsoil doesn’t wash away, carrying your personal chemicals with it
  • Limit the use of pesticides and chemicals in your garden; this will decrease the amount of run-off into nearby water sources
  • Buy environment-safe cleaning products. This will also help you to live more sustainably and to help the environment
  • Don’t throw chemicals, pharmaceuticals, oils or paint down the drain as this is a leading cause of water pollution
  • Watch how much water you use. You might be surprised to find out just how much water you use in a day and how much you can save on water and on your water bill. For example, when brushing your teeth, make sure to turn off the tap while you do so
  • Don’t litter. Look around for the proper rubbish bin and always recycle
  • When cooking, don’t throw any types of oil or fat down the drain. You could try draining it into a container and then discard it as solid waste once it is full
  • Don’t use the toilet as a wastebasket. This will not only clog up your drains, but it is also incredibly unsustainable and leads to massive amounts of pollution further down the line
  • Don’t use the garbage disposal
  • Why not make it a fun project with your family to switch to recycling? The opportunities for quality time and learning curves are unlimited. Let the kids help you make recycling bins and teach them the value of looking after the environment.
  • Make a compost pile for scraps and build a sustainable vegetable garden together. They will love it, and you are ensuring a future generation of sustainable adults
  • Install a water-efficient toilet. If this is too costly or you are waiting for the installation, use a brick or a ½ gallon container to conserve space and reduce the amount of water released per flush. You’d be surprised at how much water is unnecessarily flushed
  • Save electricity. Do this by only using the dishwasher and washing machine when it is full. This will reduce the amount of water that you use and save electricity at the same time
  • If you’re a farmer, allow your herd to graze only on well-vegetated pastures as this will prevent soil erosion. If you have a garden at home, then it would be prudent to plant a rain garden and avoid using pesticides
  • Keep your vehicles in good working condition to avoid oil spills and to keep it from pouring out extra smoke

A Few Notes on Plastic Water Pollution

  • Avoid plastic at all costs. This will mean saying no to a myriad of plastic products, but it will also mean looking after the environment
  • Speaking of plastic, did you know that billions of plastic water bottles end up in the ocean? Make the sustainable and responsible choice of giving up plastic bottled water. Instead, switch to a water filter pitcher to have clean, safe drinking water at home. If you fear that the entirety of your home water contains contaminants, install a whole house water filter or an under-sink water filter to have endless supplies of healthy water for drinking and cooking.
  • The easiest lifestyle choice to reduce plastic ground and water pollution is to invest in self-filtering water bottles you can take with you no matter where you go! Are you thirsty while running errands? Instead of entering the first supermarket to buy a plastic water bottle, take a filter water bottle out of your bag!
  • You could also limit your use of plastic items, from disposable plastic shopping bags to plastic kitchen utensils. Plastic is the element that is probably causing the most problems due to the simple fact that it never goes away.

Other Ways to Be a Part of the Solution and Not the Problem

  • Pick up litter. This might be a little demeaning, and after all, you don’t litter so why should you do it? Well, you live on earth too. If you clean up a little bit of the litter that is choking this planet, you are doing your part. You also lead by example and this little kindness might encourage others to follow in your lead
  • People underestimate the power of erosion. When it rains and topsoil is washed away, it carries all sorts of chemicals and pesticides with it. This can easily be remedied by planting a rain garden. Look on your property where the most eroded area is, then plant a pretty garden to catch the soil as it is washed away.
  • The population boom demands meat to feed the ever-growing influx of people. This leads to hormones and chemicals being pumped into animals When these animals excrete these hormones and chemicals, they end up in the water. Buy organic and start a trend for more natural meat without harmful chemicals and hormones, this will also improve your own health.
  • Unused pharmaceutical drugs are flushed down drains in massive amounts, and this leads to trace amounts of pharmaceuticals in our drinking water. Remedy this by dropping off your unused pharmaceuticals at a drug drop-off day organized by your local government.
  • Litter is choking our earth and the problem is only growing. This litter winds up in rivers and streams and ends up hurting our wildlife. Most prevalent among this litter is the massive amount of plastic that forms plastic islands in the sea. Arrange time and groups to pick up litter, make it a community event.
  • You could also join an organization, if you can’t volunteer then even a small donation can make a massive difference.

Be a Solution to The Water Pollution Global Crisis

Earth is our home, and we have so many systems that keep us alive. But we have systematically destroyed these vital components that keep us alive so well. It is our duty to help where we can. Even if these solutions seem small, they make a huge difference.

Besides reducing our impact on the environment, we can also protect our drinking water by using an effective water filter for our homes. Thanks to the available technologies, you can also save water and energy by installing a hot water recirculation pump in your home or at least a tankless water heater.

With sustained and sustainable water conservation efforts, water-saving and water-cleaning technologies, and a more mindful approach to recycling, we could all save what there is left to be saved and ensure our children will thrive in a world where the lack of water is not a cause for famine or wars.

Final Thoughts

Before we depart, we want to tell you that we’d love it if you’d follow us on Facebook. There’s a link in the top corner of the page. I f you have any questions about water pollution or you found sustainable solutions to conserve water, then don’t hesitate to send us a message!

Hi I'm Jamie, teacher and owner/chief contributor at waterfilteranswers.com. We strive to bring you the most informative water filter reviews in the most intuitive and user friendly way. Besides offering advice on the water filter to suit your needs, we also post topical articles on water pollution and the environment. Stay connected and follow us on, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and more!

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