The Water Pollution Guide

water not suitable for drinking

Concern over our environment and precious resources have increased over the last decade due to climate change. Water pollution, once a concern that focused mainly on freshwater sources, has expanded exponentially. Now, pollution doesn’t just affect our drinking and irrigation water; it has infested our oceans, resulting in the mass deaths of important sea life.

Over 269,000 tons of plastic litter float on our ocean’s surface, with another 4 billion tons lying on the seabed. Large pieces of debris have been known to kill whales, turtles, and other marine animals. And scientists are still calculating the damage done to fish and other sea creatures by the chemicals that leach from this rubbish.

And cute marine mammals and our fish dinners aren’t the only impact water pollution has on our lives. In fact, like water itself, the pollution seeps into all corners. At this time, 40 percent of our US rivers and 46 percent of our lakes are too polluted for swimming or fishing. And worldwide, deaths from water-based disease account for over 5 million deaths, many borne by water contamination and pollution.

Water Wars: Privatization, Pollution, and Profit

  • North Atlantic Books
  • Shiva, Vandana (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Water Pollution: Causes, Treatments and Solutions!

  • Begum P.Eng., Dr. Luxmy (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 88 Pages – 10/29/2015 (Publication Date) – CreateSpace Independent…

Pollution : Problems Made by Man – Nature Books for Kids | Children’s…

  • Professor, Baby (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 64 Pages – 05/14/2017 (Publication Date) – Baby Professor (Publisher)

Basic Environmental Technology: Water Supply, Waste Management and…

  • 02/12/2020 (Publication Date) – Prentice Hall (Publisher)

Drinking Water: A History (Revised Edition)

  • Salzman, James (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

What Exactly is Water Pollution?

garbage and black smoke

Water pollution occurs when foreign and harmful substances become introduced to a body of water. Many contaminants include chemicals, foreign organisms, garbage, and sewage. Once introduced to a degree where it affects the water’s ecosystem, it becomes toxic. At that point, it can no longer support aquatic life and becomes toxic to humans and other animals living near the water.

Types of Water Pollution

Although all water pollution affects nearby ecosystems, its important to understand the different types that occur. Although many toxic bodies of water suffer from a combination of these factors, they often require different solutions.

Chemical Water Pollution

dirty water coming out of sewer

Chemical water pollution is the result of industrial waste dumping into sewers or nearby lakes and rivers. Environmentalists diagnose chemical pollution when organic or inorganic chemicals become introduced to waters where they’re not normally found. Generally, this occurs in areas where the influx is persistent, such as industrial and agricultural waste.

Common chemical pollutants are normally found near construction sites, mining operations, and large commercial farms. Household chemicals can also contribute to chemical water pollution.

Radiological Water Pollution

radioactive sign on fence

Radioactive contamination can occur in bodies of water. Unfortunately, nuclear energy plants are permitted to release water containing controlled levels of radiation into oceans, rivers, and lakes. Medical waste can also serve as a source of radiological water pollution.

These radioactive particles take a great deal of time to dissipate and until then infected the water supply and affect humans and animals. These carcinogenic substances can remain in the body for years. Long term exposure to low doses of radiation is well known as a cause of cancer.

Biological Water Pollution

trash near water

Biological water pollution can affect any organism that makes its home in or near a polluted body of water. Microbe sources can present as man-made or natural, but lack of hygiene and proper water treatment results in water contaminated with bacteria and viruses. You’ll see their names in the news, usually from undeveloped areas and causing widespread disease in humans and animals. These include E coli,, typhoid, cholera, and others.

Other biological sources of water pollution can be natural, but out of control to the point of toxicity. These include algae blooms that result in the deaths of the water’s usual population of fish and wildlife.

Sources of Water Pollution


In order to deter future contamination and identify potential causes, specialists have categorized the types of sources that produce water pollution.

Point Sources

Non-point Sources

Trans-boundary Sources

Water Pollution Exposure & Health Effects

dirty water on bottles

Concern over the short and long-term effects of water pollution exposure has topped news headlines for the last 40 years. Both medical and biological research has focused on potential health risks and possible solutions for many years.

Exposure Methods

Drinking Polluted Water

Food Contamination

Airborne Contaminants

Direct Exposure

Health Effects of Water Pollution

boy on water with garbage at the background

The most obvious effect of polluted water on human health is the spread of water-borne diseases. And although many are naturally occurring microorganisms, their growth is exacerbated by waste dumping into the water supply. Raw sewage and runoff from livestock result in infections from protozoans that cause gastric diseases. Bacterial infections include E. coli, cholera, botulism, typhoid, salmonellosis, and dysentery. Waterborne viral infections include SARS and Hepatitis A. Even the naturally occurring algae desmodesmus armatus can cause fungal infections in immune suppressed humans with open wounds. This is one reason that algal blooms are considered pollutants.

Along with biological water pollution and the resulting diseases, chemical water pollution can lead to serious health disorders. Nitrates from agricultural runoff contribute to infant mortality by gastric cancer as well as development disorders in children.

Exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the water supply result in lowered IQs in children, and alters thyroid and reproductive health in adults.

The 1968 dumping of mercury-contaminated waste in the Shiranui Sea in Japan still affects those in the area 50 years late with neurological problems from the consumption of fish from the polluted water.

How Water Pollution Effects Biospheres & Ecosystems

animal skull and dirty water

Pollution affects all components of the environment, including individual ecosystems as well as the entire biosphere. All water sources are connected over the planet through waterways, rivers, and the water cycle of evaporation and precipitation. This means that water pollution in particular is hard to contain.

Ecological Damage

Eutrophication, Dead Zones, and Algae Blooms

Disruption of the Food Chain

Water Pollution & Habitat Loss

Water Pollution & the Death of Animal Life

Water Pollution Control & Prevention

Water pollution is a serious and unhappy result of breakneck development in the human realm. And we’re the only ones with the resources to put it right. If only we can develop the will to do so. And hopefully, we’ll find the technology to do it very, very quickly.

We often think of water pollution and waterborne disease as third-world problems. But even in the supposedly “clean” and eco-friendly US, nearly half our freshwater rivers and lakes are too toxic to enjoy.

Advocating in Your Community


If you’d like to see a reduction of water pollution, follow up with community initiatives to prevent it escalating in large-scale development and agricultural. Don’t hesitate to question your representatives in all levels of government to determine their stance on regulation and governmental programs for improving water quality.

Wise Land Use Policies

Careful land use policies can help mitigate the problem. There’s an important lesson that the US should have learned during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. In that case, overuse of land resulted in soil erosion so extreme it literally blew away by passing windstorms. In response, then-president Franklin Roosevelt formed the Civilian Conservation Corp and the Prairie States Forestry Project. Using labor form the Works Progress Administration and local farmers, the initiative added 220 million trees, resulting in 18,00 miles of plant windbreaks to halt the soil erosion.

In modern times, thoughtful and well-executed soil conservation projects aimed at preventing erosion in the same manner could stem runoff and the resulting pollution of nearby bodies of water. Planting trees or other carefree vegetation between agricultural land and nearby waterways would prevent soil erosion and therefore runoff of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers.

Appropriate Pasture Management

Careful livestock management would also improve the environment. Allowing for the growth of dense foliage in pastures for cattle grazing has proven to be nearly as beneficial for the nearby water quality as undeveloped woodland.

Restoring Wetlands

Over the last century, developers have drained many natural wetlands in order to build communities near bodies of water. These wetlands form a natural barrier between the land and the ocean and contain vegetation that slows soil erosion.

These slow-moving waterways prevent the infiltration of land runoff into lakes and oceans. Roots from the trees prevent soil from washing away during storms and tides. This stabilizes river banks and beaches and provides a buffer zone.

It also provides expanded habitats for wildlife. While wetlands don’t seem ideal for human communities, they home many species of birds, small mammals, fish, and reptiles. Restoring our wetlands will also allow endangered plant species to thrive and recover.

Small-scale Actions That Have a Big Impact

You can also personally become involved in reducing water pollution by making a few adjustments in your purchasing and disposal habits. Small actions can have a big impact, and you’ll quickly become accustomed to any extra efforts it may take to prevent further water pollution.

Recycle, Reduce, & Reuse

One personal way you can prevent water pollution is by being more mindful of how you dispose of waste. Plastics are the most problematic, since they don’t break down in the landfill. Even when shredding or chipped, they can cause havoc in the waterways and act as a health risk to wildlife.


Reduce your use of plastics to prevent even more damage from occurring to marine life. A quick survey of the things you use on a daily basis can provide a list instances where you could easily replace plastic waste. Along with adding millions of tons of non-biodegradable garbage to our environment, the use of disposable plastic items adds hundreds of dollars to our annual grocery bill. And perhaps, some inches to our waistlines. Here’s a quick list of ideas for limiting use of plastics:

  • Purchase foods in bulk with a reusable container

  • Eschew soda in plastic bottles in favor of iced tea made at home

  • Use a stainless steel safety razor instead of plastic disposable razors

  • Recycle

    Skip frozen meals & cook from scratch using fresh ingredients

  • Recycle

    Use reusable mugs of coffee or cooler cups for soda

  • Recycle

    Choose reusable containers to pack lunches

  • Recycle

    Choose products packaged in cardboard or paper over plastic


Most communities provide curbside recycling as part of regular solid waste pickup, so take advantage of it. If your community doesn’t offer this service, start a petition to add it to your services. Some local solid waste centers take plastics and other items for recycling. For example, many request you drop off any electronics waste, including batteries, for proper recycling.


Upcycling is a favorite trend for DIY advocates, and you’ll find dozens of ways to reuse plastic items throughout the home. Here are a few ideas to try when recycling isn’t enough:

  • Plastic soda bottles make fantastic plant pots for an indoor herb garden

  • Laundry detergent bottles make great sand toys for children

  • Reuse plastic grocery bags in small waster paper baskets

  • Weave plastic grocery bags into durable baskets for holding things

  • Reuse grocery bags by wadding them up for packing material instead of bubble wrap

Safe Disposal of Hazardous Waste

While becoming more familiar with your local solid waste center, find out how to best discard potentially toxic household chemicals. Your county should have procedures in place for disposing of used motor oil, mechanical and pharmaceutical waste. You’ll also find policies for paints, paint thinners, and construction debris.

Proper Management of Automotive Waste

Home mechanics should properly dispose of car fluids and auto parts to prevent them from entering the groundwater or nearby waterways. Car batteries, tires, and other automotive parts and fluids should also be disposed of in accordance with your local ordinances.

The lead in batteries is toxic, which contaminate groundwater. If your local auto parts store doesn’t offer a “core refund” on the recyclable parts of the battery, make sure you take them to your local recycling center.

Your county may also permit you to dispose of a limited number of tires. If not, most tire stores will take them off your hands for a small fee.

To remove oil and antifreeze spills from driveways, cover them with plain clay cat litter or baking soda to absorb them. Then remove the litter and drop it off with other hazardous waste at your local collection center.

Beach & Waterway Clean Up

If you enjoy a day of kayaking or a lounge on the beach, take a day to join a cleanup crew in your local area. You’ll find a number of opportunities near you, as well as some through national organizations

Coastal Cleanup Day is a worldwide phenomenon held every year where millions of volunteers work together to gather trash on beaches, rivers, and lakes. Find the nearest cleanup location at the Ocean Conservancy website.

Eat Organically Grown & Sustainable Foods

By choosing organically grown foods or organically fed meat, you’ll have a serious impact on the number of pesticides and other agricultural chemicals used. First of all, you will support organic farmers and free-ange ranchers with your hard-earned dollars. This will help them continue their efforts in responsible land management. You’ll also help send a message to those still utilizing chemical sprays or raising grain-fed cattle instead of using a managed pasture system.

Control Urban Runoff From Your Property

In high-density areas of human population such as cities and suburbs, so much of the ground is covered by concrete that rainwater isn’t able to soak in. Developed areas rely on storm drains to remove excess water and prevent building and streets from flooding.

Unfortunately, this rain runoff carries a host of water pollutants like lawn fertilizers, motor oil, and other chemicals. These end up in whatever natural waterway storm drains empty into, complete with the debris of modern life.

Road salt, pet waste, seepage from garbage dumps and junkyards all can end up in the local water supply.

Along with supporting responsible city managers, you can reduce urban runoff by using lawn and garden chemicals sparingly. Use biodegradable pesticides, like neem oil, and organic fertilizers, like fish emulsion to boost your vegetable garden output. Xeriscaping, if appropriate, will reduce your use of chemicals altogether, while reducing the frequency you would generally need to water a grass lawn.

Ensure that you clean up all auto fluid spills and dispose of hazardous materials quickly and effectively. Pick up the poop after your pets; you can even compost it for non-edible landscaping plants.

It’s Up to All of Us

water is a human right

Water once seemed a resource we could never exhaust. And although the planet remains covered with oceans, we are indeed running low on usable water that’s safe to drink and bathe in. Our food supply is also threatened by debris, chemicals, and even an abundance of algae.

Despite the fact that water seems endless, natural changes in geography and man-made changes in climate mean it’s harder to control. These changes mean it’s more challenging to ensure that everyone has access to safe water in their local area. Especially considering the broad range of contaminants and factors in water pollution.

Humans have made a habit of using up every resource on the earth until its exhausted, and hopefully, we’ve learned a few lessons in the last 200 years. In order to continue to enjoy our modern conveniences, we need to become better stewards of the natural world.

We hope this article has given a few ideas of how water pollution can affect the health of you and your family. We also hope that it’s given you few ideas on how you can lend a hand to help protect and restore our waterways to their pristine beginnings.

Water Wars: Privatization, Pollution, and Profit

  • North Atlantic Books
  • Shiva, Vandana (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Water Pollution: Causes, Treatments and Solutions!

  • Begum P.Eng., Dr. Luxmy (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 88 Pages – 10/29/2015 (Publication Date) – CreateSpace Independent…

Pollution : Problems Made by Man – Nature Books for Kids | Children’s…

  • Professor, Baby (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 64 Pages – 05/14/2017 (Publication Date) – Baby Professor (Publisher)

Basic Environmental Technology: Water Supply, Waste Management and…

  • 02/12/2020 (Publication Date) – Prentice Hall (Publisher)

Drinking Water: A History (Revised Edition)

  • Salzman, James (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Hi I'm Jamie, teacher and owner/chief contributor at 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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