• 5 Water Pollution Effects on the Environment

Water/Wastewater

5 Water Pollution Effects on the Environment

Apr 23 2022

According to estimates by the UN, at least two billion people around the planet are exposed to unclean drinking water. But while this has major ramifications for their health, resulting in the proliferation of a multitude of waterborne diseases and causing premature deaths among vulnerable populations, humans are not the only party negatively affected by the phenomenon. Here’s a closer look at some of the more prevalent water pollution effects on the environment as a whole.

Eutrophication

When an abundance of nutrients is allowed to leach into water sources from agricultural run-off, it can cause a sharp imbalance in the delicate ecosystems which inhabit them. Most notably, this can cause a process called eutrophication, wherein excess levels of ammonia and phosphate promote the rapid growth of algal blooms. These blooms block out sunlight and suck up all the oxygen from their environment, thus depriving other aquatic organisms of the resources they need to survive.

Plastic ingestion

The human race’s obsession with plastic contributes to a terrible problem in our seas and oceans, where much plastic waste ends up. Indeed, it’s estimated that there are over five trillion tonnes of the stuff in bodies of water worldwide, with many of these breaking down into smaller microplastics over time. Not only can marine animals become entangled in this rubbish, but they can also mistake it for food and ingest it. As well as potentially damaging their internal organs, plastic also takes up vital space in their stomachs without contributing any nutrients.

Bioaccumulation

When heavy metals, chemicals and other toxins end up in waterways, they become absorbed by the plants and animals living there. While the concentrations of these elements might begin small, they can persist in organic matter for many years and as such, are simply assimilated into the bodies of predators after the initial host is consumed. In this way, they work their way up the food chain, compromising the health of ever larger animals and potentially even finding their way onto our dinner plates.

Acidification

Not all water pollution is visible to the naked eye. It’s thought that our seas and oceans can absorb as much as a quarter of the carbon emitted into the air, thus leading to decreased pH levels in the water. This type of disruption to the chemical balance of the ecosystem can interfere with some animals’ navigation and self-defence systems, as well as impact negatively upon their ability to grow and repair their bodies. Meanwhile, acidification is also a leading cause of coral bleaching.

Loss of entire species

Finally, water pollution can have the ultimate effect of wiping an entire species off the face of the Earth. Due to the composition of their bodies and the ways in which they function, certain organisms are more susceptible to this kind of threat than others, as demonstrated by laboratory experiments. If water pollution interferes with the reproductive systems and habits of an animal, or else makes it less capable of dealing with other environmental stressors, it can eventually die out altogether.

For those interested in learning more about the topic of water pollution, the upcoming Water, Wastewater and Environmental Monitoring (WWEM) exhibition promises to be a great source of information. Scheduled to take place in Telford in the UK on the 12th and 13th October 2022, the exhibition will cover the subject from all angles.


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International Environmental Technology 32.3 - May/June 2022

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