• What Are the Effects of Water Pollution on Human Health?

Water/Wastewater

What Are the Effects of Water Pollution on Human Health?

Apr 19 2022

Over the last couple of decades, the issue of water pollution has commanded an increasing number of column inches in the mainstream media. That’s due to the fact that our seas, oceans, rivers, lakes and other waterways are becoming more and more contaminated, even as our knowledge of the effects of water pollution on human health continues to grow. So how, exactly, does consuming dirty water affect the human body? Here’s a closer look at the health ramifications of water pollution depending on the type of contaminant consumed.

Effects of consuming chemically contaminated water

Chemicals can find their way into our water supply through a number of means: industrial processes, agricultural run-off and antiquated infrastructure, to name but a few. If we are exposed to elevated concentrations of heavy metals, ammonia, phosphate or other harmful chemicals, it can hold serious health implications for the human body.

In one of the most high-profile cases of consuming water tainted with chemical toxins, the residents of Flint in Michigan suffered skin irritations, hair loss and alarmingly high levels of lead in the bloodstream. In the most extreme scenarios, consuming chemicals can cause damage to the immune, reproductive, cardiovascular and renal systems, as well as contributing to cancer and diminishing brain function.

Effects of consuming water polluted with sewage

According to the World Health Organisation, over a third of the global population do not have access to basic sanitation facilities and clean drinking water. This means that the H2O they consume can be riddled with sewage, bacteria and other harmful elements, causing the contraction of multiple types of waterborne diseases and afflictions.

For example, the bacteria in water contaminated by sewage can provoke cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, hepatitis A, polio and typhoid, among other life-threatening ailments. Approximately 297,000 children under the age of five years old are estimated to lose their life due to their exposure to contaminated water supplies, with those living in the third world most heavily affected by the issue. To avoid it, robust monitoring of wastewater treatment systems must be put in place.

Effects of consuming water containing microplastics

The problem of microplastics is a relatively recent one in comparison to the two types of water pollution listed above, but it is one that should be viewed with just as much concern. Microplastics are generally defined as plastic particles that are less than 5mm in length and can be classified as primary (those which are that size by design) and secondary (those which break down from larger pieces of plastic waste).

Recent studies have revealed that microplastics have now reached the furthest corners of the Earth – from the Marina Trench to the summit of Mt Everest – and they’ve also been discovered in the human body. Although the full effects of microplastic consumption are not yet known, it has been linked with inflammatory reactions of the skin and organs, oxidative stress of tissue and metabolic complications.

Famine and hunger

Although this particular outcome is not caused directly by consuming contaminated water, it is an indirect result of water pollution. That’s because over two-thirds of the world’s freshwater supplies are devoted to agriculture, so dwindling resources will inevitably result in lower crop yields and poorer quality. Meanwhile, water pollution can negatively impact the food chain, which also compromises the amount of food available to the human race.

Given that the global population is expected to reach around 10 billion by 2050, agricultural output will need to increase by an estimated 50%. If water pollution prevents that from happening, it’s likely that famine and hunger will become prevalent, especially in the developing world.

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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