• What Causes River Pollution?


What Causes River Pollution?

Apr 29 2022

It’s logical that human settlements have developed near the banks of rivers and streams, since these waterways provide a valuable source of H2O for those dwelling nearby. However, human occupation can have a damaging effect on the bodies of water themselves.

This is a problem which plagues countries around the world. In England, for example, a mere 14% of rivers satisfy the criteria for “good” ecological status, despite the relative wealth and progression of the country. In more impoverished parts of the globe, the issue can be far more serious, endangering the health and lives of the communities which live in the vicinity.

But what, exactly, causes river pollution? Here’s a brief look at some of the major causes of contamination in our rivers, streams and other waterways today.

Industrial effluent

Any plant or facility where industrial activity takes place is likely to provide a significant amount of waste, much of it in the form of liquid effluent. While this waste is required to be treated by national and international law, it’s a sad fact that the majority of it is released back into the environment without any processing whatsoever. This inevitably damages the ecosystems living in the rivers it pollutes.

Agricultural run-off

Fertilisers, pesticides and other agricultural products contain chemicals like ammonia, nitrogen and phosphate to help promote growth and boost crop yields. However, these chemicals can become washed into nearby bodies of water in times of heavy rainfall, resulting in an imbalance of nutrients. This disruption of the status quo can cause eutrophication, which allows certain species (such as algae) to proliferate to the detriment of others.


Unfortunately, not everyone is as conscientious about their environmental footprint as others. Some people absent-mindedly (or, worse still, deliberately) toss out their old rubbish without giving thought to its proper disposal. These items of waste often end up in rivers and waterways, where they can accumulate and endanger the survival of the aquatic species which live there.

Sewage systems

The proper collection, treatment, disposal and monitoring of human waste is absolutely vital to the functioning of a modern society. While many parts of the developed world already enjoy the benefits of this system, there are huge swathes of the population in third world countries which do not experience the same advantages. Instead, their waste is dumped directly into the nearest body of water, promoting the spread of a variety of diseases and posing major problems for public health.


During periods of heavy precipitation, the contaminants which normally lie on the land (such as rubber particles from tyre abrasion, chemical spills and loose items of waste) can be washed into lakes, rivers and streams. This is a major cause of water pollution which is only set to become worse in the coming years, as climate change and global warming make the incidence and intensity of extreme weather events all the stronger.

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 32.6 - Nov/Dec 2022

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