• What's the Biggest Cause of Water Pollution?


What's the Biggest Cause of Water Pollution?

May 03 2022

While water pollution is an issue that affects certain populations more than others, it’s one which is experienced all over the globe. Even in a country as developed and wealthy as England, a mere 14% of rivers and waterways achieved “good” ecological status in the last review. Clearly, the problem is a serious one.

But while there are a variety of different types and causes of water pollution, there are specific contributing factors which are responsible for the lion’s share of today’s water contamination issues. We take a closer look at the biggest of them – the discharge of untreated wastewater back into our rivers, streams, lakes, seas and oceans – in isolation below.

Untreated wastewater

Without a doubt, wastewater which is allowed to re-enter the environment without being treated is the biggest cause of water pollution today. This encompasses a variety of different forms of wastewater, from the effluent generated by manufacturing plants and other industrial facilities to the household and human waste that is often dumped directly into bodies of water nearby, especially in developing nations around the world.

In the UK, we are fortunate to have a robust sewerage and waste disposal system in place, which may fool you into thinking that such a setup is par for the course. Unfortunately, it’s actually the exception rather than the rule, with as much as 80% of wastewater released back into the environment without any treatment whatsoever.

A breeding ground for disease

When chemicals, bacteria and other toxins are allowed to leach into natural bodies of water, they can have an immediately negative impact on the aquatic organisms that live there. The delicate balance of such ecosystems can suffer grave repercussions when disrupted, promoting the unnatural growth of some species, jeopardising the survival of others and wiping out more still altogether.

It’s not just plants and animals which are impacted, either. In impoverished parts of the world, a significant proportion of the human population depend upon sources of water in which untreated waste is allowed to enter for their very survival. This leads to the widespread contraction and propagation of a multitude of diseases, endangering public health and causing thousands of premature deaths each year.

What can be done?

As with any issue, prevention is always better than the cure. That means that it is the responsibility of governments, corporations and private individuals to ensure that wastewater is not allowed to return to the environment without being treated responsibly and robustly.

At the legislative level, this involves putting in place mandatory requirements for wastewater to be monitored and treated, as well as the infrastructure to support the following of them and the penalties to deter transgressors. At the corporate level, it involves implementing a philosophy of environmental responsibility, bolstered by initiatives geared towards preventing water pollution. And at the individual level, it means taking ownership of our own habits and tailoring them to reduce our footprint on the natural 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.

Digital Edition

International Environmental Technology 32.3 - May/June 2022

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