THERE ARE MANY SOURCES OF POLLUTION IN OUR MODERN WORLD

     
Our rivers, reservoirs, lakes, and seas are drowning in chemicals, waste, plastic, and other pollutants. Here’s why―and what you can vị to help.
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British poet W. H. Auden once noted, “Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.” Yet while we all know water is crucial for life, we trash it anyway. Some 80 percent of the world’s wastewater is dumped—largely untreated—back into the environment, polluting rivers, lakes, và oceans.

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This widespread problem of water pollution is jeopardizing our health. Unsafe water kills more people each year than war and all other forms of violence combined. Meanwhile, our drinkable water sources are finite: Less than 1 percent of the earth’s freshwater is actually accessible khổng lồ us. Without action, the challenges will only increase by 2050, when global demand for freshwater is expected lớn be one-third greater than it is now.

Sip a glass of cool, clear water as you read this, & you may think water pollution is a problem ... Somewhere else. But while most Americans have access to safe drinking water, potentially harmful contaminants—from arsenic to lớn copper khổng lồ lead—have been found in the tap water of every single state in the nation.

Still, we’re not hopeless against the threat lớn clean water. To better understand the problem và what we can bởi vì about it, here’s an overview of what water pollution is, what causes it, and how we can protect ourselves.

What Is Water Pollution?

Water pollution occurs when harmful substances—often chemicals or microorganisms—contaminate a stream, river, lake, ocean, aquifer, or other body toàn thân of water, degrading water chất lượng and rendering it toxic lớn humans or the environment.

What Are the Causes of Water Pollution?

Water is uniquely vulnerable khổng lồ pollution. Known as a “universal solvent,” water is able to dissolve more substances than any other liquid on earth. It’s the reason we have Kool-Aid và brilliant blue waterfalls. It’s also why water is so easily polluted. Toxic substances from farms, towns, & factories readily dissolve into and mix with it, causing water pollution.

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Categories of Water Pollution

Groundwater

When rain falls and seeps deep into the earth, filling the cracks, crevices, và porous spaces of an aquifer (basically an underground storehouse of water), it becomes groundwater—one of our least visible but most important natural resources. Nearly 40 percent of Americans rely on groundwater, pumped lớn the earth’s surface, for drinking water. For some folks in rural areas, it’s their only freshwater source. Groundwater gets polluted when contaminants—from pesticides và fertilizers lớn waste leached from landfills & septic systems—make their way into an aquifer, rendering it unsafe for human use. Ridding groundwater of contaminants can be difficult to impossible, as well as costly. Once polluted, an aquifer may be unusable for decades, or even thousands of years. Groundwater can also spread contamination far from the original polluting source as it seeps into streams, lakes, và oceans.

Surface water

Covering about 70 percent of the earth, surface water is what fills our oceans, lakes, rivers, & all those other xanh bits on the world map. Surface water from freshwater sources (that is, from sources other than the ocean) accounts for more than 60 percent of the water delivered khổng lồ American homes. But a significant pool of that water is in peril. According khổng lồ the most recent surveys on national water chất lượng from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, nearly half of our rivers and streams & more than one-third of our lakes are polluted and unfit for swimming, fishing, & drinking. Nutrient pollution, which includes nitrates và phosphates, is the leading type of contamination in these freshwater sources. While plants & animals need these nutrients to lớn grow, they have become a major pollutant due khổng lồ farm waste and fertilizer runoff. Municipal and industrial waste discharges contribute their fair nội dung of toxins as well. There’s also all the random junk that industry và individuals dump directly into waterways.

Ocean water

Eighty percent of ocean pollution (also called marine pollution) originates on land—whether along the coast or far inland. Contaminants such as chemicals, nutrients, & heavy metals are carried from farms, factories, and cities by streams & rivers into our bays và estuaries; from there they travel out khổng lồ sea. Meanwhile, marine debris—particularly plastic—is blown in by the wind or washed in via storm drains & sewers. Our seas are also sometimes spoiled by oil spills & leaks—big và small—and are consistently soaking up carbon pollution from the air. The ocean absorbs as much as a quarter of man-made carbon emissions.

Point source

When contamination originates from a single source, it’s called point source pollution. Examples include wastewater (also called effluent) discharged legally or illegally by a manufacturer, oil refinery, or wastewater treatment facility, as well as contamination from leaking septic systems, chemical & oil spills, & illegal dumping. The EPA regulates point source pollution by establishing limits on what can be discharged by a facility directly into a body of water. While point source pollution originates from a specific place, it can affect miles of waterways và ocean.

Nonpoint source

Nonpoint source pollution is contamination derived from diffuse sources. These may include agricultural or stormwater runoff or debris blown into waterways from land. Nonpoint source pollution is the leading cause of water pollution in U.S. Waters, but it’s difficult to lớn regulate, since there’s no single, identifiable culprit.

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Transboundary

It goes without saying that water pollution can’t be contained by a line on a map. Transboundary pollution is the result of contaminated water from one country spilling into the waters of another. Contamination can result from a disaster—like an oil spill—or the slow, downriver creep of industrial, agricultural, or municipal discharge.