Types of Water Pollution

What are the types of water pollution?

Water covers two third of the Earth's surface, and is equally important for both humans and the environment. The growing human population is putting undue pressure on the planet’s water resources resulting in various types of water pollution.

The quality of our major water bodies, such as rivers, lakes, oceans and groundwater, is greatly reduced by human activity. The pollution of water has far reaching effects. It not only affects the availability of safe drinking water but also harms the environment. Polluted water is not only unfit for drinking and for other domestic uses, it is also not suitable for most industrial and agricultural use.

In fact, water pollution is a serious problem the world is facing today. Around 4,500 children die every day solely from waterborne diseases only. Read more on water pollution facts.

Below are some types of water pollution:

Pollution via oxygen depletion

The presence of large amounts of decomposing material in water bodies can lead to water pollution via oxygen depletion – oxygen in the water is used up.

The decomposition process uses oxygen. In addition, the presence of decomposing materials in the water bodies may promote the growth of microorganisms in the water, and because these microorganisms also utilize oxygen, the oxygen depletion problem is aggravated. When oxygen in the water body is insufficient to support life, the microorganisms, as well as other organisms in the water like fishes and plants, may die, leading to more decomposing material in the water.

Pollution by excessive nutrients

This types of water pollution is linked to water pollution via oxygen depletion.

Nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen are necessary for plant growth on land and in water. But excessive nutrients in the water can cause the rapid growth of weeds and algae, which compete with the organisms in the water for oxygen. Oxygen depletion in the water could take place as a result of proliferate algae and weed growth.

The algae and weeds could also block sunlight from entering the water and hinder the food-making process by plants in the water. As such, the water plants die, together with the other organisms that feed on the plants.

What we might end up with is a water body filled with dead organisms.

Pollution by chemicals

Water pollution via chemicals is perhaps the types of water pollution that we all are most familiar with.

We often see the images and photographs of oil-covered birds that have lost their ability to fly. However, pollution of water bodies via chemicals goes beyond oil spills. Water could also be polluted by chemical wastes from industries, or chemical substances (e.g. pesticides) running off farms into the water.

These chemicals are extremely harmful to life – they could kill living things instantaneously, or accumulate in the bodies of plants and animals, and be passed down food chains, eventually reaching humans.

Pollution by disease causing organisms

Some polluted water bodies contain viruses, bacteria or other microorganisms that cause waterborne diseases such as diarrhea, hepatitis, dysentery, typhoid etc. Humans and animals get sick by drinking this contaminated water.

Pollution by suspended matter

Some pollutants are dissolved in water but some that aren't are called suspended matter. The tiny particles of matter stay in the water and eventually settle out and form silt or mud on the floor of the water body.

If there are lots of biodegradable organic materials in the sediment, they will become anaerobic and the organisms that live near the seabed are affected.

The suspended matter could block sunlight from plants in the water, affecting their photosynthetic ability to produce food and oxygen. The suspended matter could also be ingested by animals (e.g. fishes, birds) mistakenly, choking and killing them.

The dumping of rubbish, especially plastic items that are non biodegradable, into the oceans have resulted in the types of water pollution by suspended matter in the oceans. Read about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and other facts on ocean pollution.

Read related articles on causes of water pollution:

Read related articles on water pollution

Although two third of our earth’s surface is covered with water bodies, only a small proportion is safe for drinking. For ourselves and our planet, we need to prevent the different types of water pollution. We need to start educating people about water pollution today.

Read about how to stop water pollution:

  • Ways to stop pollution in the seaWater pollution solutions for the household
  • Solutions to water pollution globally

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