Water Pollution Facts And Statistics

Looking for water pollution facts and statistics?

In previous articles, we have covered the various causes of water pollution in the world today – such as the discharge of untreated sewage, refuse, heavy metals and other toxic chemicals into the water bodies, oil spills, pesticide and fertilizer run-off from farms, etc. We also covered the effects of water pollution.

As such, in this article on water pollution facts and statistics, we will be focusing on the facts and statistics related to water pollution, in particular, the facts and statistics related to the various water pollution causes.

Water Pollution Facts on Urban Waste and Sewage

The problem of sewage pollution of water bodies is often associated with developing countries where sanitation amenities are inadequate.

For example, according to the 2006 report “Caribbean Sea, Venezuela, Central America & Mexico 3bc GIWA (Global International Waters Assessment) Regional Assessment”, about 472,653 m3 of untreated sewage was being discharged on a daily basis into the sea along the coast of the Colombian Caribbean. The eutrophication that took place as a result of sewage pollution had lead to mass fish mortality in areas such as the Cartagena Bay, as well as the destruction of coral reefs in areas like the Islas del Rosario, Colombia.

Nonetheless, it is not only the developing countries that are guilty of polluting the water bodies with untreated sewage. Water pollution facts show that developed countries are also struggling with the same issues. For example, in a 2011 article “Pressure to Improve Water Quality in Chicago River”, the New York Times reported on the pressures that the federal government and environmental groups were placing on Chicago’s waste water treatment firm to stop the discharge of untreated sewage into the Chicago River during storms, and to disinfect treated sewage water before the water was allowed to flow into the river.

In fact, the problem of water pollution by untreated sewage and waste water remains significant today. According to water pollution facts and statistics from the National Resource Defense Council in 2011, as much as 850 billion gallons of sewage that has yet to be treated is being spilt into 770 cities yearly.


Water Pollution Facts on Oil Spills

According to Waterencyclopedia, the average number of large oil spills (i.e. where over 206,500 gallons of oil are being spewed into the ocean), from 1990 to 2000 is about 6.9 yearly. But only one or two gets reported in the mainstream media from time to time.

Most recently, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, also known as the BP oil spill or the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, spewed 4.9 million barrels (each barrel holds 42 gallons or 159 litres) of oll into the Gulf of Mexico, making it the biggest offshore oil spill accident in the history of the petroleum industry to date.

It is probably quite difficult to visualize how much 4.9 million barrels, after all, it is not very often that we come into contact with such large numbers. So to put things into perspective, the author of energy blog, The Seventh Fold, made it easier for us. He pointed out that the amount of oil spilt into the oceans (i.e. 205.8 million gallons) is enough to fill up 17.1 million average cars (that holds 12 gallons each). According to Worldometers, that’s slightly less than 1/3 the number of cars produced in the WORLD in 2007 (i.e. 52.9 million).

But do you know that the BP oil spill was in no way comparable to the Gulf War oil spill in terms of the volume of oil spewed into the seas and oceans? According to Wikipedia’s water pollution facts and statistics, the dumping of about 6 to 8 million barrels of oil from several oil tankers into the Persian Gulf by Iraqi forces as part of military strategies led to the Gulf War oil spil – one of the largest oil spill in history.


Water Pollution Facts on Agricultural Wastes

According to the National Resources Management and Environment Department, agriculture is the single largest user of freshwater resources. On the average, agricultural activities worldwide can use as much as 70% of all surface water supplies.

In addition, as cited in Cornell News, in a report by several Cornell University ecologists known as “"Water Resources: Agricultural and Environmental Issues" (2004), it was shared that while only 1% of the water on earth is freshwater, 80% of this water is used by the United States for agriculture every year. Unfortunately, only 40% of the water targeted for irrigating the crops eventually reaches the crops.

According to a 2004 National Water Quality Inventory carried out by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), agriculture was one of the leading sources of impairment in the rivers, lakes and estuaries being assessed. In 2000, water pollution by agriculture activities contributed to 48% of reported problems in water quality of the impaired rivers and streams.

The discharge of agriculture waste or untreated sewage into water bodies lead to water pollution by eutrophication, which in turn leads to “dead zones” in water bodies. Dead zones are areas in the water bodies with inadequate dissolved oxygen levels to support life in the water – hence the term “dead”.

The number of ‘dead zones’ in the seas and oceans have been increasing. In fact, according to water pollution facts from the Caribbean Environment Programme (CEP), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in a 2006 report “The State of the Marine Environment: Trends and processes”, a new “dead zone” is formed in the Gulf of Mexico every summer as a result of the large amounts of nitrogen discharged into the Mississippi River.


Water Pollution Facts on Plastic Waste

For centuries up until the 1970s, rubbish dumping in the ocean had always been an accepted practice.

This practice of dumping trash into the seas and oceans, as well as accidents out at sea, has led to what is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch today. According to water pollution facts from the National Geographic, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch holds as many as 750,000 bits of plastic per square kilometer. Different estimates of the size of this oceanic waste “land” include twice the size of continental U.S, twice the size of Texas, or smaller.

According to water pollution facts from the Mother Nature Network (MNN), about 80% of the trash debris (e.g. household items) found in this garbage patch came from land. According to U.N. estimates, free-floating fishing nets make up about 10% of the debris (estimated to be 640,000 tons), resulting in accidents that threaten marine life, known as “ghost fishing”. The remaining 10% of the trash probably came from boats, ships and vessels.

Despite the large diversity in the materials discarded into the seas and oceans, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is predominantly filled with plastic debris because the other materials usually biodegrades (eg. paper) or sinks to the seabed (e.g. metal, glass, etc). Depending on where the trash came from, it could take several years for the debris to reach the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (as a result of the ocean currents in the Pacific Ocean).

Catch a glimpse of this video on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to get a better sense of the situation.


Besides the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, there is also the North Atlantic Garbage Patch, which is estimated to be hundreds of kilometers across in size, and according to water pollution facts and statistics from the National Geographic, contains more than 200,000 pieces of trash debris per square kilometer. Most of these trash probably came from onshore landfills or were thrown into the sea by litterbugs.

According to water pollution facts from Wikipedia, in 1992, a container holding 28,800 plastic bath toys in the form of yellow ducks, red beavers, green frogs and blue turtles, was washed overboard during a storm in the North Pacific Ocean. The container ship holding that container departed from Hong Kong and was head for Washington (U.S). By some accident, the door of the container opened, and all the plastic toys were released from the container. Up until today, many of these yellow plastic ducks are still floating around in the oceans, with some being sighted at beaches all over the world.


Water Pollution Facts on Radioactive Waste In the Sea

The dumping of radioactive waste into the seas and oceans was a common occurrence in the later parts of the 20th century, although it was often performed under the control of national authorities.

According to water pollution facts and statistics from the International Atomic Energy Agency in a 1989 report “Ocean Disposal of Radioactive Waste: Status Report”, the first (formal) sea dumping operation for low-level radioactive waste (LLW) took place in 1946 in the North East Pacific Ocean, about 80km from the coast of California. These radioactive waste came from the nuclear industry, research and medicine, and were packed into metal drums lined with a bitumen and concrete matrix, prior to disposal in the ocean.

According to water pollution facts from the U.S. Geological Survey, about 47,800 drums (each about 55 gallons or 208 litres) of LLW were thrown into the Pacific Ocean west of San Francisco between 1946 to 1970. Today, these drums are found lying in a 1400 km2 area on the seabed, within a region known as the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.

As cited in the magazine “Mother Jones” in an article “You are what they eat – A glowing report on radioactive waste in the sea” (July 1981), a study by Jackson Davis, scientist from the University of California, found that some of the most harmful radioactive isotopes (i.e. plutonium 239 and 240) were found in fishes often consumed by humans, at levels as high as 5000 times of background radiation.

In accordance to Lasse Ringius, author of the book “Radioactive Waste Disposal at Sea: Public Ideas, Transnational Policy Entrepreneurs, and Environmental Regimes”, the dumping of low-level radioactive wastes into the seas and oceans had been banned worldwide since 1993.

Nonetheless, it appeared that many countries, including UK and France, and continued to dump highly radioactive materials into the seas and oceans. For example, according to water pollution facts from the Department of Oceanography in the Texas A&M University, Russia continued to discharge their radioactive waste into the Artic Ocean between the 1950s and 1980s.

Nuclear accidents like the Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown also discharges large quantities of water polluted with radioactive materials into the nearby seas and oceans. According to water pollution facts and statistics by the BBC News on 4 April 2011, at least 11,500 tonnes of low-level radioactive water was discharged into the sea, to make way for the storage of more highly radioactive water leaking in the premises.


Water Pollution Facts on Heavy Metal Pollutants

Heavy metal pollution of water is serious. Consumption or use of contaminated with heavy metal can cause serious permanent health problems, or even death. The threat posed by heavy metal pollution endangers the wellbeing and lives of both animals and humans dependent on the polluted water.

As cited in Jigsawhealth.com, a study by Dr. Boyd Haley, professor and chairperson of the Chemistry Department at the University of Kentucky, showed the impact of heavy metal poisoning on rodents. In the study, it was found that small doses of mercury or aluminum killed 1 in 100 rats being studied, whereas all the rats that were exposed to small doses of both mercury and aluminum died.

The impact of heavy metal pollution on humans can be seen in the various heavy metal poisoning incidents occurring in different parts of the world at different times.


As reported by the Royal Society of Chemistry, heavy metal pollution by a nearby smelter was linked to a serious case of lead poisoning in Fengxiang County (northwestern Shaanxi Province, China) in August 2009.

From three villages in that county, 174 children were diagnosed with lead poisoning, while another 851 children were found with abnormally high levels of lead in their blood. Excessive amounts of lead in the body can interfere with the neuromuscular and nervous system, in turn resulting in permanent learning disabilities and loss of short term memory, loss of body coordination and muscle weakness, personality changes, etc.

According to water pollution facts and statistics from Wikipedia, a string of lead poisoning cases in Zamfara State (Nigeria) between March to June 2010 led to the death of more than 163 people. The poisoning incidents occurred as a result of illegal extraction of ore by villagers, who were poisoned when they came into contact with heavy metal polluted water, soil, tools, etc.

In the UK, the accidental dumping of 20 tonnes of aluminum sulphate into the drinking water supply for Camelford, a town in Cornwall (England), led to the Camelford aluminum poisoning incident in July 1988. According to water pollution facts from Wikipedia, almost immediately, hundreds of people started to report alarming symptoms like hair turning blue or green, diarrhea or vommitting, and skin peeling.

Studies done on the long-term effects of the poisoning incident found that many of the victims suffered from premature aging, permanent impairment of brain functions like memory and balance. Death did not occur immediately for most of the victims, but a post-mortem inquery for one of the victims (Carol Cross) found excessively high levels of aluminium in her brain. It was believed that she died from the early onset of beta amyloid angiopathy, a cerebro-vascular disorder linked to Alzheimers, which is in turn associated with high levels of aluminium in the brain.

Read more facts on water pollution.


Most appalling water pollution scenes

If you have ever witnessed water pollution scenes that are either disturbing or heart-wrenching, share photos of these pollution scenes with our readers, so that the photos may open the eyes of those who are still unmoved about the environmental problems of the world today.


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