Have you ever been afraid about the quality of water where you live?
Have you ever turned on your faucet and smelled a strange odor or even seen something yucky in your tap water?
Do you catch yourself wondering now and then just how healthy your municipal water really is?
Unfortunately, when it comes to water quality problems, ignorance isn’t always bliss. If you go through your life drinking tap water without paying much attention to what might be in it, you run the risk of letting the pollution of ground water in your area make you and your family sick.
In this article, you’ll learn all about the pollution of underground water and what it means for you. You’ll be given a brief rundown of the difference between a contaminant and a pollutant so you can better understand the water quality reports for your city or county, and you’ll learn the definition of groundwater pollution and where it comes from.
You’ll also find some examples of groundwater pollution in the real world, and you’ll see just what’s being done about this problem in a handful of different countries. The more you learn about groundwater pollution, the better prepared you’ll be to find out how you can make a difference in your own country, state, city, or county. You’ll be better able to recognize problems that could contribute to this type of pollution in your own home, too.
To learn more, just read on.
So what is groundwater pollution? Before you can delve into what this term really means, it’s first important to understand what makes a pollutant and what doesn’t. Groundwater pollution comes from a lot of different places and can be found almost everywhere around the world. Below, you’ll be introduced to several examples of pollution as well as a few examples of contaminants. Keep in mind that just because water has levels of contaminants present in a given sample doesn’t mean that water is polluted. Contaminants aren’t always dangerous, especially in lower numbers. A pollutant is a contaminant that is always dangerous.
All that information is very helpful, but what is ground water pollution anyway? Of course, it’s important to be able to recognize problem areas like pollutants and understand that some contaminants are necessary and natural, but identifying groundwater pollution further is an important next step to take toward truly understanding the problem.
Groundwater itself is simply the water that can be found underground. This doesn’t include surface bodies of water, but instead includes the water that fills in spaces between sand, rocks, and soil beneath the surface of the earth. 30% of the freshwater on the face of the earth is stored as groundwater. To put this in perspective, almost 69% of the earth’s freshwater makes up glaciers and ice caps, while only one percent can be found as surface freshwater sources like rivers and lakes.
With numbers like that, you can see why groundwater is so important!
Groundwater comes from a process called the hydrologic cycle. This is the same cycle that has been providing water to the planet through the earth’s whole life. The first step in the cycle is the evaporation of surface water. When this water evaporates, vapor makes its way into clouds. These clouds travel some distance and then cause precipitation in the form of rain or snow.
When it rains or snows on the ground, some of this precipitation immediately refills surface water. However, a lot of it falls on the soil. When that happens, this water seeps through small cracks in the rock, dirt, and sand (called aquifers) to reach the water table beneath the surface of the planet. This recharges the groundwater there.
From there, groundwater slowly trickles through the water table and eventually reaches lakes, rivers, and other surface freshwater sources. It recharges these bodies of water so that they are filled with liquid that can once again evaporate into clouds and continue the hydrologic cycle. This is the basis for weather on our planet, and it’s been happening for a very long time.
Now you’ve had a crash course in pollutants versus contaminants, and you’ve learned a few examples of each. You’ve also found out just what groundwater is, and why its pollution affects us all. In this section, you’ll further explore groundwater pollution by examining different potential sources that can cause it. Remember that some areas and parts of the world don’t have to deal with all of these problems equally, but that every part of the world faces at least one of these at some point. Groundwater pollution is a problem everywhere, and no place is completely free from it.
So what are some of the most common types of groundwater pollutants you might come across in your area? You might be surprised at just how serious some of the most mundane of substances can be when they reach groundwater supplies. Check out this list of ten types of groundwater pollutants, and then take a look around your home, yard, and neighborhood. Do you see any ways you could improve the state of groundwater by simply removing some of these items from around your home?
We’ve already talked a little bit about natural substances and how they can affect the groundwater supply in a given area. However, we haven’t yet mentioned lead and arsenic, which are two of the most commonly-occurring of these natural substances that can cause a lot of harm to humans and animals both. In levels that are higher than just trace amounts, both of these substances can lead to poisoning that can, in turn, lead to death.
In the wild, natural sources of water are often polluted or at least contaminated with animal feces and urine. However, when these contaminants reach higher numbers, they become a serious problem for anyone who might be drinking from these water supplies. These waste products often contain ammonia, bacteria, and parasites that can all negatively impact humans without proper filtration. Luckily, it’s easy to filter these substances out of the water with modern technology. However, this continues to be a problem in developing countries that don’t have access to this technology.
Once again, we’ve already talked about how pesticides can affect groundwater. They continue to be one of the biggest problems of groundwater pollution in the world today, in developing and developed countries alike.
Even when oil spills don’t take place, there’s still a big problem of groundwater pollution related to oil. When oil leaks or seeps into the soil, it quickly reaches the water table. However, the frequent use of oil and gasoline both can contribute to air pollution, which in turn leads to water pollution when it rains. When fossil fuels are absorbed into clouds and then deposited later by rain onto soil, that soil becomes polluted with those substances even if it’s far away from the place where the pollution began.
Road salts are used in many large cities to keep drivers safe when the roads are icy and slick. However, when the snow melts and that salt is carried off the roads by trickling water, it frequently finds its way into groundwater sources in the area. Salt is also a problem in places where mining has taken place because natural salt deposits are exposed to fresh groundwater. Although salt in itself isn’t a pollutant, when it is present in high levels in water, it leads to high salinity that affects the environment and makes the water unusable by humans.
You might not realize it, but battery acid is a big problem of groundwater pollution too. Especially in landfills, battery acid leaks into the soil and pollutes groundwater every day. When this happens, the acid is carried to drinking water sources and may even end up in tap water in some circumstances. This is a dangerous substance that harms the environment and can damage human digestive systems if it makes it that far.
Radon comes from nuclear processes, especially near power plants. It shouldn’t be present in water at all, and if it is, that water is very dangerous for human use. It can cause cancer if consumed regularly, and it can seriously deform animals in the surrounding area. Radon is often present in groundwater surrounding places where nuclear processes take place. Some studies have shown that people living in cities and villages where radon pollution is high have a much higher rate of cancer in both children and adults.
One of the leading causes of groundwater pollution in residential neighborhoods is the overuse of household cleaners. These cleaners are made up of many different types of harsh chemicals, none of which are good for the environment. At the very least, when they leak or are washed into the yard, they can damage your plants and grass and may make your pets sick. However, in many situations, they find their way into groundwater and can even seep into your own home through its individual pipelines. When this happens, the chemicals don’t move through the municipal water treatment facility first, and so your family ends up drinking these harsh cleaners right out of the tap.
The general catch-all term “bacteria” refers to the many bacteria and pesticides that can and do affect groundwater daily. Almost every source of groundwater is exposed to bacteria, but in small numbers, they aren’t too dangerous. It’s only when bacteria get out of hand that water becomes polluted. Unfortunately, this happens more often than not, especially in places where fertilizer is used often or animals are allowed to defecate on the land without regular cleanup.
Last but not least, toxic runoff can lead to major groundwater pollution issues as well. Factories, agricultural sites, construction sites, and even residential communities all contribute to toxic runoff in some way. Any place that uses chemicals on a regular basis has the potential to cause runoff. When it rains, these chemicals are picked up by the rainwater and carried into the soil. If these sites are very close to surface water sources, the chemicals may be carried directly into the water instead. Either way, they can build up quickly.
In order to really understand just how serious groundwater pollution is, for both humans and the environment, you should examine some real-world examples of true groundwater pollution stories. Although there are a lot of other situations where groundwater pollution caused widespread problems, these are five that you might not have heard of before. They show just how brutal polluted groundwater can really be, and how impossible it can sometimes be to clean up completely, even after decades.
Although all these groundwater disasters might make it seem as though the state of groundwater around the world is pretty hopeless, don’t worry. This issue is being heavily addressed in a lot of different ways in countries around the world. While it’s true that not every country is on board just yet with protecting groundwater sources, more and more are beginning to understand just how important this precious resource really is. Here are just some of the ways groundwater pollution is being addressed today.
Have you learned a lot about groundwater pollution since we got started? By now, you should be well acquainted with the whole concept of groundwater pollution and just what it means for you and the rest of the world. You’ve learned the definition of groundwater, and you know how to recognize its pollution when you see it. You can even tell the difference between a pollutant and a contaminant in many situations, and you should be ready to get out there and start making a difference if you want to try.
You’ve also learned about some real instances of groundwater contamination and pollution that are still affecting the environment and human beings both around the world. While you’ve been able to read up on some of the ways a few countries are trying to improve the state of their groundwater, you might feel as though the place where you live isn’t doing quite enough yet. That’s a normal feeling, and it’s probably accurate, too.
If you feel like your city, county, state, or even country could be doing more to clean up groundwater and prevent its pollution in the future, don’t be afraid to reach out and start campaigning for changes in your area. It may be a little intimidating the first time you get in touch with a governor, mayor, or president of a company, but after a while you’ll feel so comfortable in your knowledge of groundwater pollution issues that you’ll be ready to address anyone you need to talk to in order to make some changes.