The 10 Worst Industrial Causes of Water Pollution (A Man-Made Crisis?)

Have you ever wondered just what the factories and other industries in your area might be doing to your water?

Do you live in a place where agriculture, mining, or factories are very common?

Do you feel more than a little suspicious of the quality of groundwater and surface water where you live?

If so, you might need to do a little digging and learn something about the industrial causes of water pollution.

In this article, you’ll learn how industrial waste pollutes water and the different reasons this is allowed to get so out of hand. You’ll then discover ten different industries that contribute significantly to the problem of water pollution around the world. Although some of these are more applicable to developing countries, all of them are issues faced by the United States at least to some extent.

Water pollution caused by factories and other industries can be the most serious problem in a given environment. These types of pollution can lead to serious human and animal health problems as well as widespread destruction of the natural world. This is a big problem, and sometimes it can be so serious it’s impossible to completely clean up.

Read on to discover more about this serious issue that might be happening right under your nose.

How Does Industrial Waste Pollute Water?

water pollution caused by industrial waste

Water pollution through industry is easily the most widespread type of water pollution in the United States and in many other countries around the world, too. The method through which industries pollute water is the same way other problem areas lead to water pollution. The industries produce something toxic—whether it’s the actual product they want to create, a byproduct of its production process, or even just waste—and they dump it, whether legally or not, into bodies of water or onto land. Sometimes they store the toxic substance in unsafe locations instead. Whatever the reason, eventually the substance makes its way into either surface or groundwater, and pollution isn’t far behind.

There are a few different reasons behind the severity of water pollution by industries around the world. It doesn’t really matter what the industry is. Eventually, any industry contributing to water pollution will see at least one of these problems arise if not many of them.

  • A lack of strict policies is one of the leading reasons behind water pollution by industry leaders. Although this is an even bigger problem in developing countries, it still affects the United States more than you might realize. Many polluting industries engage in illegal dumping and other unsafe activities and hope to just pay a fine and move on with the same old habits later. Unfortunately, this is allowed to happen more often than not, and even companies that cause serious pollution events don’t always have to pay much for them.
  • Another cause of water pollution due to industries is a lack of maintenance, upkeeping, or updating practices and equipment. Many times, old equipment continues to be used regularly even though it might not be functioning properly anymore. It goes without regular inspection and it’s left to break or fail, and when this happens, serious events can occur. This was one of the leading causes behind the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, and it happens on a smaller scale regularly in industries around the world.
  • A lack of profit for the companies also usually causes a vicious cycle of water pollution due to industrial waste. Although these companies and groups might move toward more environmentally-friendly and overall safer practices, they usually won’t because it costs too much to change to a new way of doing things. The only way to encourage this shift is to purchase the products are made with safer practices or designed not to harm the environment. Unfortunately, these products usually end up costing more, which turns consumers away from choosing them. It’s an unfortunate cycle that doesn’t have a solid end point.

These are just some of the issues that contribute to water pollution caused by industries. Remember that 2 million tons of industrial waste are dumped into water sources around the world every single day, which makes this a major cause for concern. In developing countries, 70% of industrial waste produced annually ends up dumped into fresh water sources. Unfortunately, this happens in developed countries as well.

In the next section, you’ll be introduced to more specific causes of water pollution caused by industrial waste on a case-by-case basis.

Ten Industrial Causes of Water Pollution

In this section, you’ll learn about water pollution by industry and how each specific one contributes to the problem. You’ll also find out the effects that can be expected from each type of pollution as well as what ways, if any, the pollutants can be cleaned up.

1. Agriculture

industrial causes of water pollution

What are the common pollutants released by this industry?

The biggest issues with the agricultural sector are pollutants from pesticides and fertilizers. Pesticides are made with incredibly harsh chemical ingredients, while fertilizers, even when made of natural substances, can be packed with nitrates. Chemical fertilizers are much worse than natural ones, however.

Why are these pollutants used or created?

Pollutants that come from pesticides are used regularly in order to keep crops healthy and free from insects and other pests. Although there are many natural ways to do this that don’t involve the use of harsh chemicals, these are often more expensive and many companies won’t entertain the idea. Fertilizers are also used to help crops grow. However, practices aren’t very healthy in terms of using and disposing of fertilizers.

How do these pollutants enter water sources?

Pesticides are washed into ground and surface water sources as part of toxic runoff that is created at many agricultural sites. When they’re sprayed over crops, it doesn’t take long for them to seep into the soil or find their way to nearby rivers or lakes. The same is true of fertilizers, although they’re much more likely to percolate into the groundwater than to be carried as runoff.

Which bodies of water are the most affected?

Groundwater is the most heavily affected by pollution from agricultural sites. However, any farms that are near freshwater sources may also pollute these surface bodies of water. Groundwater pollution largely comes from agricultural sites, and this pollution may be carried through the groundwater for long distances before it ends up in drinking water for populations of humans

What are the effects of these pollutants on humans, animals, and the environment?

Fertilizer pollution causes nitrates to build up in the environment, and especially in surface water. When this happens, fish life is choked out and plants start to die off. Mammals and birds that rely on those fish for food sources quickly become endangered. Pesticide pollution can severely harm humans and animals who drink this polluted water, and sometimes humans have even died from this type of pollution.

How can these pollutants be removed from the water?

Serious cases of pollution from pesticides can’t be removed without complicated processes. Nitrate pollution must be regulated with water treatments.

2. Mining

water pollution caused by industries

What are the common pollutants released by this industry?

Mining causes many types of pollutants to make their way into water sources. Lead, mercury, Sulphur, and arsenic are just some of the problems that can come from mining. Basically, any heavy metal can be a potential pollutant in water sources near mining sites.

Why are these pollutants used or created?

Most of these heavy metals are present naturally in the rock that can be found below the surface of the earth. Normally, they would stay underground and might only find their way into water in trace amounts. However, when blasting and other types of mining occur, they are exposed to the water at much higher levels.

How do these pollutants enter water sources?

Water pollution caused by fracking is a major concern with relation to the mining industry. When fracking occurs, it allows heavy metal pollutants to seep into groundwater sources below the surface of the earth. If fracking takes place near drinking water sources, these may become laced with heavy metals that can cause poisoning.

Which bodies of water are the most affected?

Groundwater is the most likely type of water to be affected by fracking and most mining practices. However, it’s fairly common for tailings dams to fail and cause polluted mining wastewater to spill into nearby sources of surface water. Although this doesn’t happen regularly, it happens more often than it should.

What are the effects of these pollutants on humans, animals, and the environment?

Heavy metal poisoning can lead to death in some cases for both humans and animals. Most of the time, however, it causes severe illness and may lead to lasting brain damage in some instances. The environment suffers as bodies of water become too polluted to sustain fish and animal life.

How can these pollutants be removed from the water?

Most heavy metals can be filtered out of the water by regular water treatment facility procedures. However, when spills happen and these substances reach dangerous levels, it may take further oxidation and filtering to remove them completely.

3. Fishing

water pollution caused by fishing

What are the common pollutants released by this industry?

This is a slightly different pollution situation. The fishing industry itself doesn’t necessarily cause pollutants, but it can certainly help introduce them into the water. For example, fishing boats increase the presence of gasoline and oil in water sources, and they also overfish bodies of fresh water significantly. When overfished, the balance of water environments is thrown off and pollution from bacteria and nutrients is likely.

Why are these pollutants used or created?

Oils and gasoline that make their way into water come from the regular use of fishing boats. Some bodies of water are protected so much that they require only man powered boats for fishing purposes. Overfishing occurs when other freshwater sources are too polluted to sustain enough fish life, so those who fish for a living much all rely on the same few bodies of water to get enough fish to sustain themselves and the industry.

How do these pollutants enter water sources?

Most of the time, oil and gasoline find their way into water through the regular use of boats. Sometimes spills and accidents occur, but this isn’t too common in smaller bodies of water (although it is very common in the ocean). The pollution caused by overfishing occurs over time as fish populations dwindle and insects, bacteria, and nitrate numbers rise.

Which bodies of water are the most affected?

This problem almost solely affects surface water sources. Although pollution that affects fish life can absolutely come from groundwater, pollution and overfishing issues that result from the fishing industry itself occur in surface bodies of water. They may carry over into groundwater in some extreme circumstances.

What are the effects of these pollutants on humans, animals, and the environment?

Pollution caused by the fishing industry causes the widespread death of fish. This may affect fish that are used by the fishing industry as well as those considered unwanted or “garbage fish.” As fish die, mammals and birds do as well, while insects and other creatures that are eaten by the fish usually increase in number.

How can these pollutants be removed from the water?

When the environment is thrown off due to overfishing, this may take years to correct from rigorous treatment and bans on fishing in the area. Other types of pollution that come from fishing may be treated with regular filtering treatment or through oxidation cleanup.

4. Nuclear

water pollution caused by nuclear

What are the common pollutants released by this industry?

Although all sources of energy have the potential to cause pollution, nuclear energy is much more serious in terms of pollutants. Nuclear power plants produce radon gas as well as substances like strontium and cesium, both of which are radioactive. Thermal pollution is also a big problem surrounding nuclear power plants.

Why are these pollutants used or created?

Any byproduct of a nuclear power plant is potentially dangerous and likely to be radioactive. The nature of nuclear power means all of the waste produced at the location is going to be full of radioactive material. Anywhere nuclear power is processed, this is going to happen.

How do these pollutants enter water sources?

Most nuclear power plants use a lot of water as part of their regular processes. The wastewater that is then expelled from these locations is full of pollution, which washes into ground and surface water nearby. Most nuclear power plants are also located on or near bodies of freshwater, which means there’s almost nothing keeping this wastewater from finding its way into lakes and rivers nearby.

Which bodies of water are the most affected?

Surface bodies of water are most seriously affected by this type of pollution. However, groundwater can also harbor this type of pollution and carry it to drinking water supplies nearby. Anyone who lives downstream from a nuclear power plant should never drink, fish from, or swim in the water from the river in question.

What are the effects of these pollutants on humans, animals, and the environment?

Radioactive waste is very carcinogenic. Repeated exposure to high levels of radiation in the water can lead to many different types of cancer. This type of pollution can also cause damage to the environment and serious mutations in animals and plants that live in the area.

How can these pollutants be removed from the water?

Radioactive gas can be removed from polluted water through simple oxidation. Other types of radioactive material in smaller quantities can be removed through normal filtration, but some may not be able to be removed at all depending on their severity.

5. Fuel

water pollution caused by fuel

What are the common pollutants released by this industry?

Petrochemicals are the most common problem arising from water pollution in the fuel industry. Gasoline and oil both fall into this category. Most of the time, these problems come from spills and leaks in the industry, but the regular normal use of gasoline and oil can lead to both groundwater pollution and air pollution that, in turn, carries pollutants to surface water sources around the world.

Why are these pollutants used or created?

Oil and gasoline are widely used around the world as the most common sources of fuel. They are used to operate vehicles, machinery, and pretty much anything that needs a type of fuel in order to run. There is a lot of controversy surrounding fossil fuels, however, and they are a major cause of pollution in the water as well as in the atmosphere.

How do these pollutants enter water sources?

The most common way oil and gasoline find their way into water is through leaks. Leaks and spills introduce huge quantities of these substances into the environment. However, regular use can also cause them to build up, especially from small leaks in vehicles and machinery that may go unnoticed or unrepaired for a long time. Improper disposal of oil and gas used at home may cause buildup in landfills, too.

Which bodies of water are the most affected?

Surface and groundwater sources are both equally affected by this type of pollution, although somewhat differently. Oil spills and leaks are more likely to affect surface water, and oil slicks are common, especially in the ocean. Groundwater is more likely to be affected by the slow buildup of oil and gasoline in the soil surrounding residential communities and big cities.

What are the effects of these pollutants on humans, animals, and the environment?

Drinking water that is heavily polluted with oil or gasoline can cause digestive upset and serious damage to the stomach and intestines. It can also cause poisoning when the levels are very high. The environment may never completely recover from a bad oil spill, and many species of animals have been wiped out because of these events.

How can these pollutants be removed from the water?

Oil spills never disappear completely from the water. Sometimes they are burned off, and sometimes they are removed through biofiltration, but they can never completely leave a body of water. Oil eventually settles to the bottom of the body of water affected. Gasoline may be filtered out of water sources, but it takes time.

6. Plastics

What are the common pollutants released by this industry?

There are dozens of harsh chemicals used in the production of plastics. Plastics themselves are harsh enough to cause pollution when they build up in landfills around the world. Whether the item in question is a plastic water bottle or a plastic children’s toy, these items are potentially harmful, especially when substances used to create them find their way into water sources.

Why are these pollutants used or created?

As plastics are produced and plastic items are put together in factories, chemical byproducts always occur. Wastewater from the plastic industry is often dumped into surface freshwater sources, and sometimes even when it’s stored or disposed of, it leaks into the groundwater because of poor maintenance conditions.

How do these pollutants enter water sources?

When plastic items are left in landfills for years instead of being recycled, they are allowed to seep into the soil and cause their chemical components to break down into the groundwater below. Sometimes, wastewater is dumped directly into rivers, where it’s carried downstream to drinking water sources.

Which bodies of water are the most affected?

Surface and groundwater sources are equally affected by this type of pollution. Factories located on or near rivers contribute to surface water pollution through dumping and accidental leaks, while plastics that sit in landfills cause groundwater pollution to occur.

What are the effects of these pollutants on humans, animals, and the environment?

Pollution from plastic chemicals can cause neurological problems in humans and animals both. It can also lead to headaches, nausea, and serious diarrhea in humans. These pollutants throw off the balance of the environment and cause fish and animal death.

How can these pollutants be removed from the water?

Chemicals can usually be filtered out of water at water treatment facilities. Distillation and reverse osmosis may be beneficial options for this type of pollution.

7. Textile Manufacturing

water pollution due to industrial waste

What are the common pollutants released by this industry?

Textile manufacturing might seem like a pretty mild industry, but in fact, it’s responsible for one of the biggest pollutants faced by the modern world. Asbestos is a common byproduct and waste product from many textile manufacturing locations. Asbestos is a harsh carcinogenic substance, and this pollutant affects people in the developing world even to this day.

Why are these pollutants used or created?

Asbestos is a byproduct that occurs during many textile manufacturing processes. In the past, it was even created purposefully and used for a wide variety of sources. We have since learned of the dangers of asbestos, but its existence as a byproduct is still widespread. Although not a common problem in terms of water pollution, some older homes may have asbestos insulation in their walls.

How do these pollutants enter water sources?

As in the plastic industry, the textile manufacturing industry usually introduces pollutants into the environment either through dumping or through accidents. Asbestos may be present in wastewater from these factories that ends up being dumped into rivers and lakes. It may also be present in wastewater that leaks from underground storage containers and seeps into groundwater surrounding the factories.

Which bodies of water are the most affected?

Groundwater and surface water are both affected by asbestos, although surface water is slightly more prone to this type of pollution. Since factories that dump asbestos-laced wastewater are likely to be located on or near surface bodies of water, this dumping is very commonplace, whether it’s legal in a given location or not. As with other types of pollution, leaking usually affects groundwater.

What are the effects of these pollutants on humans, animals, and the environment?

Asbestos is a serious carcinogen. In humans, it can cause lung cancer, mesothelioma, intestinal cancer, liver cancer, and organ failure. This doesn’t even have to occur from drinking water polluted with asbestos. These terrible effects can happen from just breathing it in. This is why it is so incredibly dangerous to ingest this pollutant in water.

How can these pollutants be removed from the water?

Diatomaceous earth used in conjunction with aluminum hydroxide can be the most effective for removing asbestos fibers from bodies of drinking water. This is a potential problem, however, because using too much aluminum can also lead to a different type of pollution. This may be an expensive method, but it’s very good at getting rid of asbestos.

8. Cleaning

water pollution due to industrial waste

What are the common pollutants released by this industry?

“Cleaning” is a broad term, and it includes a few different industrial sectors. Dry cleaning, for example, produces harsh chemical waste that is sometimes laced with chromium, a harsh carcinogenic substance. This industry may also include home and commercial cleaning products that are made of harsh chemicals, such as bleach and ammonia. Water pollution caused by sewage may also fall into this category.

Why are these pollutants used or created?

Depending on the type of cleaning in question, these pollutants may be created or used in different ways. For example, when dry cleaning processes occur, harsh chemicals are used in the process. They are also thrown away as part of regular waste disposal. Responsible dry cleaning locations throw away these products safely, but some are likely to dump them into the surface water or just pour them out on the ground. The same is true of harsh cleaning substances like bleach or even home cleaning products and detergents.

How do these pollutants enter water sources?

Dry cleaners may dump these substances into water supplies, but residential communities and places like hotels where regular cleaning is very common can also contribute to the problem. The more people who throw away harsh cleaning products in the trash instead of recycling them or who was them down the drain or pour them out in the yard, the more common this type of pollution will be.

Which bodies of water are the most affected?

Groundwater is much more commonly affected by this type of pollution than surface water is. These chemicals seep into the groundwater through cities and residential communities, and they percolate from landfills and dumps across the country. Dry cleaning pollution may end up being dumped into surface water, but it’s much more likely to pollute groundwater as well.

What are the effects of these pollutants on humans, animals, and the environment?

Humans who drink water polluted with these types of chemicals may suffer from serious types of cancer as well as digestive issues. These chemicals may also cause organ failure when ingested at high levels.

How can these pollutants be removed from the water?

Pollution from sewage and similar types of cleaning can be removed through regular filtration or reverse osmosis. This may be enough to get rid of bleach, ammonia, and other harsh cleaning chemicals in the water. However, chromium is next to impossible to remove completely from a water source.

9. Auto Manufacturing

water pollution by industries

What are the common pollutants released by this industry?

Auto manufacturing companies use a lot of harsh chemicals and metals in their production processes. They also create a lot of byproducts that can be potentially very toxic if not disposed of properly. Mercury and lead are two of the leading types of pollutants produced regularly by auto manufacturing companies

Why are these pollutants used or created?

The normal processes that auto manufacturers use to create their products lead to byproducts that are very dangerous and potential pollutants. Sometimes, these substances are also used in the actual manufacturing process, particularly when they are substances found in the metals used to create vehicles.

How do these pollutants enter water sources?

As with most other types of factory-related pollution, the most common reason these pollutants find their way into water is through dumping. They may also come from accidents, although this is a little bit less common in the auto manufacturing industry than it is in other factory-based industries.

Which bodies of water are the most affected?

Surface water is more commonly affected by pollution caused by dumping from auto manufacturers. Rivers are more likely to be affected than other surface bodies of water.

What are the effects of these pollutants on humans, animals, and the environment?

Depending on the type of pollutant present, the effects can range from slightly damaging to lethal. Humans who regularly drink water polluted with too much mercury and lead will eventually suffer from poisoning related to one or both of these substances. This can cause death if not treated right away, and this type of poisoning is very hard to get over. Animals and the environment suffer significantly as well, and mercury poisoning can even be carried in fish that are then caught and used to feed humans. In this way, mercury and lead poisoning have more than one way they can potentially cause harm to human beings.

How can these pollutants be removed from the water?

Mercury and lead are both able to be removed from water supplies with extensive filtration. Even at very high levels, several bouts of filtering can do wonders to remove these substances from the water almost completely.

10. Recreation

water pollution through industry

What are the common pollutants released by this industry?

This industry is a little bit different, and the pollutants are never purposefully introduced into the water supply. However, in many recreational bodies of water, bacterial pollutants and parasites are both very common. These can range from relatively harmless to very severe, including the bacteria that causes necrotizing fasciitis, or “flesh-eating bacteria.”

Why are these pollutants used or created?

No recreational body of water creates bacteria or parasites on purpose, but they are often very common byproducts of bodies of water where humans and animals both are frequently present. In natural bodies of water that are used for recreation, such as lakes and ponds, the most common culprits come from animals that frequent these locations. In manmade bodies of water like water parks and swimming pools, human presence is what creates pollutants.

How do these pollutants enter water sources?

Humans and animals both can carry bacteria, viruses, and parasites into these recreational bodies of water on their own bodies or clothing. However, the most common way pollutants find their way into these water sources is through waste. Animal waste almost always pollutes (or at least contaminates) natural bodies of water used for recreation. Human waste may pollute the water in swimming pools and water parks. Although it might be a little unpleasant to imagine human waste in your recreational water, it’s still present, and it can often lead to a bacterial pollution situation that gets out of hand very fast.

Which bodies of water are the most affected?

Although the water in swimming pools, hot tubs, and water parks is often very heavily treated with chemicals to clean it up, these are still some of the most largely affected bodies of recreational water simply because of how many people enter them every day. Water parks usually operate during warmer parts of the year or in warmer climates, and this contributes to the growth of bacteria in these places as well.

What are the effects of these pollutants on humans, animals, and the environment?

Bacterial pollutants can lead to all sorts of problems for humans. They may cause something as simple as diarrhea and vomiting that goes away after a little while or something as serious as hepatitis, cholera, or typhoid. They may also cause open wounds to become terribly infected with opportunistic bacteria that can be life-threatening. Parasites like cryptosporidium can cause a lot of harm to humans as well. Many parasites can also damage animals, and when parasites and bacteria build up in natural recreational water sources, even the environment suffers from the overabundance of these creatures.

How can these pollutants be removed from the water?

In smaller numbers, bacteria and parasites can be removed from recreational water by simple chemical treatments, such as chlorine. This is why these treatments are so popular in swimming pools and water parks. However, in some cases, the pollutants may get so out of hand that no amount of chemical treatment can remove them. In these cases, there may be no way to clean up the water unless it can be sent through a dedicated treatment facility.

Conclusion

As you can see, there’s no industry that doesn’t have the potential to do a lot of damage to the environment or to human health. Depending on the practices used regularly by a specific type of industry, there can be serious complicates associated with its operations. While agricultural pollution is by far the most serious problem faced by freshwater in the United States and around the world, all of these other industries do their part in contributing to the situation.

However, there are more and more industries working toward improving the quality of water in their areas, too. When you find a factory that produces items with safe, sustainable practices or a farm that uses natural fertilizers and pesticides, be sure to support them as much as possible by purchasing from them and spreading their information to everyone you know. This is the best way you can help make a difference when it comes to industrial water pollution.

Speaking to the people in charge in your area can also make a difference, although it might take a while. The more you speak out against industrial sources of water pollution where you live, the more your city, state, or country will be forced to take notice of the problem.

Remember that the future of water quality is up to you, and don’t be afraid to do what it takes to make a real difference in the world.

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