Are you trying to find out some solid facts about the very real problem of water contamination?
Are you a little confused about the difference between contamination and pollution?
Do you worry a lot about what might be contaminating your water or the water in places you plan to visit?
If you’re looking for the best information and most accurate water contamination facts available, you’re in the right place. In this article, you’ll find out a few facts about a lot of different aspects of water contamination. You’ll walk through the entire concept of water contamination from its broad definition to its specific instances and learn a lot along the way.
No matter why you find yourself looking for information about water contamination, you can get a good framework of knowledge from the facts outlined below. You’ll find out about the sources of contamination, how it differs from pollution, and the effects it can have on you as well as on the environment.
You’ll also find out about some specific instances of water contamination and what could have been done to prevent them—and what’s being done now to clean them up. By the time you’ve finished reading through here, you’ll be well educated on the matter of water contamination.
So, let’s get started!
Water Contamination Definition Facts
1. Water contamination is, basically, any substance in water.
If it isn’t water, but it’s present in water, then it’s a contaminant. If you get a glass of water and put a rock in it, then technically, that rock (and everything it’s made up of) is now contaminating that glass of water. All sources of water can be expected to have some contaminants in them, and not all of these contaminants are dangerous. Some, like the rock in the glass of water, might be annoying at worst. However, sometimes contaminants are present in larger numbers or are made up of dangerous substances, and those are the ones that need to worry you.
2. Groundwater contamination is a bigger problem that you might first expect.
A huge part of water contamination in the United States every year affects groundwater even more than surface water. Unfortunately, in much of the country, cities and counties rely on groundwater much more than they do surface water to supply drinking water to residents. Even in places where surface water is used more regularly, that surface water is fed by groundwater in the area. Just because you can’t see groundwater doesn’t mean it should be ignored, but many people across the country and around the world simply don’t pay that much attention to it.
3. Water pollution is the contamination of water bodies that seriously harms the people or the environment that come into contact with it.
There are some types of contaminants that aren’t that harmful in smaller levels, like many of the heavy metals that may be found naturally in water samples. However, other contaminants, like chemicals and radioactive waste, are dangerous at any time and at any level. When these contaminants are present in water, that water becomes polluted. The difference between the two terms is subtle, but just remember that polluted water is still contaminated, while contaminated water isn’t necessarily still polluted.
4. Turbidity is one of the most common signs of contaminated water.
This term describes the level at which water loses its transparency. When there are a lot of sediments and other contaminants present in a water sample, then that water is going to look cloudy or smoky. You might even be able to see pieces of dirt floating around in it. If you see water that looks like this, that water is turbid. Erosion is a common cause of this type of contaminant, as is the presence of toxic runoff, algae growth, wastewater dumping, and the presence of too many phytoplankton in the water sample. The more turbid a water sample, the more contaminated that water source is. When water is very turbid, it cuts down on the amount of oxygen present in the water and can damage fish, animal, and plant life in the area.
5. Contaminants in drinking water may be chemical, physical, radiological, or biological.
Chemical contaminants include pesticides and fertilizers, bleach, road salt, drugs, oil, and home cleaning products. Physical contaminants include sediment like sand and dirt that has been stirred up by erosion. Radiological contaminants include uranium, cesium, and radon, all of which may be present in the water surrounding places where radioactive waste has been dumped. Finally, biological contaminants include bacteria, parasites, viruses, and protozoan that are transmitted through water.
Water Contamination Source Facts
6. The EPA has recently concluded that fracking may contribute to water contamination in some instances.
This is a huge conclusion because the EPA was previous very adamant about the lack of a possibility that fracking could cause any water pollution. However, there have been increased findings of heavy metal and toxic substance pollution in areas surrounding fracking sites, and those types of findings can’t be ignored. The EPA is proceeding with caution so as not to rock the boat very much on the matter but does concede that fracking has the potential to cause contamination, even if it doesn’t always do so.
7. Volatile organic compounds are some of the biggest water contaminants around the world today.
This term refers to an organic material that can easily become a gas or vapor. It includes oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, fluorine, chlorine, nitrogen, and sulfur, just to name a few. These compounds can find their way into the atmosphere very easily from oil and gasoline use, but they can also end up in water, where they cause widespread contamination issues.
8. Pesticides make up a huge amount of groundwater contamination around the world, and especially in the United States.
When pesticides are used on crops, these harsh chemicals eventually find their way through the surface of the planet to the water table below. These chemicals are very dangerous for human and animal consumption both, but they are often carried from agricultural sites through groundwater to eventually reach surface water sources. They are very common contaminants despite there being a lot of evidence to prove that they’re a huge problem for water quality around the country.
9. Poorly maintained septic tanks contribute a lot to water contamination, especially groundwater contamination, in rural areas.
Septic tanks are often used by people who have wells instead of city water. They work in much the same way as sewage systems, but they are usually dedicated to only one house (or possibly a couple of houses that share, depending on the situation). These tanks are often installed hastily and by companies that might not be as skilled as they should be. When septic tanks are installed incorrectly or simply aren’t checked regularly, this can lead to breaks and leaks in the line which cause human waste to spill into that home’s water supply and contaminate it with bacteria.
10. Overusing groundwater is another cause of water contamination that takes place over a long period of time.
Overuse can contribute to contamination in a variety of different ways, including causing too much sediment in some freshwater sources and exposing harsh toxic metals in others. When water sources are run dry, bacteria build up quickly from the bodies of dead fish and animals in the vicinity. While overuse itself isn’t a type of contamination, it can lead to many.
Water Contamination Effects Facts
11. When nitrate levels are too high in a water source, the environment suffers.
In small amounts, nitrates don’t cause any harm to anyone. However, in places where waste is very prevalent—such as in agricultural sites—nitrate levels rise very high very quickly and can cause a lot of damage. They kill fish in high numbers and contribute to the destruction of natural habitats of many animals. When pregnant women or infants are exposed to this water, blue baby syndrome can also occur. This can lead to death in infants as they are unable to get enough oxygen without treatment.
12. Outbreaks of bacteria and disease are very common in places where water contamination takes place.
Norovirus and hepatitis outbreaks even occur in the United States, while cholera and dysentery run rampant in developing countries without much clean water or dedicated health care. Bacteria like salmonella and E. coli can also be transmitted through water, as can very damaging parasites like giardia and cryptosporidium. When water contamination cleanup isn’t a top priority, these illnesses may get out of control very fast.
13. The environment can suffer in many ways from water contamination.
When heavy metals increase even by just a small amount in water sources, the fish and animals that live there suffer greatly. Fish are no longer able to filter water properly through their gills, which can lead to a widespread decrease in fish populations as well as contamination of the fish themselves with heavy metals that may be transmitted to humans who eat them. This also affects the animal and bird populations who rely on these fish as a source of food.
14. Algal blooms often occur as a result of water contamination, especially from nutrient pollution.
When nutrients that are normally present in water reach levels that are too high and unnatural, nutrient pollution occurs. This often happens from water that has been treated too much with substances such as fluoride, but it can also happen from pesticide and fertilizer contamination as well. When algal blooms get out of control, they choke out fish and plant life in the area, which eventually leads to widespread death in animals and birds as well. This is a major contributing factor in the destruction of the wetlands.
Sediments like dirt, sand, and small rocks are normal and natural contaminants in most bodies of water. However, when human processes interfere with natural bodies of water, these sediments are stirred up and may increase in number. This leads to fish death and can cause erosion that eventually leads to a decrease in plant life in the area as well.
Water Contamination Cleanup Facts
16. The EPA hosts regular cleanups, some of which are required by law, to help improve the quality of water around the country.
Individuals and companies regularly get involved with these cleanups, either because they have to or because they want to. On a smaller scale, local cleanups are often organized by nonprofit organizations looking to cut back on water contamination in a given area. Call some of the nonprofits where you live to ask about potential cleanup days that you can participate in to remove contaminants from water sources in your town.
17. Especially if you have water from a well, performing a regular water contamination test can be a great first step in the cleanup process.
This can help you pinpoint the problems going on with your water so you can better determine how to treat them. You can send a water sample away for thorough testing, and if you find out you have problems that need to be taken care of, there are plenty of people who can help you get started. Speak to a water quality specialist in your area to find out more about what you can do to clean up your well water. Remember, too, that even if you aren’t on a well, you can have your water tested at any time for contaminants.
18. A 2005 study showed that oxygen could be used to clean up water contamination from certain types of chemicals.
This was an exciting find because it proved that there could be another way to clean up contaminated water. While this method only works with some types of chemicals and is very costly, it’s still a glimmer of hope in a world where water contamination runs rampant. These studies are very important in order to determine the safest and most effective way to get very contaminated water clean again.
19. In 2012, a report from the National Research Council found that it would cost at least $110 billion to clean up all of the contaminated groundwater in the United States.
It’s very expensive to clean up water that’s been seriously contaminated, and unfortunately, it’s not often in the country’s budget to make that kind of large-scale cleanup a priority. Even so, some money is usually allocated to environmental cleanup, which includes preservation of freshwater sources and cleaning of contaminated water. This isn’t as big of a change as it could be, but it’s a good start.
20. If contaminated water sites aren’t cleaned up, it could take at least fifty years for the quality of this water to improve on its own.
Sadly, if more of an effort isn’t made soon to clean up the most heavily contaminated sources of freshwater in the United States, it could take at least fifty years for the water to clear up on its own, and it might take up to a hundred years for this to happen. The environment can’t remove all of the contaminants humans have introduced on its own, and it needs help.
Water Contamination Prevention Facts
21. The EPA has recently proposed a guideline to allow some levels of radioactive waste to be permissible in drinking water only after natural disasters.
This might sound scary, and to many people, it sounds too scary to allow. While the EPA has made several assurances that this will only come into play if a natural disaster strikes and clean drinking water is very hard to come by, the guideline concerns many who believe it will allow power plants and other companies with radioactive waste to dump more of this waste into clean drinking water sources.
22. The National Ground Water Association has a standing suggestion to test for water contamination once a year to help prevent the problem before it gets too bad.
Especially if you get your water from a well on your property, this type of regular testing can go a long way toward preventing contamination. When you get your water checked annually, you’ll be able to tell if anything has started to build up before it reaches levels you should be worried about. That, in turn, gives you a chance to make some changes in the way you treat your well water before things get out of hand.
23. The Clean Water Act helps regulate the discharge of wastewater and byproducts into water sources, thus cutting back on potential contamination issues.
This Act has been in use for many decades, and over time, it’s been changed and amended in order to better serve the quality of water in the United States. It helps keep track of the way wastewater is disposed of, and it also cuts back on the amount of dumping around the country. However, it’s an unfortunate truth that this act can be very difficult to enforce and that a lot of things still fly under the radar even with it in place.
24. You should always check the quality of your water if you notice a change in the way it smells, looks, or tastes, or if people in your home start to get sick from using it.
Preventing problems with water contamination starts with a little vigilance, and it can make a big difference in the right situation. If you notice something that doesn’t seem right, send your water off to get tested right away. There are many labs around the country you can send your water to, and some facilities in your own town or county might even offer this service for free or for a nominal fee.
25. Around your home, don’t flush or wash garbage down the drains.
There are a lot of things you can do around the house to prevent water contamination in your own home, but this is one of the big ones. If you stop washing garbage down the sink or flushing it down the toilet, you cut back a lot on the potential for bacteria to grow in your pipes and thus contaminate your water. If this does happen, you do have options for treatment, but it can be hard to catch and even harder to get rid of. An ounce of prevention really does make a huge difference in this situation.
Water Contamination Statistics
26. Around the world, 1 in 10 people don’t have access to clean drinking water, either because of pollution or because of contamination.
Surprisingly, this isn’t only a problem faced by developing countries, but also by developed countries including the United States. Clean drinking water is very necessary for all of us to survive, but it’s a sad truth that so many go without it on a regular basis. This is a problem we all need to be concerned with, and contamination is a huge part of it. The more contaminated a water source is, the less likely it is human beings can use it to drink.
27. 3900 water systems that supply water to the public are located within one mile of a fracking site.
Since fracking can potentially contribute to water contamination, depending on the circumstances, this already increases the risk of contamination in these areas by quite a lot. Anyone who happens to drill a well or already own a well on their property in these areas already faces an even greater risk of potential contamination. The fracking process allows harsh chemicals and heavy metals to enter water supplies through groundwater, and it also leads to more storage of wastewater underground.
This includes people from around the world, and it doesn’t relate only to bacteria-driven illness. The statistic also includes parasites that might be spread through contaminated water as well as poisoning that might come from over-exposure to heavy metals and other types of toxins in the water. Unfortunately, in developing countries where healthcare is hard to come by or hasn’t advanced technologically very far, many of the people afflicted with these illnesses die.
29. In the United States alone, agriculture causes water contamination in 72% of rivers and 56% of lakes across the country.
Agriculture is the leading cause of water contamination around the world, and particularly in the United States. Irrigation leads to overuse of water supplies, fertilizers and pesticides contaminate the groundwater, and animal waste allows bacteria to seep into surface and groundwater sources both. Especially in areas where regulations aren’t very strict, such as in more rural parts of the country, this is still a huge problem that significantly impacts clean drinking water around the United States annually.
30. As of 2000, approximately 400 million tons of chemicals were produced around the world annually.
This was up from only one million in production globally in 1930, and the number has only risen since then. While the production of chemicals alone doesn’t necessarily mean water is going to be polluted, it’s a pretty good indicator of the state of water in the future. The more chemicals there are in existence, the more likely it is that these chemicals will spill or be disposed of in wastewater. There’s also a greater chance that byproducts from making these chemicals will be dumped as well.
Real Water Contamination Cases
31. In late summer of 2016, a whopping 300,000 gallons of sewage were dumped into Boca Ciega Bay in Florida.
Shortly after that Tropical Storm Hermine dumped more waste on the bay, and then another 900,000 gallons of waste were dumped once again. This led to a huge problem in red tide that is still going on months later. It also led to deaths of at least 45 birds and countless fish in the area. It’s very difficult to clean up red tide when it occurs, and unfortunately, sometimes it simply gets washed out into the ocean where it does even more damage.
32. In 2015 in Colorado, the Gold King Mine saw a terrible wastewater contamination disaster take place.
When a plug holding back wastewater was accidentally damaged during mining operations, over three million gallons of tailings rushed into the nearby Cement Creek. This led to widespread contamination from heavy metals like lead, cadmium, copper, and iron. Some of these metals are still present at levels above those safe for human consumption in the water surrounding the mine. When these metals are present at such high levels, they can poison the environment as well as any humans or animals who happen to drink the water.
33. In September of 2016, another Florida instance of water contamination took place.
Near Tampa, a huge sinkhole suddenly opened up and allowed 200 million gallons of water contaminated by fertilizer from a nearby plant to seep into a major source of groundwater that supplies the entire state. The sinkhole opened just below a gypsum stack at the fertilizer plant, but so far there have been no positive tests for contamination outside the nearby area. The fertilizer plant is offering free bottled water to those affected, and it’s also performing free water testing for anyone who has a well in the area.
34. If you’ve paid much attention to the news in the past few years, you’ve probably heard of the 2014 Flint,
Michigan water crisis. This is a major instance of severe water contamination that has yet to be cleaned up. After the city changed its source of drinking water to a treatment plant where corrosion inhibitors had not been properly applied to the pipelines, the whole city was exposed to lead contamination in their drinking water. It’s uncertain if or when Flint will have clean drinking water again.
35. As recently as December of 2016, another water contamination situation has taken place in Corpus Christi, Texas.
After a leak occurred in the industrial part of town, at least three and up to 24 gallons of a chemical called Indulin AA-86 leaked into the city’s water supply. Water samples are being studied across the city, and so far, residents are being told not to drink the water or use it for cooking. Only residents in some parts of town are allowed to use the water safely for washing, and in other areas, it’s possible the water will have to be shut off altogether. Since this contamination issue happened so recently, there are still more questions than answers.
Have all of your water contamination questions been thoroughly answered now? If you still have more questions about this problem, or if you’d like to learn more about water pollution now that you understand what the difference is between it and contamination, there’s plenty more information out there just waiting for you to dig it up. Don’t forget to check out more water contamination articles to learn even more about this important subject. Even our personal experiences are telling of our battle against contaminated water, so its always important to share as much as possible.
If you feel like you’re ready to start making a difference around your home, there are some things you can do right away to cut back on the chances of water contamination where you live. Reduce the amounts of chemicals you store on your property, and try to replace them with milder options as soon as possible. This will keep chemicals from contaminating the water in and around your home, and it may prevent a larger pollution problem down the line as well.
Be sure to keep up with regular maintenance of your water pipes, faucets, toilets, and septic or sewage system. If some of these aren’t under your control (but are instead maintained by the water or waste company you use), call them up to schedule regular checks to be sure everything is running properly.
The more you do to cut back on water contamination before it ever happens, the better off you and the environment will be. There’s a lot you can do, and even just a few small steps will make a big difference in the long run.