The Health Risks of Water Contamination

Clubs and Organizations

September 25, 2019


The human body is made up of 60% water, making clean drinking water essential for us to perform everyday functions. As water flows through our organs and cells, it flushes out waste, regulates body temperature, and helps with brain function. Water needs to be clean and free of disease, metals, and other harmful substances that could potentially lead to serious health risks or even in some cases, death.

Each year, unsafe water kills more people than all forms of violence, including war, combined. The global problem of water pollution is threatening our health, the environment, and challenging the delicate balance of vital ecosystems. Although most Americans have safe drinking water, harmful contaminants like arsenic, copper, and lead have been found in the tap water of every state in the nation. Damage from natural disasters, industrial chemical waste, and pollutants from stormwater runoff can contaminate drinking water resources and pose an unseen threat to communities.

Water pollution does not always have an immediate effect on our health, but after long-term exposure, it may be harmful. Heavy metals are toxic to marine life and eventually to other animals and humans that consume them. These heavy metals can eventually lead to high blood pressure, problems with memory skills, and even birth defects.

Water is considered polluted when harmful substances like chemicals or microorganisms enter a river, lake, or any other body of water. These substances degrade the water's quality and make it toxic to humans and the environment. Known as a "universal solvent," water is able to dissolve many substances and makes it extremely vulnerable to pollution. These toxic substances can come from factories, farms, and improper disposal.

Once harmful substances enter waterways they can form disease-causing bacteria and viruses that cause major illness or even death. Accidental or illegal water releases, runoff from farms and urban areas, and improper cleanup of natural disasters all contribute to the spreading of disease.

Causes of Water Contamination

Industrial Waste

Industrial waste is one of the most prominent sources of water pollution. Industries produce large amounts of waste that contain toxic chemicals that are harmful to us and the environment. These pollutants contain harmful materials like asbestos, mercury, lead, and sulfur. Many industries do not have proper waste management practices and dispose of waste into rivers that eventually lead to the sea or our drinking water. The chemicals found in this waste can alter the color of water, change oxygen levels, and increase or decrease temperature, posing a serious threat to marine life.

Marine Dumping

In some countries, household garbage such as paper, aluminum, rubber, glass, plastic, and food are collected and deposited into the sea. This garbage depletes oxygen levels in water and results in poor health as well as the death of marine animals. It can take 2 weeks to 200 years for these items to decompose, and particles of any size can pose a threat. Microscopic pieces of plastic build up in an animal's body overtime, resulting in a slow poison of the animal's immune system. Larger particles pose choking and digestive hazards. Particles of any size may be passed onto humans who eat fish as well.

Natural Contaminants

Even naturally occurring minerals can be harmful to human and animal health. Mercury, lead, and sulfur can be industrial contaminants but are also liable to end up in water supplies when uncovered during mining. Another harmful mineral is asbestos, which causes mesothelioma cancer and asbestosis. Natural deposits of asbestos are often uncovered by mining or construction and release the fibers into water sources. Drinking this water deposits fine fibers into your digestive system where peritoneal mesothelioma may develop in the lining of the abdomen. Natural contaminants don't have to be mineral in nature either. Animal waste and fine sediment can compromise human health and lead to sickness like giardia.

Fertilizers and Pesticides

Pesticides and fertilizers are used by farmers to help protect crops from insects and bacteria. Although these are useful for the growth of plants, the chemicals in fertilizers and pesticides can mix with rainwater and flow into rivers and canals. This compromises the water's purity as well as risks the danger of flowing into the drinking water of communities. Popular household weed killer Roundup has even come under fire recently for being possibly carcinogenic.

Global Warming

Due to the greenhouse effect, the earth's temperature has continued to increase and has resulted in global warming. This increases the temperature of the water and results in the death of marine life which later results in water pollution. It also melts ice caps where particle contaminants have been frozen, previously preventing water pollution. With the warming of the oceans, these particles are released.

Urban Development and Landfills

As populations continue to grow, the demand for housing has also increased. More cities and towns are being developed and have resulted in soil erosion due to deforestation, an increase in construction, inadequate sewer collection, and treatment, as well as more landfills for collecting garbage. Leaking from landfills can pollute underground water with a variety of contaminants.

As the issue of water pollution continues to rise, there have been conscious efforts to preserve water. Laws and regulations have been established to monitor industries and factories ' dumping processes, as well as restrictions on the types of fertilizers and pesticides used for crop growth. An increase in rainwater harvesting as the preservation of groundwater has drawn attention to the ongoing issue of water pollution. The Clean Water Act has been created to draw attention to expose the issue of pollution in streams, wetlands, and other bodies of water. By reducing plastic consumption, proper disposal of chemical and non-biodegradable items, and taking small steps to conserve water, we can reduce the dangers and risks associated with this issue.