Effects of contaminated water on health and environment

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Water pollution is the contamination of water bodies (e.g. lakes, rivers, oceans, aquifers and groundwater). This form of environmental degradation occurs when pollutants are directly or indirectly discharged into water bodies without adequate treatment to remove harmful compounds. Water pollution affects the entire biosphere plants and organisms living in these bodies of water. In almost all cases the effect is damaging not only to individual species and population, but also to the natural biological communities.
Water pollution is a major global problem which requires ongoing evaluation and revision of water resource policy at all levels (international down to individual aquifers and wells). It has been suggested that water pollution is the leading worldwide cause of deaths and diseases, and that it accounts for the deaths of more than 14,000 people daily. An estimated 580 people in India and Pakistan die of water pollution related illness every day. In addition to the acute problems of water pollution in developing countries, developed countries also continue to struggle with pollution problems. Water is typically referred to as polluted when it is impaired by anthropogenic contaminants and either does not support a human use, such as drinking water, or undergoes a marked shift in its ability to support its constituent biotic communities, such as fish. Natural phenomena such as volcanoes, algae blooms, storms, and earthquakes also cause major changes in water quality and the ecological status of water.
Although interrelated, surface water and groundwater have often been studied and managed as separate resources. Surface water seeps through the soil and becomes groundwater. Conversely, groundwater can also feed surface water sources. Sources of surface water pollution are generally grouped into two categories based on their origin. Interactions between groundwater and surface water are complex. Consequently, groundwater pollution, also referred to as groundwater contamination, is not as easily classified as surface water pollution. By its very nature, groundwater aquifers are susceptible to contamination from sources that may not directly affect surface water bodies, and the distinction of point vs. non-point source may be irrelevant. A spill or ongoing release of chemical or radionuclide contaminants into soil (located away from a surface water body) may not create point or non-point source pollution but can contaminate the aquifer below, creating a toxic plume. The movement of the plume, called a plume front, may be analyzed through a hydrological transport model or groundwater model. Analysis of groundwater contamination may focus on soil characteristics and site geology, hydrogeology, hydrology, and the nature of the contaminants. The specific contaminants leading to pollution in water include a wide spectrum of chemicals, pathogens, and physical changes such as elevated temperature and discoloration.
While many of the chemicals and substances that are regulated may be naturally occurring (calcium, sodium, iron, manganese, etc.) the concentration is often the key in determining what is a natural component of water and what is a contaminant. High concentrations of naturally occurring substances can have negative impacts on aquatic flora and fauna. Oxygen-depleting substances may be natural materials such as plant matter (e.g. leaves and grass) as well as man-made chemicals. Other natural and anthropogenic substances may cause turbidity (cloudiness) which blocks light and disrupts plant growth, and clogs the gills of some fish species. Many of the chemical substances are toxic. Pathogens can produce waterborne diseases in either human or animal hosts. Alteration of water’s physical chemistry includes acidity (change in pH), electrical conductivity, temperature, and eutrophication.
Eutrophication is an increase in the concentration of chemical nutrients in an ecosystem to an extent that increases the primary productivity of the ecosystem. Depending on the degree of eutrophication, subsequent negative environmental effects such as anoxia (oxygen depletion) and severe reductions in water quality may occur, affecting fish and other animal populations. Water may also include organic and inorganic pollutants, which are as respectively: Detergents, chloroform, insecticides and herbicides, petroleum hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds, chlorinated solvents (PCBs poly chlorinated biphenyls TCE Trichloroethylene, perchlorate, chemical compounds and pharmaceutical drugs. Acidity, ammonia, chemical waste, fertilizers and heavy metals. Contaminated water may have acute and chronic effects of human body. Common acute effect is cholera and diarrhoea, which is most common disease in Pakistan. We will get a stomach ache at the least.
Water-borne diseases account for the deaths of 34,890 people a year! And the majority of these are children. Infectious diseases can be spread through contaminated water. Some of these water-borne diseases are Typhoid, Cholera, Paratyphoid Fever, Dysentery, Jaundice, Amoebiasis and Malaria. Chemicals in the water also have negative effects on our health. Pesticides (can damage the nervous system and cause cancer because of the carbonates and organophosphates that they contain. Chlorides can cause reproductive and endocrinal damage.) Nitrates (are especially dangerous to babies that drink formula milk. It restricts the amount of oxygen in the brain and cause the “blue baby” syndrome.) Lead (can accumulate in the body and damage the central nervous system.) Arsenic (causes liver damage, skin cancer and vascular diseases). Flourides (in excessive amounts can make your teeth yellow and cause damage to the spinal cord.) Petrochemicals (even with very low exposure, can cause cancer.).

This article is collectively authored by  Fahad Iftikhar Virk , Engr. M Waqar Dogar and Waqas Arshad Wains.


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