Water Pollution and its Control

Two-thirds of our planet is made up of water which is as big as 1 octillion litre. 70 percent of the human body is made up of water. It is a universal solvent. It is the only substance that exists in all 3 forms of matter on this planet. Today, united nations have recognised water as a basic human right, besides considering it as an economic commodity.

‘Pure’ water form is thought to be water with the minimum amount of gases, minerals and life. But for all practical purposes, it is generally thought to have the least amount of solutes. High-quality water is essential for drinking purposes, but for any other needs, water quality can be flexible.  

What is Water Pollution

Pollution is the introduction of contamination into the environment. Water pollution is the presence of extreme levels of pollutants (hazards) in a water body, such that it is no longer suitable for regular human usage such as bathing, cooking or drinking. 

Polluting water is commonly seen with the involvement of human activities such as throwing waste, industrial and agricultural effluents, chemical discharge, etc. This leads to the degradation of water quality and affecting aquatic life. When humans or animals consume this water for thirst, the health effects caused are adverse to life. Only less than 0.3% of the earth’s water is suitable for normal drinking.

Sources of Water Pollution

There are many sources of water pollution. Most of the freshwater is surface water. Oceans, lakes, rivers, streams, ponds and other water bodies can become sources of pollution. Another important source of freshwater is underground water. It can also get contaminated by seepage of harmful chemicals from the surface.

There are two major sources when seen from the origin of the contamination. One is the ‘point’ source pollution, which means that the source of the pollution originates from a specific place. The other is ‘nonpoint’ source pollution as contamination from diffuse options. Transboundary contamination means it will not be limited to a country but can affect other places as well. Other common causatives for water pollution include Urbanization, high use of Detergents,  insecticides and fertilizers, Deforestation. Even many social and religious ceremonies are key sources of water pollution. 

Let us look at a few other modern sources of water contamination with examples.  

Water Pollution - A Modern Epidemic

Most causes of water pollution originate from human activities and their waste products. The sources of water pollution are numerous, but some of the major pollutants in today’s modern scenario are as follows : 

Industrial waste: Many regular industrial activities release enormous amounts of toxic chemicals such as lead and mercury. They spread to other living species when humans use this contaminated product for regular purposes. It also affects the biodiversity of the water body.

Sewage and waste: Tonnes of sewage waste is dumped into water bodies. This not only causes pollution but also releases dangerous disease-causing pathogens.

Mining: Mining in today’s generation is key to the major lake and river pollution. This process brings out harmful chemicals that are buried deep under the earth’s surface. When this comes in contact with water, the effects are dangerous to any living creature.

Marine dumping: The garbage generated every day is dumped into the seas and oceans going as far as to give rise to garbage islands. An easy step of throwing waste products only in the bin can reduce more than half of the water pollution levels.

Agricultural activities: The use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and other runoffs during irrigation flows into the water bodies. These chemicals cause pollution to water bodies in a short span of time. 


Radioactive Wastes: After usage of radioactive materials for nuclear wagons or as an energy source, they are mostly dumped into water bodies or in glaciers that will immediately mix with water when the temperature rises. 

Urbanisation and Population growth: Cities are unable to meet the water demand of its growing population. This has caused contamination and loss of water due to overuse. 

Effects of Water Pollution

The most diverse effects of water pollution on humans is when it affects the health of people. Disruption of aquatic life is the primary effect of water pollution. Polluted water contains many disease-causing elements such as bacteria and viruses which trigger other harmful diseases, namely cholera, giardia, and typhoid. It can even lead to chronic conditions, including hormonal imbalances, hepatitis, altered brain function to cancer. A pregnant woman is especially prone to these water-borne diseases. Also, swimming in polluted water is a high risk as it can cause skin and eye allergies.

The environment is also disturbed as it slowly kills animals and plant life that are dependent on them for nourishment. It also supports the growth of harmful organisms that destroy the biodiversity of the water body. Certain algae growth reduces the level of oxygen in the water, killing everything in it. In some areas, pollution is so severe that it causes “dead zones” where there is no life. 

Minamata Incident

The 1932’s Minamata Incident is the worst record case in the history of water pollution. Methylmercury and its effluents started to flow from a factory in Japan. Methylmercury is one of the key sources of causing neurological disorders in human beings. The effects were initially not observable until seashell started to grasp these toxic chemicals into them. People and other local men started to consume these fishes, and the ill-effects were soon prominent. 

Animals such as cats and dogs were the first ones to suffer the ill-effects of this chemical. The term ‘dancing cat disease’ was coined from this incident, referring to the sounds of cats before they convulse and die. The symptoms were worse, including loss of motor coordination, acute mercury poisoning, ataxia, and even damage to speech and hearing. Severely affected persons recorded to have coma and paralysis, leading to demise.

The Japanese government and officials took 36 years to understand the seriousness of the incident and provided support funds to the victims. Soon the Japanese government also opened avenues to start protecting their water bodies and took proper measures for the prevention of water pollution. 

Pollution of The Ganges

The 6th most polluted river in the world is India’s Ganges (Ganga). Cremating dead bodies of humans along with other religious practises, quickly developed water contaminated into the river. This river is also the major causation toward cholera and typhoid. 

Even the fauna of this river has been adversely affected, and notable ones include the Ganges River Dolphin and Ganges River Shark. Nearly 1000 children die each year due to water pollution in India. Currently, there are a few steps taken to drive away from this level and address these issues properly.

Control Measures of Water Pollution

Prevention and control of water pollution could be done in so many ways. To start off, it is to plant more trees around water bodies as they naturally help to assimilate and recycle the pollutants. There is this ‘Water Hyacinth’ that absorbs dissolved toxic substances like cadmium and mercury from water bodies.

It is important to dispose-off waste carefully and not to dump them directly into water bodies, without proper waste treatment. Using natural fertilisers and pesticides as substitutes for chemical ones are good for plants and water. Industries should treat their wastes carefully before disposing of chemicals and other materials into water bodies directly.  Even chemical processes such as coagulation, ion exchange method, reverse osmosis, etc. will greatly reduce the level of water pollution.

Lastly, it is better to reduce the consumption of water in our daily activities and reuse water whenever possible to reduce the overall level of pollution.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. Give the water pollution definition.

Water pollution is an adverse result of contaminated substances and other toxic elements entering water bodies such as rivers, streams, ponds, etc.

2. State water pollution causes and effects.

The common causes of water pollution include sewage disposal, chemical release from industries, agricultural runoff, etc. The effects of these causes include aquatic life disturbance, neurological and psychological errors in human beings, loss of flora and fauna, etc.

3. Name a few diseases caused due to water pollution.

Typhoid, Cholera, Jaundice, Hepatitis, Dysentery, Polio, Trachoma, are some of the water-borne diseases caused due to water pollution.

4. What will be the future effects of water pollution?

Climate change, water scarcity, global warming, ozone layer depletion, loss of genetic pool, are some of the future effects of water pollution, if not controlled.

5. What are the standard measures to control water pollution?

Effluent sewage treatment, proper incineration, reducing the use of chemical fertilizers, reusing the water, if possible, are some of the simple and standard measures to control water pollution.