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What is causing water pollution? 13 eye-opening facts you need to know!

    What is causing water pollution? This is a question we should all know the answer to because water pollution is a real problem. We only have the water that we have, it is a finite resource. This means that we must protect our water and not pollute it. So what is causing water pollution and how do we prevent this from happening? Read on to find out…

    What is causing water pollution?

    So, what is causing water pollution? Water pollution is a big part of climate change; it occurs when any sort of harmful substance enters (and contaminates) a body of water such as a river, lake, stream, ocean or sea. It leads to the water becoming toxic to marine life, humans and the environment itself. Today I’ll be exploring what is causing water pollution, and 13 facts you need to know about the situation…

    1. Water pollution is seriously jeopardising our health 

    This might be a surprising fact, but before we look at what is causing water pollution it’s important to know that it is actually one of the world’s biggest killers. Unsafe water kills more people per year than warm and other forms of violence combined. This is because contaminated water is full of harmful chemicals and bacteria which cause severe illness to those who drink it. Especially in poorer nations where safe water is much less accessible, people are dying from consuming this polluted water.

    Some illnesses linked to contaminated water include dysentery, typhoid, hepatitis A, polio, diarrhoea and cholera. These are all entirely preventable health issues, which could be avoided with less water pollution and better sanitation – essentially, what is causing water pollution is also causing health problems. 

    2. Less than 1% of the world’s freshwater is accessible to us

    The actual percentage varies from source to source, but it is said to be around 0.5% – the rest of the world’s freshwater (around 3% of all water) is either too far under the surface, too polluted, or ‘locked up’ in polar ice caps or glaciers. If we look at the fact that some of our freshwater is too polluted to be used, and there’s only such a small percentage available in the first place, this is a real issue. This is why we really need to know what is causing water pollution…

    3. The leading cause of water pollution is sewage

    Again, sources vary on what is THE leading cause of water pollution, but sewage is definitely up there. According to the UN, around 80% of sewage and wastewater finds its way back into the environment and bodies of water *without* being treated. There are obviously various chemicals, as well as harmful bacteria, in this type of water – think about when you flush your toilet. Human waste, mixed with any cleaning chemicals you use on a regular basis, are heading back into our water systems. All of this is obviously causing water to become polluted, damaged and unsafe – and therefore a big part of what is causing water pollution.

    4. Industrial waste is a big cause of water pollution

    Another major contaminator of water is industrial waste; although rules and regulations are in place, a lot of industrial sites still do not have good waste management systems. Toxic chemicals and pollutants therefore make their way into freshwater bodies near these sites, making them very easily polluted. It’s a classic and humorous example, but in the hit TV show The Simpsons we see a three-eyed fish species called the Blinky – a mutation caused by nuclear waste being dumped into bodies of water. While this is somewhat of an exaggeration, it is a nod towards the dangers of industrial waste.

    Water tends to lead to other water, meaning waste and its byproducts can make their way as far as the sea; this makes the sea dangerous as the temperature changes, which in turn is bad for the marine life within it. This has a knock-on effect especially where people rely on fishing for both income and sustenance.

    5. Marine dumping is a thing

    You probably know that unfortunately, a lot of our household waste such as food and cosmetic packaging ends up in landfill. But did you know about marine dumping? This is essentially where this household waste is dumped into the oceans instead, and it needs discussing when we think about what is causing water pollution. It doesn’t really happen nowadays, having been banned, but some countries likely still do this.

    Even so, the aftereffects of marine dumping are still being felt – the amount of plastic and other waste polluting our oceans is phenomenal, and not in a good way. This is harmful to marine life particularly; everyone has seen the photos of turtles with plastic can holders wrapped around their limbs, and that’s not even half of it…

    6. Oil spills cause water pollution

    It goes without saying that when oil spills or leaks into water, it pollutes said water. Oil can strip sea otters of the insulating properties of their fur, meaning they can easily become hypothermic – it also coats birds’ wings, leaving them unable to fly in some cases. This type of pollution is clearly harmful to the survival of marine life and other animals. Oil creates harmful pH levels, looks bad, and can severely limit the accessibility of edible seafood, so it is a big part of what is causing water pollution.

    Oil spills like this one are what is causing water pollution - or partly!

    7. Water pollution impacts the economy

    When we discuss sustainability of any sort, we need to remember the three pillars of sustainability – one of which is the economy. Water pollution is having a huge impact on our economy for many reasons! So as well as looking at what is causing water pollution, let’s look at some ways it costs us money…

    Clean-up efforts

    One way water pollution impacts the economy is through clean-up efforts. Take the previous point about oil spills, for example, it is very costly to clean these up. It is usually the responsibility of whoever caused the oil spill to clean it up; when these companies have to pay out to fix their damage, they have less money to put into the economy.

    Fishing income

    As the number of healthy fish in the rivers, seas and ocean depletes, fishermen and women are unable to make as much of an income as they have previously been able to do. Of course, part of this is due to unsustainable fishing practices – meaning it is a circular issue in some ways. But water pollution is a big factor too. It also has a knock-on effect to seafood restaurants in blue tourism areas, for example, who are unable to serve as much seafood as they previously could do.

    Treatment and improvements

    As clean, healthy water is something which should be accessible to all, a lot of money is pumped into ensuring people can access this. Richer countries often subsidise clean water treatment and access in less developed countries, which obviously impacts the global economy.


    When water is polluted, especially oceans and seas, it has an impact on what we call ‘blue tourism’ – which is tourism related to the water. So for example, beaches which are consistently covered in oily spots or household waste will become much less attractive to visitors and tourists. When barrier reefs die off due to water pollution, nobody will want to head out to see them.

    And while cruise ships continue to impact the pollution levels of the water as much as they do, people are less inclined to take cruise holidays – especially those who want to keep their carbon footprint low… All of this massively impacts the economy, because tourism is such a big contributor.

    8. Global warming is another cause of water pollution

    Back to the causes of water pollution – global warming is another big one. As the temperature of the planet rises, so does water temperature. This leads to marine animals dying, which in turn creates the pollution that comes from rotting sea creatures. By lowering our collective carbon footprint and trying to prevent further global warming, we can help prevent water pollution too.

    9. Ocean acidification is increasing 

    Since preindustrial times, ocean acidification has increased by around 25% – this is thanks to many types of water pollution. As the ocean becomes more and more acidic, its chemical balance is literally changing. The acidification eats away at the minerals which creatures like lobsters and shrimp, as well as coral reefs, use to build their skeletons and shells. Therefore, marine life is harmed – and as we’ve already seen, this has a knock-on effect on the economy!

    And when people eat these shellfish and other affected marine animals, as many do, those which come from areas of particularly high acidification can contain harmful toxins. This means human health is also impacted by ocean acidification.

    10. We can help prevent further water pollution

    There are many ways in which we as a human population can help fix and prevent water pollution. A lot of the damage already done is irreversible, but there are things we can do…

    • Pick up litter and dispose of it properly – especially in coastal areas – to prevent it ending up in the water.
    • Stop flushing anything other than toilet paper – no pads or tampons, nappies or baby wipes and so on.
    • Use eco-friendly cleaning products which have a limited amount of harmful chemicals in them.
    • Do not dispose of fat from cooking down the sink – one tip is to create a little ‘bowl’ out of foil in your plug hole, which you can pour the fat or oil into. When it hardens, just throw the whole thing away.
    • Engage in beach clean-up activities on your travels if this is something on offer, giving back to the local community and helping to keep our oceans clean.
    • Reduce the use of single-use plastic (bags, water bottles, straws and so on) which can end up in the water.

    There are various other ways we can help prevent water pollution, and of course a lot of this rests on the shoulders of businesses and corporations too. By stopping the use of pesticides, for example, agricultural companies can prevent further chemicals being driven into our water systems.

    11. Maritime traffic is causing water pollution

    Boats and other maritime traffic are other big causes of water pollution; tankers, cargo shipping and so on create both plastic AND fuel pollution. Carbon dioxide emissions, toxic chemicals, greenhouse gas emissions… it’s endless. These water vehicles are necessary for global trade as well as tourism, fishing and more. But there does need to be better regulations in place to ensure that these boats don’t continue to cause so much pollution.

    12. Cruises are going eco-friendly

    Some people say that one of the worst causes of water pollution is a cruise holiday. This isn’t strictly true, but there are a lot of people who are anti-cruise for one reason or another – and it’s no secret that they *are* bad for the environment. But as tourists aim to reduce their individual carbon footprints, and the world as a whole becomes more knowledgeable about the climate challenges we are facing, cruise companies are having to take steps to ensure they do better.

    This means they are less likely to lose customers, and obviously the decision-makers do care about the planet too! By getting rid of single-use plastic and using liquified natural gas, which produces ‘25% less carbon dioxide, zero sulphur emissions and up to 95% less nitrogen oxide than conventional fuel’ according to a Telegraph article.

    As you might know, the UN has a list of 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Two of these relate to water – number 6, which is to ‘ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all’ as well as number 14, to ‘conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development’. By working to reduce and combat water pollution, we can get much closer to these goals. 

    Achieving number 6 is only possible by reducing water pollution; for everybody on the planet to be able to access clean water, we *have to* ensure that we stop polluting it, treat our water better, and find ways for everybody to be able to get their hands on it.

    And when it comes to the 14th goal on the list, conserving our water for sustainable development, we again need to make sure we reduce pollution. By further polluting our oceans, for example, we are not using them sustainably!

    What is causing water pollution? FAQs

    Just incase this post hasn’t answered all of your questions in relation ‘what is water pollution’, I will finish up by answering some of the most common questions related to this topic.

    What is water pollution?

    Water pollution is the contamination of water bodies, such as rivers, lakes, oceans, and groundwater, by human or natural activities that make it unsuitable for use or harmful to aquatic life.

    What causes water pollution?

    The main causes of water pollution are industrial waste, agricultural activities, sewage and wastewater, oil spills, and improper disposal of household waste.

    How does water pollution affect human health?

    Water pollution can cause a variety of health problems, including diarrhoea, skin rashes, respiratory problems, and even cancer, depending on the type and amount of pollutants in the water.

    How does water pollution affect aquatic life?

    Water pollution can harm aquatic life by reducing oxygen levels, increasing acidity, and introducing toxic chemicals into the water that can kill or harm fish, plants, and other aquatic organisms.

    How can we prevent water pollution?

    We can prevent water pollution by reducing our use of harmful chemicals, properly disposing of household waste, and implementing policies and regulations that limit pollution from industries and agricultural activities.

    What are the types of water pollution?

    The types of water pollution include chemical pollution, biological pollution, and physical pollution, such as sediment and debris.

    What are the effects of oil spills on water quality?

    Oil spills can have severe effects on water quality by introducing toxic chemicals into the water, reducing oxygen levels, and harming aquatic life.

    How does agricultural runoff contribute to water pollution?

    Agricultural runoff can contribute to water pollution by carrying excess nutrients, such as fertilisers and pesticides, into water bodies, which can cause algal blooms, reduce oxygen levels, and harm aquatic life.

    How does plastic pollution affect water quality?

    Plastic pollution can harm water quality by introducing toxic chemicals into the water as it breaks down, entangling and suffocating aquatic life, and altering the food chain.

    What are the long-term effects of water pollution on the environment?

    The long-term effects of water pollution on the environment include the destruction of aquatic ecosystems, loss of biodiversity, and reduced water availability for human use.

    What is causing water pollution? To Conclude

    What is causing water pollution? Hopefully you are now more confident to be able to answer this question! As you can see, there is no one straight forward answer to the question ‘what is causing water pollution’, rather it is an accumulation of multiple things.

    The important thing now, is that we are all about to answer the question ‘what is causing water pollution’ and that we are able to act on this and improve water quality around the world.

    What is causing water pollution? Further reading

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