Water Pollution Biology


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Pathogens are the major cause of the water pollution crisis discussed at the beginning of this section.

Unfortunately nearly a billion people around the world are exposed to waterborne pathogen pollution daily and around 1. Pathogens enter water primarily from human and animal fecal waste due to inadequate sewage treatment.

Biological aspects of water pollution and water supply problems

In many underdeveloped countries, sewage is discharged into local waters either untreated or after only rudimentary treatment. In developed countries untreated sewage discharge can occur from overflows of combined sewer systems, poorly managed livestock factory farms, and leaky or broken sewage collection systems.


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Water with pathogens can be remediated by adding chlorine or ozone, by boiling, or by treating the sewage in the first place. Oil spills can result from supertanker accidents such as the Exxon Valdez in , which spilled 10 million gallons of oil into the rich ecosystem of coastal Alaska and killed massive numbers of animals. The largest marine oil spill was the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which began with a natural gas explosion Figure 6 at an oil well 65 km offshore of Louisiana and flowed for 3 months in , releasing an estimated million gallons of oil.

The worst oil spill ever occurred during the Persian Gulf war of , when Iraq deliberately dumped approximately million gallons of oil in offshore Kuwait and set more than oil well fires that released enormous clouds of smoke and acid rain for over nine months.

During an oil spill on water, oil floats to the surface because it is less dense than water, and the lightest hydrocarbons evaporate, decreasing the size of the spill but polluting the air.

Part I. A Rationale for the Biological Approach

Then, bacteria begin to decompose the remaining oil, in a process that can take many years. Persistent organic pollutants POPs are long-lived in the environment, biomagnify through the food chain, and can be toxic. Heavy metals are commonly produced by industry and at metallic ore mines. Arsenic and mercury are discussed in more detail below. Only recently have scientists recognized that health problems can be caused by drinking small arsenic concentrations in water over a long time.

It enters the water supply naturally from weathering of arsenic-rich minerals and from human activities such as coal burning and smelting of metallic ores.

The worst case of arsenic poisoning occurred in the densely populated impoverished country of Bangladesh, which had experienced ,s of deaths from diarrhea and cholera each year from drinking surface water contaminated with pathogens due to improper sewage treatment. In the s the United Nations provided aid for millions of shallow water wells, which resulted in a dramatic drop in pathogenic diseases. Unfortunately, many of the wells produced water naturally rich in arsenic. Tragically, there are an estimated 77 million people about half of the population who inadvertently may have been exposed to toxic levels of arsenic in Bangladesh as a result.

The World Health Organization has called it the largest mass poisoning of a population in history. Mercury acts on the central nervous system and can cause loss of sight, feeling, and hearing as well as nervousness, shakiness, and death. Like arsenic, mercury enters the water supply naturally from weathering of mercury-rich minerals and from human activities such as coal burning and metal processing.

Water Pollution: Effects, Prevention, and Climatic Impact

A famous mercury poisoning case in Minamata, Japan involved methylmercury-rich industrial discharge that caused high Hg levels in fish. People in the local fishing villages ate fish up to three times per day for over 30 years, which resulted in over 2, deaths. During that time the responsible company and national government did little to mitigate, help alleviate, or even acknowledge the problem.

Water softeners remove calcium and magnesium, which allows the water to lather easily and resist scale formation. Hard water develops naturally from the dissolution of calcium and magnesium carbonate minerals in soil; it does not have negative health effects in people. Groundwater pollution can occur from underground sources and all of the pollution sources that contaminate surface waters.

What are the main types of water pollution?

Common sources of groundwater pollution are leaking underground storage tanks for fuel, septic tanks, agricultural activity, landfills, and fossil fuel extraction. Common groundwater pollutants include nitrate, pesticides, volatile organic compounds, and petroleum products. Another troublesome feature of groundwater pollution is that small amounts of certain pollutants, e. In Denver, Colorado 80 liters of several organic solvents contaminated 4. Fuel tanks commonly are stored underground at gas stations to reduce explosion hazards. Before in the U.

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Environmental Specialist. Aqua America, Inc. Investigate spills, leaks, discharges or occurrences of pollution ; Conduct field water tests and collect samples for laboratory analysis. As the plankton populations build up, they in turn can affect the environment, making 'the water unpalatable or difficult to treat for water supply purposes. Some of these changes may be taking place on the Waikato River, where taste and odour problems in water supplies have been associated with plankton blooms in the reservoirs impounded in recent years.

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