Water Pollution: What To Do And How To Protect Yourself

Human activities are polluting natural resources one of which is water. Polluted water is one of the gravest threats to our existence today. Read on to understand how to prevent water pollution.

By Arun Sharma

Water Pollution: What To Do And How To Protect Yourself

Water — the elixir of life — makes up 60 per cent of our body and covers about 71 per cent of the Earth, the planet we live on.

So, ponder on the question — "Can we ignore the importance of water without putting our lives and the future of the Earth at risk?"

The answer is 'No'. But, unfortunately, that is what we are doing. With our habit of being careless with our resources, and in the pursuit of progress and development, we are contaminating our water resources.

What is water pollution?

Two-third of the Earth's surface is water, of which, almost 97 per cent is in the oceans and is unfit for human consumption. The remaining water, which is freshwater, is distributed between glaciers, groundwater and lakes and rivers.

Water pollution is the contamination of all the above-mentioned sources of water. It is one of the most serious ecological disasters we are facing today.

Types of water pollution

With water bodies being scattered throughout the globe, the ways in which we pollute water is also diverse. However, all the sources of contamination are grouped under two categories:

  • Point source pollution
  • Non-point source pollution

When the source of pollution is a single identifiable source, it is called point source pollution. Non-point source pollution happens when water flowing downstream gets contaminated at different points. The pollutants at every point are usually different from each other. For example, a river may get polluted by sewage, industrial waste, construction waste and so on. Non-point-sources of pollution are more difficult to identify and control than point sources of pollution.

Sources of water pollution

Point sources of water pollution in India are:

  • Drains carrying sewage and industrial effluents
  • Leaching from contaminated areas such as sewage tanks, abandoned factories and fields
  • Waste water treatment plants
  • Power plant discharges

Non-point sources include:

  • Run-offs from areas used for dumping waste
  • Contaminated storm water — run-offs through agricultural fields, sewage tanks and so on
  • Dumping dead bodies, washing cattle and mass bathing
  • Soil erosion
  • Disasters like oil spill

Harmful effects of water pollution

In India, rivers are considered sacred. Most sacred places around the world are situated on the banks of rivers and many of our religious rituals are performed on riverbanks.

In fact, water, especially fresh water, is one of the most important elements that helped in the spread, sustenance and continuation of human civilisation. Living beings can go without food for a few days, but not without water.

However, with increasing levels of water pollution, we are beginning to suffer from its adverse effects. Let's look at how contaminated water affects us:

Effect on health

        Pure water is the world’s first and foremost medicine  Slovakian proverb

Water not only quenches our thirst, but also plays a critical role in keeping us healthy. But, with sources of water getting polluted, contaminants are finding their way into the water we use for our daily needs. As a result of using unsafe water, more and more individuals are beginning to suffer from ill-health. Here are some of the diseases caused by use of contaminated, unsafe water:

  • Dysentery
  • Cholera
  • Typhoid
  • Hepatitis
  • Respiratory infections
  • Liver and kidney ailments
  • Disorders of the endocrine and reproductive system
  • Skin diseases

Effect on the environment

  • When birds consume water contaminated by chemicals like pesticides and fertilisers, it leads to thinning of their eggshells and premature breaking, which affects their population.
  • The presence of excess nutrients, mainly nitrogen and phosphorus, increases the population of algae and Cyanobacteria.
  • Water pollution in an area, such as a pond or a lake, destroys the ecosystem of that particular place. For example, it kills the plants and other organisms living in that water body.
  • Over time, the contaminants become a part of the food chain and reach humans.
  • The oxygen level in polluted water is lower. This causes the death of several organisms.

Signs of water pollution

Contaminants in polluted water are a health hazard. While some of them are visible to our eyes, most of them aren’t. So, do you know how to find out if the water before you is polluted or not? Here are some time-tested and easy ways:

  • Bad or unusual taste: The taste buds in our mouth not only help us experience and enjoy various tastes, but they can also alert us to something that isn't fit for consumption. If the water you are using tastes bad or unusual, it's time to change the source of your water supply.
  • Foul smell: Clean water does not have any smell. However, if the water looks clear but still smells musty or like rotten eggs, then it is a sign that the water is polluted.
  • Cloudy or murky colour: Water that is fit for human consumption should be clear and colourless. However, if this is not the case and the water appears cloudy or murky or has dirt and sediments in it, then the water is polluted.
  • Foamy appearance: If you can see the formation of foam on water surface, then it is a sign that the water is polluted with decaying organic matter like leaves and twigs. The decomposing matter releases surfactants which break down the surface tension of water and allow air to mix with water, which creates the bubbles.
  • Dead aquatic animals: If you can see dead fishes or other aquatic life in water, it is a sign that the water is polluted. The water may be polluted with a high concentration of chemicals.

Ways to prevent water pollution

  • Do not dispose hazardous household chemicals, cleaning agents or medication down the kitchen sink or toilet.
  • Do not pour cooking oil or fuel down storm water drains.
  • Clean your sewage tank at prescribed intervals.
  • Do not throw garbage in or around water bodies.
  • Reduce the use of pesticides, fertilisers and herbicides as much as possible. Practise organic farming.
  • Take care when disposing off trash like diapers and sanitary napkins as most of them are made from non-degradable materials.
  • Try to use as many recyclable and reusable products as possible.
  • Reduce the usage of plastic by substituting such products with biodegradable or natural ones.

While there are enough natural resources to meet our needs, there isn't enough to satisfy our greed or negligence. So, together with doing all you can to prevent water pollution, also sensitise your family members and others around you to become a part of your efforts.

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