How Does Water Pollution Affect The Environment

By Mary Smith. Updated: January 16, 2017
How Does Water Pollution Affect The Environment

Water is essential to life and is as vital as the air we breathe. It is therefore a major cause for concern that rivers, seas, lakes and groundwater are becoming increasingly contaminated. If you want to find out more about how water pollution affects the environment we live in, keep on reading this OneHowTo article.

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Water, a precious commodity

The human body is composed of 70% water and nearly 3/4 of the Earth's surface is water, although only 2.5% of the total is fresh water (and a large part of that is in the form of ice in the Poles). Neither plants nor animals can live without water and people can survive much longer without food than they can without water. Therefore, we should look after our water reserves as precious gems to be treasured, which is exactly what they are. If we contaminate them and make the water unsuitable for drinking, we'll be causing irreversible damage to both the ecosystem and ourselves.

How Does Water Pollution Affect The Environment - Water, a precious commodity

Causes of pollution

Water may be polluted by an accumulation of household waste. This could be a build up of waste swept along over time or large quantities of waste disposed at one time. Some objects such as cans and plastic bottles tend to float on the surface of the water, creating floating rubbish islands.

The pollution produced by sewage leaks contaminates water with bacteria and toxic elements. Not only does this render the water undrinkable, but, it also damages soil and crops. Sewage plants are invaluable for two reasons: they prevent water pollution and are also able to recycle water.

Another cause of water pollution is industrial tipping which can have truly devastating effects. Although tipping carries heavy penalties and is strictly regulated, the truth of the matter is that it has been a huge problem ever since the Industrial Revolution and continues to be so today. River pollution is sometimes caused by a run-off of chemicals such as fertilizers, normally as a result of heavy rainfall.

Another catastrophic contribution to the pollution of our waters is spillages from huge tankers, as was the case with the Prestige oil spill on the Galician coast. In 2002, an oil tanker sank and polluted thousand of kilometers of coastline, causing great harm to local industries and the sea's ecosystem for many years.

On top of all this, water can also become contaminated naturally. It can also become contaminated by mineral and organic substances, from both the Earth's crust as well as the atmosphere.

How Does Water Pollution Affect The Environment - Causes of pollution


The accumulation of plastic and other waste can be very harmful to marine fauna. The animals may accidentally ingest waste material or be injured by floating objects. Even the plastic rings from packs of cans can become deadly traps.

A direct consequence of water pollution of rivers, lakes and the sea is the introduction of toxic elements into the food chain. Humans, at the top of the food chain, may ingest large quantities of heavy metals that accumulate from animal to animal, which is why we are advised not to eat large amounts of tuna or shark. In addition, the more contaminated the water is, the more toxic compounds evaporate into the atmosphere and cause acid rain.

Shockingly, contaminated water can lead to the elimination of entire species as a result of oxygen deficiency in the water.

How Does Water Pollution Affect The Environment - Consequences

The Great Pacific garbage patch

Also known as the 'Pacific trash vortex'', this is an enormous accumulation of marine debris in the North Pacific located roughly between 135°W to 155°W and 35°N and 42°N. It has almost a million and a half square kilometers of plastics and other solid waste floating in the water, trapped by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre. Another garbage patch, smaller in size, has also been found in the Atlantic Ocean.

How Does Water Pollution Affect The Environment - The Great Pacific garbage patch

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