Water pollution comes from a myriad of sources, both natural and from human activity. The most destructive causes of water pollution are man made, however. The largest sources include:
The burning of coal in power plants emits ash particulates that contain toxic metals like arsenic and lead. Coal and petroleum also contain sulfur compounds. Combustion generates sulfur dioxide, a toxic gas, and oxides of nitrogen. When emitted from exhaust stacks, these two compounds combine to form sulfuric acid in the atmosphere. When this toxic compound coalesces with water molecules, it falls to earth as “acid rain”. It contaminates land and bodies of water, and is one of the major causes of water pollution. Even though coal-fired plants have been mandated to install special chemical scrubbers to filter their emissions, a lot of pollutants still reach our environment. Despite what the pro-industrialists say, there is no such thing as “clean coal”.
Transportation vehicles (cars, trucks, planes, trains, etc.) burning petroleum distillates, gasoline, diesel, and various other fuels derived from petroleum, emit compounds of sulfur and nitrogen, and carbon oxides as well. Like coal burning, these compounds also contribute to smog and air pollution. They precipitate to earth and can make it into our drinking water sources. Basically anything that contributes to air pollution can also be causes of water pollution.
Mining operations of all kinds expose naturally occurring traces of heavy metals, sulfides, and radioactive materials. When exposed, or processed, these materials often end up in our waterways through runoff. In producing fertilizers for the agricultural industry, the phosphate mining industry generates fluorosilicic acid. It's a concentrated toxic waste that has radioactive components in it. Fluorosilicic acid is so toxic that it was listed on the Superfund list of compounds that pose the most significant risk to human health. It was once very expensive for the industry to dispose of in hazardous waste dumps, but it has been repurposed by the industry, in collusion with governmental oversight agencies to be added to our water as fluoride, as a supposed health benefit for our teeth. Nothing could be further from the truth, as it is an intentional poisoning of the public, and one of the major causes of water pollution.
Metal producing foundries have a myriad of highly polluting emissions, some of which are mercury, lead, manganese, iron, chromium and other harmful contaminates. After precipitating out of the air, will often find its way into water through runoff.
Industrial agriculture has ushered in the age of chemical farming. Toxic pesticides and herbicides, and chemical fertilizers have supplanted naturally organic, non-toxic means to control pests and weeds. These compounds are poisoning not only bad insects and weeds, but are also poisoning good insects like honey bees, wildlife, and even humans, as these chemicals easily find their way into our watersheds and pulled up from our wells, or drawn in by municipal water treatment plants, which do not have the ability to deal with these toxic compounds. Despite the chemical industries claims, these compounds do not readily decompose into safe components in the environment.
Accidental spills are more common than many may think. Accidents from ocean going oil tankers and drilling platforms, to tractor-trailer tanker truck accidents, and train derailments of concentrated, highly-toxic chemicals, all contribute to long term causes of water pollution.
Gas drilling industry is now pumping tens of thousands of gallons of toxic compounds into the ground to help facilitate the extraction of natural gas, in a new process called ‘hydraulic fracturing’, or “fracking”. It’s a highly polluting process that has contaminated thousands of residential water wells everywhere that it’s been implemented, and has caused wide spread groundwater contamination. It’s a grossly irresponsible and immoral activity that places corporate profits above the common good.
Discharges from millions of homes using caustic cleansers or disposing of toxic chemicals, and small industries like dry cleaners disposing of chlorinated solvents into drain lines are also recognized as major causes of water pollution. It’s encouraging that many are resolving to use alternative non-toxic cleaners that are just as effective. There are many sources on the internet that will show you inexpensive, effective alternatives.
Landfills have been known to leak all kinds of contaminants into the environment and into groundwater. In some areas, out of date pharmaceutical drugs are incinerated, but often times, large amounts of drugs are buried, or disposed of into the oceans. Trace amounts of dangerous pharmaceutical drugs are being measured in watersheds everywhere. Again, treatment plants cannot remove these compounds.
These are some of the major causes of water pollution.
There are many other sources of contaminants that make their way into our drinking water.
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