Effects of Water Pollution

Updated: Apr 16

70% surface of the planet Earth is covered by water but the oceans hold about 97% of all Earth's water so that actually all creatures in the world can only use 3% of Earth’s water for drinking and living.


With the rapid development of urban areas and industrial factories, more and more waste discharged into the environment causes water pollution, making billions of people in the world unable to access clean and safe water. It goes without saying that the effects of water pollution on human life as well as natural life is extremely severe.


Currently, about 1.1 billion people in the world do not have access to clean water. About 2.7 billion people cannot drink fresh water at least once a year. In addition to the scarcity of clean water sources, inadequate sanitation also affects people's health. It gives rise to a variety of water pollution-related diseases such as diarrhea, cholera, typhoid, etc. Researches show that about 2 million people, most of them are children, have died every year from diarrhea or cholera because of the lack of clean water.


What is Water Pollution?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines contaminated water as water whose composition has been changed to the extent that it cannot be used anymore. It is toxic water and the cause of various diseases such as diarrhea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio, killing more than 500,000 people each year all around the world.



The main water pollutants are associated with bacteria, viruses, parasites, fertilizers, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, nitrates, phosphates, plastics, fecal waste, and even radioactive substances. These substances do not always change the water's color but cannot be used in daily life.


Effects of Water Pollution

Deteriorating water quality is damaging the environment, human health, and the global economy.

1. On human health

According to a study published in The Lancet, contaminated water is the cause of 1.8 million deaths in 2015. Polluted water can also make you ill, sicken about 1 billion people each year.


And low-income communities are disproportionately at risk because their homes are often closest to the polluting water resources. Water-borne diseases include cholera, giardia, and typhoid. Even in rich countries, accidental or illegal discharges from wastewater treatment facilities and runoff from farms and urban areas.



As the discharge of untreated wastewater by many factories, a wide range of chemical pollutants from heavy metals such as arsenic and mercury to pesticides and nitrate fertilizers flew into our water supply.


The organisms and vegetation in the water directly lead to the effects of water pollution. On a human level, many people die every day due to polluted and infected water. These toxins can cause a wide range of health problems, from cancer to hormonal disorders and alterations in brain function. Children and pregnant women are at high risk which is extremely alarming.


Swimming in polluted water also causes serious diseases such as skin rashes, pinkeye, respiratory infections, and hepatitis.


2. On the environment

Not only humans, but water is also the source of life for countless plants and animals on this planet. The appearance of the human race made the earth seem like a home for only homo-sapiens. In addition to being deprived of their lives to serve human needs, other creatures are also deprived of their accommodation, food, and water. Polluted water is also the cause of plants and animal’s extinction. Some are sick and directly transmitted to humans. IPBES Global Assessment shows that an estimate of 1 million animal and plant species in the world are now under threat of extinction, more than ever before in human history. If these chemicals are used in excess, some of them dissolve in rainwater and drain into rivers, streams and ponds, polluting the water and killing the wildlife.



Animals are also threatened by debris such as balloons, nylon bags, plastic straws, and soda cans, getting caught up in sewers and storm drains, and eventually into the ocean. Over 200 species of marine animal are recorded as ingesting plastic debris. These plastics are attractive to turtles and seabirds because they look like squid and jellyfish.

Contaminated water may include microplastic. Microplastics can exist everywhere with a compact size. That causes microplastic pollution to spread widely, affecting marine life. Recently, microplastics have been found in seafood products as well. Microplastic particles less than 1 mm in size appear in mussels, oysters, and shellfish. Scientists have found that perch larvae, once consumed with microplastics, tend to prefer plastic to other natural food sources of marine plankton.

Untreated industrial wastewater contains many toxic chemicals and heavy metals like arsenic, mercury, aluminium, cadmium, chromium, copper, iron, etc. These pollutants are toxic to aquatic life, often reducing an organism's life and fertility and entering their food chain when predators eat prey. That is how tuna and other large fish accumulate high levels of toxins, such as mercury. Eventually, people eat sea fish and put these toxins into the human body.

Studies show that every year around the world about 3.5 million tons of oil from all sources are dumped into the sea. Of which 400,000 tons were due to accidents at sea. Seven hundred thousand tons from oil tanker maneuvers. Three hundred thousand tons due to the dumping of ballast water mixed with oil and 50,000 tons from the operation of bringing the ship to the repair momentum. Due to oil and gas extraction or ship accidents cause to the death of several small marine species. Inhalation of oil also damages to health, reducing the ability of birds and mammals to maintain body temperature.


3. On the global economy

Clean water is a critical factor for economic growth. The scarcity of clean water is holding back economic growth, undermining human health, reducing food production, and exacerbating poverty in many third-world countries.

In agriculture, the abuse of pesticides and chemical fertilizers makes water sources seriously polluted. Land intensification through pressures such as irrigation, leaching of fertilizers into undesirable areas, and improper treatment and disposal of municipal wastewater can increase soil salinity, affecting crops cultivate on it.



The leading cause of poor water quality is nitrogen, which is essential for agriculture but seeps into rivers and oceans, where it creates hypoxia and dead zones, and in the air where it forms nitrous oxide - a greenhouse gas. Early exposure to nitrates, the report says, affects brain growth and development while also reducing people's health and earning power.

Water pollution is a known threat to mankind and other wildlife species, we can do our part to help keep our waters clean.

- Reduce littering trash into ocean

- Buy reusable compostable products like glass bottle, cloth bag, bamboo straws instead of disposable plastics.

- If you see anyone throwing litter into river, ponds or the beach, report immediately to the local authorities

- Educate your children and help increase awareness within your family about keep the water clean

- Do not overuse water

- Do not use products that contain microplastic.


Work cited:

“Chapter 3: The Effects of Marine Plastic Pollution.” Home – Parliament of Australia, Canberra, ACT, 2600, 20 Apr. 2016, www.aph.gov.au/parliamentary_business/committees/senate/environment_and_communications/marine_plastics/Report/c03.

Corporativa, Iberdrola. “Water Pollution: How to Protect Our Source of Life.” Iberdrola, www.iberdrola.com/sustainability/water-pollution.

“Is Your Water Clean?” The World Counts, www.theworldcounts.com/stories/how-does-water-pollution-affect-humans.

Larkin, Michelle. “25 Fascinating Facts about Animals That Have Gone Extinct.” Insider, Insider, 31 Oct. 2019, www.insider.com/facts-about-animals-that-have-gone-extinct.

May 14, 2018 Melissa Denchak. “Water Pollution: Everything You Need to Know.” NRDC, 2 Sept. 2020, www.nrdc.org/stories/water-pollution-everything-you-need-know.

staff, Science X. “Water Pollution Can Reduce Economic Growth by a Third: World Bank.” Phys.org, Phys.org, 20 Aug. 2019, phys.org/news/2019-08-pollution-economic-growth-world-bank.html.

Technology, International Environmental. “How Does Water Pollution Affect Economic Growth?” Envirotech Online, www.envirotech-online.com/news/water-wastewater/9/breaking-news/how-does-water-pollution-affect-economic-growth/50633.

“UN Report: Nature's Dangerous Decline 'Unprecedented'; Species Extinction Rates 'Accelerating' – United Nations Sustainable Development.” United Nations, United Nations, www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2019/05/nature-decline-unprecedented-report/.

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