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Water Pollution

Arvind Singh*, Sushila Kala*

Biomedical Sciences Dept., Bundelkhand University, Jhansi, India


The rapid urbanization, industrialization as well as agricultural

activities have made environmental pollution a growing concern globally.
Off all the receptor systems exposed to the contaminants, ground water has
received little attention in the past because of the common belief that ground
water was pristine. Ground Water Pollution is usually traced back to four
main origins industrial, domestic, agricultural and over exploitation. The last
category mainly accounts for seawater intrusion. Studies carried out in India
reveal that one of the most important causes of ground water pollution is
unplanned urban development without adequate attention to sewage and
waste disposal. Industrialization without provision of proper treatment and
disposal wastes and affluent is another source of ground water pollution.
Excessive application of fertilizers for agricultural development coupled
with over-irrigation intrusion due to excessive pumping of fresh water in
coastal aquifers are also responsible for ground water pollution. Ground
Water Pollution & Hazards Scenario in India with the declared objectives of
providing at least the basic amenities there has been a tremendous
development in India, in the agriculture and industrial sector, with
concomitant pressure on the fresh water resources. The waste generated by
anthropogenic activities has not only polluted the environment as a whole
but had a particular detrimental effect on the quality of aquatio-envison too.
Leachates from compost pits, animal refuse of garbage dumping grounds
nutrient enriched return irrigation flows seepage from septic tanks, seepage
of sewage etc. has adversely affected the ground water quality in several
parts of India. The rate of generation of wastewater in India during 1981 was
estimated to be 74,529 million liters per day i.e. about 27km3 annually,
which poses a perennial danger to the potable ground water resource. With
increase of human and livestock population the quantum of waste produced
has increased tremendously. The estimated annual waste production from
these sources is around 2000 million tons (Vimal & Tala Shilkar, 1983).
According to the American College Dictionary, pollution is defined as: “to
make foul or unclean; dirty.” Water pollution occurs when a body of water
is adversely affected due to the addition of large amounts of materials to the
water. When it is unfit for its intended use, water is considered polluted.
Two types of water pollutants exist; point source and non point source.
Point sources of pollution occur when harmful substances are emitted
directly into a body of water. A non point source delivers pollutants
indirectly through environmental changes. An example of this type of water
pollution is when fertilizer from a field is carried into a stream by rain, in the
form of run-off, which in turn affects aquatic life. The non-point sources are
technically the most difficult to regulate in India. Water pollution comes
from three main sources: domestic sewage, industrial effluents and run-off
from activities such as agriculture. Water pollution from domestic and
human wastewater causes many severe water borne diseases. The problem
of water pollution due to industries is because of the inadequate measures
adapted for effluent treatment than to the intensity of industrial activities.
The 13 major water-polluting industries have been identified and are closely
being monitored by the Central Pollution Control Board. Access to safe
drinking water remains an urgent need as only 70.5% of the households in
the urban area and 8.7 % in rural areas receive organized piped water supply
and the rest have to depend on surface or ground water which is untreated
( Statistical Abstract of India, 1998). The diseases commonly caused due to
contaminated water are diarrhea, trachoma, intestinal worms, hepatitis, etc.
The most common contamination in the water is from the disease bearing
human wastes, which is usually detected by measuring fecal coliform levels.
Inadequate access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities leads to
higher infant mortality and intestinal diseases. An uncontrolled disposal of
urban waste into water bodies, open dumps and poorly designed landfills,
causes surface water and ground water contamination. For industries surface
water is the main source for drawing water and discharging effluents.
Industrial wastes containing heavy metals such as mercury, chromium, lead
and arsenic can threaten or destroy marine life besides polluting aquatic food

The term marine pollution was defined by United Nations working group
called “Group of Experts on Scientific Aspects of Marine environmental
Protection (GESAMP)”.
GESAMP defined it as
“Pollution means introduction by man, directly or indirectly of
substances or energy into the marine environment (including estuaries)
resulting in such deleterious effects as harm to living resources, hazards
to human health, hindrance to marine activities including fishing,
impairment of quality for use of seawater and reduction of amenities”.

Pollution of marine waters was realized somewhere in the

1970s. It was otherwise thought that the world's oceans have an infinite
capacity for absorbing our waste. This hazard is purely of anthropogenic
origin. Some major types of pollutants that have been the focus of recent
research are oil, sewage, garbage, chemicals, radioactive waste and thermal
pollution. Among these, the oil pollution is always discussed at length
because other pollutants affect limited areas. Not enough information is yet
available about radioactive waste disposal and its pollution effect We read in
the media about oil spills when oil tankers break close to coastlines or oil is
spilled from these tankers. However, only about 10% of oil pollution is
because of the oil spills and is a short-term coastal hazard. However, the
other causes that affect in long term are: leaks at marine terminals, disposal
of drilling mud's from offshore operations. Only a small fraction of the
world's used oil is recovered, the rest simply goes down the drain and away
into the sea. Oil pollution is important to the Indian coastline, because, most
of the petroleum products (including oil) originate in the West Asian
countries and are transported from the Indian Ocean to other parts of the
world. Besides, the effects of these on the environment, this type of
pollution also affect the living biota of the seas, which is consumed by
human being world over.

Lead agency in India: Indian Coast Guard

Indian Ocean region:
Accidental Tanker Spills, >7 Tonnes, 1990 to 2004,

Accidental Tanker Spills,700 tonnes >, Indian Ocean 1990 to 2004,

Spills since 1982, courtesy Indian Coast Guard

1968-1991 data, courtesy Oil Intelligence Report 1997

Marine pollution in the coastal zone

The coastal zone is defined as

“The area extending from the coastal plains to the edge of continental
shores, approximately matching the region that has been alternatively
flooded and exposed during the sea level fluctuation of the late
quaternary period”
(Lociz Science Plan, 1998).
In the earth’s surface, 18% is represented by coastal zone, which provide
space for 60% of the world’s human population. Because, 70% of the world
cities with population exceeding 1.6 million are located in this zone.
Interestingly, 90% of the world fish catch is obtained from coastal zone. The
coastal zone is only 8% in the hydrosphere, but responsible for 18-33% of
the total primary production. The biological wealth of this zone is very high
as it served as feeding, nursery and spawning grounds with rich biodiversity.
Sources of marine pollution

The main sources are atmosphere, river runoff, agriculture, livestocks, urban
runoff, automobiles, land clearing, sewage outfall, industrial waste etc.

Sources of pollution in the coastal zone -

In general the coastal zone receives
pollutants from major ways viz., atmosphere, reverine and glacier. Also
anthropogenic activities serve as the geological agents by ways of
discharging the effluents through piped outfalls, direct dumping,
operation of ships etc. Frequently preservatives have been intentionally used
assuming that they are relatively harmless to the cultured species. These
include antifoulants, of which the broad ecological effect of tributyltin
(TBT) is a good example. Pollution may arise from point source like a
single sewer pipe or factory wastewater outfall, or it can arise from a variety
of geographic points otherwise called as non point source. In the point
source pollution the concentration of the substance or the intensity of the
effect (e.g. temperature near cooling water outfalls of power plants) should
decline with increasing distance from the point source. The dissipation or
decline depends on the nature of substance or factor, water currents and the
sedimentary environment and rate of introduction of the substance or factor.
In this case management options may be developed by a regulatory agency.
In contrast to this, the non-point source effects cannot be attributed to any
single spot. Runoff arises due to rain is an example of a non point source.
The toxic substance and other fertilizer-based nutrients may spread over the
coast. However, these sources are more difficult to manage, because the
source is widespread over a spectrum of earth surface.

There are two types of pollutants. They are biodegradable and
nonbiodegradable pollutants. Most of the materials, which reach the sea,
disintegrate either through simple chemical reactions or because of the
activities of bacteria and some larger organisms. There are some substances
nevertheless which are either extremely stable or else they have a very slow
rate of degradation. The biodegradable pollutants are not persistent in the
environment (e.g. oil, organic compound in sewage).But the non-
biodegradable pollutants are persisting in environment for longer time (e.g.
Heavy metals, plastics, nuclear wastes etc.).
biodegradable and non-biodegradable pollutants are as follows-
Sewage is discharged into the oceans all over the world mostly from urban
settlement. Sewage adds to the amount of small particles suspended in the
water column and contributes large amounts of nutrients.
The raw sewage contains higher concentrations of
organic particulate matter,home washings, detergents, small amount of oil,
higher concentration of nutrients, toxic heavy metals etc. Also, the sewage
contains higher concentration of bacteria and viruses, which includes
harmful pathogenic forms. Sewage always has the characteristic of bad
odour, which is always not preferable, irritant and harmful to human and
other organisms.
The main sources of sewage are the coastal outfall located near the cities.
Also the increasing shipping activities also add higher concentration of
sewage to the harbour and shipping routes. Moreover many rivers transport
sewage from the inner regions of the land.
Fate and effect of sewage-
In open coast, the effect of sewage is difficult to detect due to higher mixing
up of tidal, wave and current actions. However in semi-enclosed areas like
small bays, harbours etc., the effects are devastating such as higher
Biochemical Oxygen Demand. Biochemical Oxygen Demand is the
amount of oxygen required by the microorganisms for the
decomposition of the organic compounds dissolved in a given volume of
2. OIL -
Oil is discharged in to the sea in various forms as crude oil and as separate
fractions. Most of the oil fractions are biodegradable. Oil and its fractions
are used in various ways from household needs to automobiles and
industries. The spilled oil more devastation in the marine environment.
Characteristics of oil -
Petroleum oils are very complex mixtures of large numbers of hydrocarbons,
containing also small amounts of sulphur, nitrogen, oxygen and different
metals combined with the hydrocarbons. Crude oil has the total mixture
ranges from the lightest hydrocarbon, methane to very large and complicated

Sources of oil pollution in marine environment -

The main ways in which oil enters in to the sea are,
 Natural release
 Tanker operations
 Oil tanker and other ship accidents
 Operation of ships other than tankers
 Offshore oil drilling and production platforms
 Ship-shore oil terminal operation
 Refinery operations
 Discharge of oil products on land and subsequent discharge by runoff
Statistics on source of marine oil release -
♦ 45% is due to marine transportation
♦ 32% is due to routine loading, discharging and flushing of tanker ships
♦ 8% is due to natural seeps
♦ 15% by other means
Fate of oil in the sea -
As the oil enters into sea it is exposed to processes, which modify it both
physically and chemically. This process is called weathering. As the oil
tends to float on the surface of sea, the prevailing wind, wave, tide and
current conditions make the oil to spread to a wider spectrum of area from
the point of release. The majority of crude oil forms sticky layers on the
surface, which prevents free diffusion of gasses, clogs adult organisms
feeding structures and decreases the sunlight available for photosynthesis.
Volatile components of an oil spill eventually evaporate into the air, leaving
heavier tars behind which forms into tar balls, which fall to the bottom and
may be assimilated by bottom organisms or incorporated into sediments.
Effect on marine organisms – As the oil is of floating type it tend to
spread and eventually reach the coastline.In many coastal areas, animals and
plants situated between high and low water marks were heavily coated with
oil and smothered. The exposure of organism to oil adds foreign smell in its
body and tissues and the process is called tainting. The shellfish can be
tainted either by deposition of oil on their shell or by ingestion of naturally
emulsified oil during normal feeding. The local fish population in the
immediate vicinity of oil discharge can acquire a marked taint from oil
components dissolved in the water.Almost all groups of organisms like
invertebrates, vertebrates like fishes, reptiles,mammals etc., are affected by
oil. When the plumage of a diving birds get oiled, the water repellent
properties of the feathers are destroyed, they loose the insulation
provided by the feather and its flying capacity. This leads to a condition
called hypothermia, subsequently the bird may die. Birds may also ingest
the oil. All these cause large scale death of marine birds. It is estimated that
between 150,000 and 450,000 marine birds killed by routine releases of oil
from tankers .The tainting can be cleared by rearing the affected organisms
in clean water for a considerable period. In shellfishes, during the process of
moulting, the tainted shells are removed. Also, the bird’s feathers and some
animal’s body can be cleaned with detergent. In this type of clean up, the
chances of recovery is observed in many cases.Most forms of marine life
recover within about five years, as crude oil is not as highly toxic as it is
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 Trash and Debris Removal

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 Oil spill Response

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More than just an eyesore, water pollution poses a risk to boats, threatens
human safety, harms wildlife, andcan result in economic losses. It is a
significant international problem, with governments and public
authorities taking action across the world.With more docks, harbours and
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Problems with Marine Debris

More than just an eyesore – it poses a risk to vessels, threatens human

safety, harms wildlife and can result in economic losses. It is a significant
problem and increased public awareness of environmental issues is forcing
Governments and Public Authorities to take action.

Worldwide levels of unsightly debris and trash are increasing due to

increased commercial and recreational maritime usage, and the proliferation
of non-biodegradable plastics and other products.Marine Debris can consist
of household garbage, food containers, wood and logs, trees, sewage, oil,
aquatic vegetation and dead fish, but a significant portion of the pollution
will be from commercial and industrial operations. Whilst fishing gear,
ship's cargo, oil and other marine waste are possible ocean sources,
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Floating Debris, Cardiff Bay, UK

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Arvind Singh, Sushila Kala are presently working as Senior Research Fellow and
Research Fellow in National Dairy Research Institute, Karnal India