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Chapter 18: Water Pollution

18.1 Define water pollution

 Water pollution is anything that degrades water quality

-Any physical, biological or chemical change in water quality that adversely affects living
organisms or makes water unsuitable for desired uses might be considered as pollution. There
are two types of pollution, point and nonpoint pollution sources.

-Point sources are factories, power plants, sewage treatment plants, underground coal mines
and oil well because they discharge pollution from specific locations, such as drains pipes,
ditches or sewer outfall. These sources are discrete and identifiable so they are relatively easy
to monitor.

-Nonpoint sources are scattered or diffuse, having no specific location where they discharge
into a particular body of water. Nonpoint sources include runoff from farm fields and
feedlots, golf courses, lawns and gardens, construction sites, logging area, streets and etc.
Nonpoint sources are often highly episodic. The first heavy rain falls after a dry period may
flush high concentration of gasoline, lead, oil and rubber off the streets. Spring snowmelt
carries high levels of atmosphere acid deposition into streams or lakes. The irregular timing
of these events makes them much more difficult to monitor.

18.2 Describe the types and effects of water pollution

 Infectious agent remain an important threat to human health

-Pathogenic organisms is the most serious water pollutants will can lead to diseases such as
typhoid, cholera, bacterial and amoebic dysentery, enteritis, polio, infectious hepatitis and
schistosomiasis, malaria, yellow fever and filariasis. The main source of these pathogens is
untreated or improperly treated human wastes. 25 million deaths each year because of
such diseases and nearly two thirds of the mortalities of children under 5 years old are
associated with waterborne diseases especially in poor country which lack of sanitation.

-Water quality control personnel usually analyse water for the presence of coliform bacteria,
for example, Esherichia coli.

 Bacteria are detected by measuring oxygen level

-The amount of oxygen dissolved in water is a good indicator of water quality and of the
kinds of life it will support (more than 6ppm will support game fish while less than 2ppm will
support mainly worms and bacteria). There are three methods to measure the amount of
oxygen in water.

-Biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) is a useful test to test the presence of organic waste in
water. A water sample was incubated for five days then compared the oxygen level before
and after incubating.
-Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) uses a strong oxidizing agent to completely break down
the organic matter in a water sample but it is less useful because it records the inactive
organic matter too.

-Dissolved Oxygen Content (DO) is to measure the dissolved oxygen content directly, using
an oxygen electrode.

 Nutrient enrichment lead to cultural eutrophication

-Rivers and lakes that have clear water and low biological productivity are said to be
oligotrophic (little nutrition). Eutrophic (truly nourished) waters are rich in organisms and
organic materials. Eutrophication is an increase in nutrient levels and biological

-Nutrient enrichment sewage, fertilizer runoff even decamping leaves in street gutters can
produce human caused increase in biological productivity called cultural eutrophication. It
can also result from higher temperature, more sunlight reaching the water surface. Increased
productivity in aquatic system sometimes can be beneficial because aquatic life may grow
faster and more food source.

-However, eutrophication has undesirable results. Elevated phosphorus and nitrogen levels
stimulate ‘blooms’ of algae. Bacterial population also increase and the water often become
cloudy or turbid.

 Eutrophication can cause toxic tides and “dead zones”

-Eutrophication in marine ecosystem occurs in nearshore water and partially enclosed bays or
estuaries. It appears that fish and other marine species die in these polluted zones not only
because of oxygen are depleted but also because of high concentration of harmful organisms
such as toxic algae, pathogenic fungi, parasitic protists and others.

 Inorganic pollutants include metals, salts, acids, and bases

-Some toxic inorganic chemical are released from rocks by weathering, are carried by runoff
into lakes or rivers or percolate into groundwater aquifers. Human often accelerate the
transfer rate in this cycle through mining, processing, using and discarding of minerals.

-Metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium, and nickel are highly toxic in minute concentration.
Metals are highly persistent; they can accumulate in food webs. The most widespread toxic
metal is mercury. More than half the fish contained mercury level unsafe for women of
childbearing age. It may also cause mental and development problems.

-Salts such as sodium chloride and arsenic that are nontoxic at low concentration also can be
mobilized by irrigation and concentrated by evaporation, reaching levels that are toxic for
many plant and animals. The symptoms of chronic arsenic poisoning include watery and
inflamed eyes, gastrointestinal cramps, gradual loss of strength, scaly skin and skin tumours,
anemia, confusion.
-Acids and bases. Acids are released as by product of industrial processes such as leather
tanning metal smelting and plating, petroleum distillation, and organic chemical synthesis.
Sulphur compound from coal mining react with water and oxygen to make sulphuric acid.
Increased acidity may results in leaching of toxic metals especially aluminium, from soil and
rocks, making water unfit for drinking and irrigation.

 Organic pollutants include drugs, pesticide, and other industrial substances.

-Many of these chemicals are highly toxic. Exposure to very low concentration can cause
birth defects, genetic disorders, and cancer. The main sources of toxic organic chemicals in
water are improper disposal of industrial and household wastes and runoff of pesticides from
farm fields, forests, road sides and others. Dioxins and other chlorinated hydrocarbons have
been shown to accumulate the dangerous levels in the fat of salmon, fish eating birds and
human. People simply dump unwanted food, medicines and health supplement down also the
factor of it.

 Sediment also degrades water quality

-Rivers have always carried sediment to the ocean, but erosion rates in many areas have been
greatly accelerated by human activities. Theses sediments fill lakes and reservoirs, obstruct
shipping channels, clog hydroelectric turbines, and makes purification of water more costly.
It also becomes the gravel bed which insects and fish lay their eggs.

 Thermal pollution is a dangerous for organisms

-Raising or lowering water temperatures from normal level can affect water quality and
aquatic life. Lowering the temperature of tropical oceans by even one degree can be lethal to
some corals and other reef species. Raising water temperatures has the same too.

18.3 Investigate water quality today

 The Clean Water Act protects our water

-1972 Clean Water Act established a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System
(NPDES), which requires an easily revoked permit for any industry, municipality or others
entity dumping wastes in surface waters. The permit requires disclosure of what is being
dumped and gives regulators valuable data and evidence for litigation. As the consequences,
only 10% of the pollution comes from industrial. US has spent more than $180billion in
public funds on water pollution control. The effort has been aimed at point resources,
especially to build or upgrade thousands of municipal sewage treatment plants.

-1998 a new regulatory approach to water quality assurance was instituted by the EPA. It
focus is on watershed-level monitoring and protection. The aim of this program is to give
public more and better information about the health of their watershed. States are required to
identify waters not meeting water quality goals and to develop total maximum daily loads
(TMDL), for each pollutants and each listed water body. A TMDL is the amount of particular
pollutants that a water body can receive from both point and nonpoint sources.
 The importance of a single word

-When the Clean Water Act was passed in 1972, it protected “navigable” waterways. EPA
interpreted that to include the tributary streams, wetlands, ponds and other water sources of
navigable rivers. A Michigan shopping center developer challenged this interpretation
however when he filled in a wetland without getting a federal permit. The case went to court
which ruled in 2006 that the law only protected water bodies with a “significant nexus” to
navigate streams. The EPA dropped enforcement actions on at least 1500 water pollution
cases and it announced that the act no longer cover millions of acres of wetlands, ponds,
tributary streams. Attempts have been made to remove the word “navigable” from Clean
Water Act but passage look doubtful.

 Water quality problems remain

-US, about three fourths of the pollution comes from soil erosion, fallout out of air pollutants
and surface runoff from urban areas, farm field, and feedlots. Fertilizer from farmland and
cattle in feedlots and runoff from sites is rich in chemical, bacteria and viruses.

 Other countries also have serious water problem

-Japan, Australia and most of the Western Europe also have improved surface water
quality in recent years. For instance, Sweden serves 98% of its population with at least
secondary sewage treatment, 70% in the US.

-However, poorer countries have much less to spend on sanitation. Spain serves only 18% of
its population with primary sewage treatment. In Ireland, only 11% while Greece, less than
1% of the people have primary treatment.

-The countries closest geographically and socially to western Europe, the Czech, Hungary,
East Germany and Poland have made massive investments and encouraging progress
toward cleaning up environmental problems.

-In Russia, only about half of the tap water is fit to drink. In St. Petersburg, even boiling and
filtering isn’t enough to make municipal water safe. In China, 70% of China surface water is
unsafe for human consumption.

-In Japan, Minamata Bay which was synonymous with mercury poisoning was declared
clean again in 1997 after some encouraging pollution control stories.

-Most of the poorest countries of South America, Africa and Asia have disastrous water
quality. Two third of India’s surface water is so contaminated that even coming into contact
with it is considered dangerous. For a decade Indian environmental scientists have urged the
government to take new approach to reduce pollution. They suggest living system in which
sewage flows by gravity into local, low cost, artificial wetland.

 Groundwater is hard to monitor and clean

-95% of those in rural area in US, depend on the underground aquifer for their drinking
water. For decades it was widely assumed that groundwater was impervious to pollution
because soil would bind chemicals and cleanses water as it percolated through, but that is no
longer true.

-One of the groundwater pollutants is MTBE (methyl tertiary butyl ether), a suspected
carcinogen. MTBE is a gasoline additive that has been used to reduce the amount of carbon
monoxide and unburned hydrocarbon in vehicle exhaust. Aquifers across US were confirmed
in the late 1990 where had been contaminated by MTBE, mainly from leaking underground
storage tank at gas station.

-Treating MTBE-laced aquifers is expensive. Douglas MacKay of University of Waterloo

suggests that if oxygen could be pumped into aquifers, then naturally occurring bacteria could
metabolize the compound. It could take decades. Water can also be pumped out of aquifers,
reducing the flow and spread of contamination.

-The US EPA estimates that every day 4.5 trillion litters of contaminated water seep into
ground from septic tank, cesspools, municipal and industrial landfills and waste disposal site,
agricultural field and other.

-Every year epidemiologists estimate that around 1.5million Americans fall ill from
infections caused by fecal contamination.

 There are few controls on ocean pollution

-Suffocating and sometimes poisonous blooms of algae regularly deplete ocean waters of
oxygen and kill enormous numbers of fish and other marine life. High level of toxic
chemicals, heavy metals, disease causing organisms, oil, sediment and plastic refuse are
adversely affecting some of the most attractive and productive ocean regions.

-Discarded plastic flotsam and jetsam are lightweight and non-biodegradable. It has been
estimated that some 6 million metric tons of plastic bottles, packaging material, and other
litter are tossed from ships every year into ocean, where they ensnare and choke seabirds,
mammals and even fish.

-Oceanographers estimate that 3 to 6 million metric tons of oil are discharged into world’s
ocean each year from both land and sea based operation (mostly transport). Most oil spills
results from routine open sea bilge pumping and tank cleaning. These procedures are illegal
but are easily carried out once ships are beyond sight of land.

18.4 Water pollution control

 Source reduction is often the cheapest and best way to reduce pollution

-Avoid producing it or releasing it to the environment in the first place. Elimination of lead
from gasoline has resulted in a widespread and significant decrease in the amount of lead in
the surface water in US.
-Studied shown that as much as 90% less road-deicing salt can be used in many areas without
significantly affecting the safety of winter roads. Careful handling of oil and petroleum
products can greatly reduce the amount of water pollution. Banning of DDT and PCBs
(chlorinated hydrocarbon) in the 1970s has resulted in significant reductions in level in
wildlife. Last, recycling or reclaiming materials that otherwise might be discarded in the
waste stream.

 Controlling nonpoint sources requires land management

-Agriculture: 60% of impaired surface water are affected by sediment from eroded field and
overgrazed pastures (fertilizer, pesticide and animal waste). Using generally soil conservation
methods can protect water quality. Applying precisely determined amounts of fertilizer,
irrigational water, and pesticide save money and water quality. Preserving wetlands for
removing sediment help protect surface and groundwater.

-Urban runoff: Pollutants carried by runoff from streets, parking lot, industries site, oily
residue, rubber and metals. Excess chemicals are carried by storm runoff into waterways.
Citizen can recycle waste oil to minimize use of fertilizers and pesticide. Regular street
sweeping can reduce contaminants. Runoff can diverted away from stream and lakes, for
example, many cities are separating storm sewers and municipal sewage lines to avoid

-Construction sites: Land development projects that produces vast amount of sediment.

-Land disposal: Land disposal of certain industrial waste, sewage sludge and biodegradable
garbage can be good way to dispose unwanted materials when done carefully.

 Human waste disposal occurs naturally when concentration are low.

-Natural processes: Where population densities are low, natural processes eliminate wastes
quickly, making it a feasible method of sanitation. The high population of cities makes this
method unworkable. The human or animal waste that has been left for rains to wash away
appears to be the source of disease. Normally in Asia, ‘night soil’ (human and animals waste)
is collected and spread on the field as fertilizer but it is also a source of disease causing
pathogen. The development of septic tank and properly constructed drain field considerably
overcome this. In a typical septic system, wastewater is drained into septic tank. Grease and
oil rise to the top while solids settle to the bottom where they are subject to bacterial
decomposition. The clarified effluent from the septic tank is channelled out through a
drainfield of a small perforated pipes embedded in gravel.

-Municipal sewage treatment: Sanitary engineers have developed ingenious and effective
municipal wastewater treatment systems to protect human health and water quality.

*Primary treatment- The first step of the municipal waste treatment. It physically separates
large solids from the waste stream. As raw sewage enters the treatment plant, it passes
through a metal grating that removes large debris.
*Secondary treatment- It consists of biological degradation of the dissolved organic
compounds. The effluent from primary treatment flows into a trickling filter bed, an aeration
tank or a sewage lagoon. It is simply a bed of stones or corrugated plastic sheets through
which water drips from a system of perforated pipes or a sweeping overhead sprayer. Organic
material is filtered out from here.

*Tertiary treatment- It removes plant nutrients (nitrates and phosphorus) from the
secondary effluent. Passage through a wetland or lagoon can accomplish this. Chemicals can
also use to bind and precipitate nutrients.

-Low-Cost Waste Treatment: Municipal sewage system is too expensive for developing
countries. The alternative for this is effluent sewerage (a hybrid between a traditional septic
tank and a full sewer system). A tank near each dwelling collects and digests solid waste just
like a septic system. Rather than using drainfield, effluents are pumped into a central
treatment plant. Another alternative is to use natural or artificial wetlands to dispose of
wastes. Constructed wetlands can cut secondary treatment costs to one third of mechanical
treatment costs, or less.

 Water remediation may involve containment, extraction or phytoremediation

-Remediation means finding remedies for problems. Containment methods confine or

restrain dirty water or liquid wastes in situ or cap the surface with an impermeable and to
prevent further pollution.

-Extraction techniques pump out polluted water so it can be treated. Many pollutants can be
destroyed or detoxified by chemical reactions that oxidize, reduce, neutralize, hydrolyze,
precipitate or change their chemical composition. Where chemical techniques are ineffective,
physical methods may work. Solvents and other volatile organic compound for instance can
be stripped from solution by aeration and then burned in an incinerator.

-Bioremediation is the use of living organisms to clean contaminated water (phyto- is plant).
Wetland can be very effective in filtering out sediment and removing pollutants. Lowly
duckweed (green scum covering the surface of eutrophic ponds) grows fast and can remove
large amounts of organic nutrients from water. It is inexpensive, low tech sewage treatment
system in developing countries.

18.5 Summarize water legislation

 The Clean Water Act was ambitious, bipartisan and largely successful

-Passage of Clean Water Act 1972 was a bold, bipartisan step determined to “restore and
maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters” that
made clean water a national priority. It also is an immense and complex law, with more than
500 sections regulating everything from urban runoff, industrial discharges, and municipal
sewage treatment to land use practices and wetland drainage. The goal of this act was to
return all US surface waters to fishable and swimmable conditions. The act requires discharge
permits and best practicable control technology (BPT) for industrial that discharge pipes or
sewage outfalls. Surface water quality in the US has significantly improved on average over
the past quarter century due to this act.

-However not everyone is completely happy with the Clean Water Act. Industries, state and
local governments, farmers, land developers and others who have been forced to change their
operation or spend money on water protection often feel imposed upon. One of the most
controversial provisions of the act has been Section 404, which regulates draining or filling of
wetlands. This section has evolved through judicial interpretation and regulatory policy to
become one of the principal federal tools for wetland protection. People who are prevented
from converting wetlands to other uses often are outraged by what they consider “taking” of
private lands.

-Another sore point of opponents of the Clean Water Act are what are called “unfunded
mandates” or requirements for state or local government to spend money that is not repaid by
Congress. Estimates are that local units of government could be required to spend another
$130 billion to finish the job without any further federal funding. Small cities that can’t
afford are especially hard hit by requirements that they upgrade municipal sewer and water

 Clean water reauthorization remains contentious

-Opponents of federal regulation have tried repeatedly to weaken or eliminate the Clean
Water Act. They regard restriction of their right to dump toxic chemicals and waste into
wetlands and waterways to be an undue loss of freedom. They resent being forced to clean u
municipal water supplies, and call for cost/benefit analysis that places greater weight on
economic interests in all environmental planning.

-Those who support the act urged a shift from “end of the pipe” focus on removing specific
pollutants from effluents to more attention to changing industrial processes so toxic
substances won’t be produced in the first place. Another issue is about nonpoint pollution
from agricultural runoff and urban areas which has become the largest source of pollution.
Last environmentalists also would like to see stricter enforcement of existing regulations.

 Other important legislation also protects water quality

-Several other laws help to regulate water quality in the US. Safe Drinking Water Act, which
regulates water quality in commercial and municipal systems. Critics complain that standards
and enforcement policies are too lax, especially for rural water districts and small towns.

-The Superfund program for remediation of toxic waste sites was created in 1980 by the
Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and
was amended by the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA) of 1984. This
program is designed to provide immediate response to emergency situation and to provide
permanent remedies for abandoned or inactive sites.