Industrial waste is the largest contributor to water pollution, which comes from waste generated from industrial processes. This waste includes garbage, oils, chemicals, dirt, concrete, scrap metals, etc., which contaminates water sources. While manufacturers may pollute water directly, others may pollute water indirectly. When waste and pollutants are left on land, they can still be absorbed into soil and make its way into groundwater resulting in contamination. Another big issue with water pollution is the long lasting effects. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) it can take years and even decades to clean the chemicals and waste from polluted water entirely.
In Europe, discharged wastewater must be treated to meet specific standards before being dumped into water systems. In other countries manufacturing plants are not held to the same high environmental standards, increasing water pollution. In many countries such as China and India, there are high increases in the number of manufacturing plants due to cheaper prices for development, and to meet the growing consumer demand. This increase then results in large amounts of unmonitored waste that then contaminates local waterways.
Impacts of Water Pollution
Impacts include contaminated drinking water and its effect on communities, as well as destruction and degradation of the environment.
In many communities, especially Indigenous ones, contaminated water has been a problem for decades. In Canada, “20% of all drinking water advisories are in Indigenous communities, who only make up 5% of the country’s population”. Many studies report increased health conditions, such as cancers, and organ diseases, such as kidney and respiratory, due to exposure to contaminated water. Though communities may have access to water that has been treated, this water is still considered poor quality compared to others.
The impact on Indigenous communities in the United States has historically been comparable to Canada. Over 40 years ago Ford Motor Co. dumped toxic paint sludge onto Indigenous Lands in New Jersey. Though the dumping has long ended, arsenic and lead chemicals are still found in the groundwater, contaminating the drinking water.
Manufacturers like these provide benefits to the U.S., with millions of jobs created, products and services made and dollars contributing to the economy, but they are the country’s worst water polluters. While the EPA supposedly regulates chemicals in drinking water, studies show that over 200 million people are exposed to contaminated water currently, which link to industrial practices that are not regulated.
People are not the only ones suffering when it comes to contaminated water; environments, including animals, plants, bacteria and fungi, are also negatively affected. These chemicals found in contaminated water are toxic to aquatic life, reducing their life span, ability to reproduce and possibly resulting in deformities. Up the food chain, predators can suffer tremendously as they can eat various prey containing these toxic chemicals. This is why many larger fish are found with high levels of mercury.
Other noticeable effects are eutrophication and algal blooms in water. These chemicals and high amounts of nutrients in water can impact the oxygen level in a body of water. This process is known as ‘eutrophication’, which can suffocate the animals and plants in the water body. These algal blooms can, in turn, produce their own neurotoxins, which can further impact wildlife.
Water Pollution Reduction
In order to reduce water pollution in countries and communities, it is essential for governments to establish and uphold clean water standards. These need to be implemented and managed externally from the industry to ensure they are being followed and monitored correctly.
The primary method manufacturers can follow to reduce waste in water pollution is to treat their wastewater. Once the water has been treated, it can either be recycled back into the plant to be reused or dumped into a waterway. In water treatment there are different types that can be used depending on what is removed from the water. These methods include reverse osmosis, forward osmosis, ultrafiltration, nano and microfiltration, and more.
Denchak, M. (2022, April 18). Water Pollution: Everything you need to know. Natural Resources Defense Council. https://www.nrdc.org/stories/water-pollution-everything-you-need-know
Keiken Engineering. (2019). How industries can reduce water pollution more effectively. https://www.keiken-engineering.com/news/how-industries-can-reduce-water-pollution-more-effectively
McGill University. (2020). Indigenous Peoples around the globe are disproportionately affected by pollution. https://www.mcgill.ca/newsroom/channels/news/indigenous-peoples-around-globe-are-disproportionately-affected-pollution-322211
Spearing-Bowen, J., & Schneider, K. (2017). Industrial waste pollutes America’s drinking water. The Center for Public Integrity. https://publicintegrity.org/environment/industrial-waste-pollutes-americas-drinking-water/