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Water Pollution

Water PollutionWater pollution occurs when the quality of the water is altered in a way that affects either the organisms living in the water or the suitability of the water for uses such as swimming, stock watering, and drinking.

Organic Pollutants are usually produced by biological activity, especially during the decay of once-living materials.  Sources include runoff from barnyards and dumps, improper disposal of human wastes, and dead plants and animals.  Other sources include gasoline and oil from automobiles and trucks.  A new class of organic pollutants has been manufactured by man.  Man-made organic compounds that do not occur naturally are another source of organic pollutants.  The insecticide, DDT is one of these.  Because DDT is not easily broken down by natural processes, it lasts for a long time in the environment.

Inorganic pollutants are the minerals and salts dissolved in water and the silt suspended in water as a direct result of the actions of man.  Many of these substances are found naturally in water.  The actions of man can increase the amounts to where it is not possible to drink the water safely.  Sources include fertilizer runoff from farm fields, sand and salt from our roads, erosion from fields and banks, ore mining, burning fossil fuels and industrial wastes.  Metals like mercury, lead, arsenic and cadmium are also inorganic pollutants.  They can create serious health problems at very low concentrations.  Sources include industrial wastes, improper disposal of car and truck batteries, and household products like nickel-cadmium batteries and small watch and transistor batteries.

Biological pollutants are the bacteria, viruses, protozoans and worms which are carried by water from one host to another.  Algae can also be a biological pollutant when they occur in large numbers.  Some of these pollutants can cause diseases in humans and animals.  "Beaver Fever", or Giardiasis, is a well-known disease.  Although it is called Beaver Fever, it is really a human disease caused by a single-celled parasite which lives in the intestines of humans and many other animals.  When the parasites reproduce, they form cysts which pass out of the intestines with wastes.  These cysts can live for two months in water.  If you drink water contaminated with these cysts, you can become ill.  The giardiasis parasite is removed from our water by the filters in the water treatment plant.  The disease is mainly a problem in wilderness areas where people tend to assume that untreated water is safe to drink or in communities that do not have effective filtration systems.  Sources of biological pollution include treated and untreated human sewage, organic pollution, and animal waste.

Reprinted from Focus On Water Quality  (1993) with permission of Alberta Environment.

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