Water pollution in the world: major causes and statistics

By Daniil Filipenco

Water pollution in the world: major causes and statistics

Currently, 44% of all wastewater on Earth returns to the environment untreated. This means that human waste, household sewerage, and sometimes toxic and even medical waste are released directly into the planet’s ecosystems. Apparently, the majority of people realize this and are aware of the urgency to change this state of affairs but no significant changes have happened. Why? Perhaps one of the reasons is that polluted water is extremely difficult and expensive to clean up or maybe installing expensive treatment systems within industries could reduce profits? Let’s find out.

Defining water pollution

Water pollution happens when hazardous chemicals and toxins contaminate water sources, seriously lowering water quality which, in turn, harms ecosystems and human health.

Water can be easily contaminated with various toxic substances and hazardous compounds from factories, cities and farms since these dissolve in it much more easily than in any other fluid on Earth.

Occasionally Mother Nature poisons the water too, such as when mercury contaminates oceans, rivers and lakes after filtering out of the Earth’s crust. However, for the most part, human activity is to blame.

Top six sources of water pollution

1️⃣ Industrial waste

Industries seriously harm the environment by contaminating the land, the air, and the water with heavy metals and waterborne pathogens that multiply and release toxins, impacting our health and ecosystems.

Industrial facilities generate waste in the form of hazardous compounds that can:

  • Lead to intoxication, immune system suppression, and fertility problems
  • Influence the temperature of freshwater systems, damaging marine life
  • Generate ‘dead zones’ in water (areas with insufficient oxygen to support marine life)

What makes matters worse is the lack of waste disposal infrastructure.

2️⃣ Oil pollution

This occurs when gasoline from parking areas and highways, as well as oil from pipelines and fracking operations (a drilling technique that helps to extract oil), enters water bodies through surface run-off.

Oil spills from tankers and drilling rigs can extend over hundreds of kilometers covering sea surfaces, rocks, beaches, or plants with a thin layer of oil and are much more harmful than spillages on land. They have a serious impact on marine life and animals living near the shore since the thin layer of oil that may cover them can eventually kill through suffocation or poisoning.

3️⃣ Plastic pollution

Annually, numerous species of marine life die after consuming plastic or becoming entangled in it. Annually around 11 million tons of plastic amasses in the oceans, rivers, and seas across the planet and it could take up to 200 years for this plastic to degrade.

Researchers have found that if plastic pollution continues at the current rate, by 2040 the annual amount of plastic waste will hit 29 million tons.

4️⃣  Wastewater

Over 80% of wastewater returns to various ecosystems untreated or unusable.

Every day, 14 billion liters of wastewater containing human waste with bacteria and pathogens that breed disease are produced in the least developed nations. The lack of a treatment infrastructure causes this to be discharged directly into the environment, harming the soil, air, and underground water.

5️⃣ Pesticide and fertilizer run-off

This is a term that describes water flowing from farmlands as a result of irrigation, rain, or melted snow. Agricultural run-off may contain pesticides or fertilizers that are applied without caution or irresponsibly by farmers. The results can be devastating with polluted groundwater harming humans, flora and fauna.

6️⃣ Radioactive pollution

Radioactive waste can linger in the environment for thousands of years and cleaning this up is extremely challenging.

For example, in April 2021 Japan dumped radioactively contaminated water into the ocean from the damaged Fukushima nuclear facility. Although the government claimed that because the wastewater had been treated, there were limited potential health concerns and damage to marine life, to ensure that water pollution has no negative consequences on the environment, careful monitoring is still necessary today.

Water pollution statistics

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 2 billion people worldwide consume water that is contaminated.

The statistics revealed by the organization are dramatic:

  • Drinking water that contains hazardous micro-organisms can spread diarrhea and diseases such as cholera. Every year, polluted drinking water causes 485,000 diarrhea-related deaths.
  • 368 million people use unsafe sources of water.
  • In addition, 80% of the waste in the water comes from the land.
  • Annually, ocean waste kills almost a million seabirds and marine life.

Final word

Numerous pollutants enter our planet’s waters each day, ranging in size from massive amounts of waste to tiny levels of hazardous chemicals. Moreover, water pollution, drought and rapidly growing populations have exacerbated the freshwater crisis, endangering our wellbeing and the safety of various ecosystems.