While not an entirely modern phenomenon, pollution is the unique contribution by human race of all Earth’s inhabitants. The Industrial Revolution may have jump-started the recent chain of abuses heaped on Mother Earth by mankind, but long before that era as people began abandoning their nomadic lifestyles to settle permanently into what ultimately developed into villages, towns, and cities, the potential for waste and pollution was born.
Ancient civilizations became marvels of technology, leveraging available tools and materials to transport water from great distances and construct complex sewer systems underneath the cities. Yet, refuse continued to line the streets as more and more people inhabited limited real estate.
Access to water was always the common denominator when building a settlement. Not only do people need water to physically survive, but bodies of water facilitate a host of other factors that foster the success of a community, like trade and irrigation for farming. So, with water playing such a central role in people’s very existence, how do they seemingly allow the source of their livelihood to become jeopardized?
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Industrial Waste :
Unfortunately, dumping waste into the closest water source has been a common practice for centuries. Industrialization and the population explosion across the globe have combined to make the composition and volume of this waste increasingly more destructive.
As a result, the local water resources are eventually compromised along with the aquatic species that reside there. As waste accumulates, sunlight will no longer be able to penetrate the surface, reducing the availability of oxygen which makes the water completely uninhabitable over the course of time.
In instances where these water sources generate both food and income for nearby residents depending on its size and the abundance of wildlife, the effects are even more extensive. Any fish that do manage to survive in such a toxic environment are suspect if caught for food, so any industry that relies on the viability of that body of water crumbles, negatively impacting the local economy.
Inadequate Sewage Systems :
Even the ancients understood drainage. For example, the Romans utilized sewers several thousand years ago to filter water out of the city after it flooded. Unfortunately, it drained directly back into the local water source, eventually spurring the construction of the magnificent system of aqueducts which brought in fresh drinking water.
Undoubtedly perfected over the centuries, sanitation efforts are not necessarily a new concept. Modern-day water treatment facilities and sewer systems are indispensable components in the fresh water life cycle. These are important safeguards put in place to ensure potential dangers are eliminated from the water supply, or better yet, completely preventable in the first place.
Aside from human waste, there are many other potential hazards that could taint the water. Animal carcasses, oil, and even toxic substances have managed to find their way into the most dependable water sources. Ongoing vigilance is key, not only in maintaining the infrastructure of the treatment plants and sewers, but the security is a growing concern.
Deforestation and Pesticides :
Trees and plants form a natural defense, preventing many contaminants from reaching the closest water supply. However, many regions are undergoing deforestation to accommodate the encroaching cities as the human population continues to expand.
An unintended consequence of converting large parcels of the landscape at such an alarming rate has allowed many pollutants to find their way into vital water sources. Modern equipment speeds up the ability to eliminate trees, clearing the land at a faster pace and spelling disaster for the surrounding water areas. as toxins seep through the soil unimpeded.
Another intended consequence stems from farming. In order to prevent insects from destroying the food grown to feed the local community or even beyond, pesticides are often utilized to protect the crops. While enormous strides have been made to regulate pesticides over the years, there are risks associated with their use, especially pertaining to water pollution. Even if used far from a traditional water supply, pesticides can penetrate deep underground, contaminating the natural water flowing through beneath.
Expansion and farming are not overtly destructive actions. Overpopulation in cities is alleviated through growth, often creating safer and healthier surroundings, while agriculture is a fundamental building block in society with the potential to feed the masses. Yet, in order for people to prosper in these activities, the most obvious solutions often come at the detriment of a valuable natural resource.
Environmental crises that make news headlines around the world are not the only threats to the world’s water supply. In fact, the smallest most mundane human tasks are the ones that can cause more long-term damage. Performing activities too close to a local water source like washing clothes or utensils with detergent or soap that contains phosphates will eventually result in a phenomenon called Eutrophication.
Large quantities of phosphates in fresh water encourage the growth of algae that blocks out the sun, which in turn reduces the oxygen in water. Similar to the effects of industrial waste, the lack of oxygen kills off the majority of aquatic plants and animals. Another culprit contributing phosphates that contaminate the local water supply is the runoff from fertilizer.
On the surface, several factors causing water pollution have been addressed relatively easily. For example, regulations and legislation have been enacted in many countries to stop factories from dumping waste into the closest water source, alternative farming techniques are actively being explored to minimize the need for pesticides, and phosphates have been eliminated from specific cleaning supplies due to their impact on the environment.
Education continues to be the foundation for these efforts, with water pollution awareness campaigns tirelessly building up a culture that has encouraged people to embrace greener practices that continue to improve the health of water systems world-wide.
The goal is to ultimately focus on the lingering issues to one day try to solve water pollution on a global scale. As with any problem, it must first be addressed at the local level. By leveraging best practices, and demonstrating sensitivity to the socio-economic restrictions endemic in each region, there is hope that one day water pollution may eventually be eradicated.
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