Common water pollutants

Written by William Fryer - MA Oxon

There are many types of pollutants that may jeopardize the quality of water.

One common pollutant is detergents and fertilisers. These wastes normally contain nitrates and phosphate nutrients. If these nutrients are in excess, they may have effects such as uncontrolled algae growth in water. If detergents are disposed off in water ways, they will have some negative effects. For instance, they will destroy external mucus layers of fish that protect them from parasites. Detergents lower the surface tension of the water. This makes it easy for chemicals to be absorbed by fish and other aquatic life. Fertilisers also release ammonia into the water leading to contamination.

Automotive products and pesticides are also common water pollutants. The common automotive products include motor oil and grease. The toxins from the automotive products and pesticides make water unsuitable for consumption. Research indicates that around five quarts of motor oil can contaminate over 250,000 gallons of water. Pesticides that are used in controlling pests are not easily biodegradable. If they are present in water, they pose a threat to human health and also the environment.

The other main water pollutant is soil sediments. Through soil erosion, a lot of sediments can accumulate in water bodies. In fact, sediments are considered to be the leading source of water pollution. For them to be removed from drinking water, it has to undergo the distillation process. If water with sediments is consumed, it could have some negative health problems. For instance, the particles may accumulate in the appendix leading to health complications.

Besides the soil sediments, cigarette butts are also common pollutants. Studies show that around 4.5 trillion non-biodegradable cigarette butts are littered per year. Most of these are washed away and finally end up in water bodies. They are made up of cellulose acetate. This is a form of plastic that takes very long to decompose.

Some water pollutants such as microbes are not easy to see. If water is contaminated with human and animal waste, it could contain such bacteria. Such bacteria include Fecal Coliform and E Coli. If these microbes are present in drinking water, they will have some health effects. Some common effects include diarrhoea, nausea, cramps and headaches.

Cryptosporidium is also a common parasite that enters water through the sewage and animal wastes. This microbe is tolerant to disinfectants such as chlorine. It leads to diseases such as cryptosporidiosis, which is a mild gastrointestinal disease. For water to be safe for consumption, it requires ample purification. We are lucky that most of us have running water from the tap and so the best option to ensure good quality water is to purchase a water distiller.