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Cancers > Water Pollution

Comprising over 70% of the Earth’s surface, water is undoubtedly the most precious natural resource that exists on our planet.  Without the seemingly invaluable compound comprised of hydrogen and oxygen, life on Earth would be non-existent: it is essential for everything on our planet to grow and prosper.  Although we as humans recognize this fact, we disregard it by polluting our rivers, lakes, and oceans. Subsequently, we are slowly but surely harming our planet to the point where organisms are dying at a very alarming rate.  In addition to innocent organisms dying off, our drinking water has become greatly affected as is our ability to use water for recreational purposes.  In order to combat water pollution, we must understand the problems and become part of the solution.

When toxic substances enter lakes, streams, rivers, oceans, and other water bodies, they get dissolved or lie suspended in water or get deposited on the bed. This results in the pollution of water whereby the quality of the water deteriorates, affecting aquatic ecosystems. Pollutants can also seep down and affect the groundwater deposits.

Water pollution has many sources. The most polluting of them are the city sewage and industrial waste discharged into the rivers. The facilities to treat waste water are not adequate in any city in India. Presently, only about 10% of the waste water generated is treated; the rest is discharged as it is into our water bodies. Due to this, pollutants enter groundwater, rivers, and other water bodies. Such water, which ultimately ends up in our households, is often highly contaminated and carries disease-causing microbes. Agricultural run-off, or the water from the fields that drains into rivers, is another major water pollutant as it contains fertilizers and pesticides.

Effects of water pollution

The effects of water pollution are not only devastating to people but also to animals, fish, and birds. Polluted water is unsuitable for drinking, recreation, agriculture, and industry. It diminishes the aesthetic quality of lakes and rivers. More seriously, contaminated water destroys aquatic life and reduces its reproductive ability. Eventually, it is a hazard to human health. Nobody can escape the effects of water pollution. The individual and the community can help minimize water pollution. By simple housekeeping and management practices the amount of waste generated can be minimized.

Health impacts of water pollution

It is a well-known fact that clean water is absolutely essential for healthy living. Adequate supply of fresh and clean drinking water is a basic need for all human beings on the earth, yet it has been observed that millions of people worldwide are deprived of this. Freshwater resources all over the world are threatened not only by over exploitation and poor management but also by ecological degradation.

Groundwater and its contamination

Many areas of groundwater and surface water are now contaminated with heavy metals, POPs (persistent organic pollutants), and nutrients that have an adverse affect on health. Water-borne diseases and water-caused health problems are mostly due to inadequate and incompetent management of water resources. Safe water for all can only be assured when access, sustainability, and equity can be guaranteed. Access can be defined as the number of people who are guaranteed safe drinking water and sufficient quantities of it. There has to be an effort to sustain it, and there has to be a fair and equal distribution of water to all segments of the society. Urban areas generally have a higher coverage of safe water than the rural areas. Even within an area there is variation: areas that can pay for the services have access to safe water whereas areas that cannot pay for the services have to make do with water from hand pumps and other sources.

In the urban areas water gets contaminated in many different ways, some of the most common reasons being leaky water pipe joints in areas where the water pipe and sewage line pass close together. Sometimes the water gets polluted at source due to various reasons and mainly due to inflow of sewage into the source.

Disease

Water-borne diseases are infectious diseases spread primarily through contaminated water. Though these diseases are spread either directly or through flies or filth, water is the chief medium for spread of these diseases and hence they are termed as water-borne diseases.

A large number of chemicals that either exist naturally in the land or are added due to human activity dissolve in the water, thereby contaminating it and leading to various diseases.

Pesticides. The organophosphates and the carbonates present in pesticides affect and damage the nervous system and can cause cancer. Some of the pesticides contain carcinogens that exceed recommended levels. They contain chlorides that cause reproductive and endocrinal damage.

Lead. Lead is hazardous to health as it accumulates in the body and affects the central nervous system. Children and pregnant women are most at risk.

Fluoride. Excess fluorides can cause yellowing of the teeth and damage to the spinal cord and other crippling diseases.

Nitrates. Drinking water that gets contaminated with nitrates can prove fatal especially to infants that drink formula milk as it restricts the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain causing the ‘blue baby’ syndrome. It is also linked to digestive tract cancers. It causes algae to bloom resulting in eutrophication in surface water.

Petrochemicals. Benzene and other petrochemicals can cause cancer even at low exposure levels.

Chlorinated solvents. These are linked to reproduction disorders and to some cancers.

Arsenic. Arsenic poisoning through water can cause liver and nervous system damage, vascular diseases and also skin cancer.

Other heavy metals. –Heavy metals cause damage to the nervous system and the kidney, and other metabolic disruptions.

Salts. It makes the fresh water unusable for drinking and irrigation purposes.

Exposure to polluted water can cause diarrhoea, skin irritation, respiratory problems, and other diseases, depending on the pollutant that is in the water body. Stagnant water and other untreated water provide a habitat for the mosquito and a host of other parasites and insects that cause a large number of diseases especially in the tropical regions. Among these, malaria is undoubtedly the most widely distributed and causes most damage to human health.

Ways to Prevent Water Pollution

If you want to help keep our waters clean, there are many things you can do to help. You can prevent water pollution of nearby rivers and lakes as well as groundwater and drinking water by following some simple guidelines in your everyday life.

  • Toxic products like paints, automobile oil, polishes, and cleaning products should be stored and disposed off properly. As a matter of fact, it is better to use non-toxic, products for the house as far as possible. Also, never dispose off such products by throwing them into your toilet or sink.
  • Dispose off your trash in a proper manner and try and incorporate the recycling habit as far as possible. Non-degradable products like tampons, sanitary napkins, and diapers should not be flushed down the toilet, for these can end up damaging the process of sewage treatment, and usually end up as litter on beaches.

  • Refrain from throwing litter into streams, lakes, rivers, or seas. If you do spot litter on beaches or in water systems, after ascertaining that it is safe, collect them and dispose off them in any nearby waste disposal system.

  • Try using environmentally friendly household products like toiletries, soap-based household cleaning material, and washing powder as far as possible.

  • Try using natural fertilizers and pesticides as far as possible, or if not, do not overuse them or over-water gardens and lawns. This will help in reducing the pollutants that get into water systems due to runoffs.
  • Automobile oil should be re-used as far as possible. Also, it is important to keep your automobile well maintained in order to prevent leakages of toxic fluids like antifreeze and oil.

  • Also, actively conserve water by turning the tap off when you do not need running water, such as while brushing teeth. Apart from preventing water shortages, it lessens the amount of water that needs to be treated.

 

 
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