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Sources & Causes of Water Pollution

Updated on February 19, 2018
melbel profile image

Melanie has a BS in Physical Science from Purdue Northwest and has an interest in computational research in protein folding.

Point source pollution in Brasfels shipyard in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Point source pollution in Brasfels shipyard in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil | Source

Water pollution occurs when contaminants negatively affect a body of water. No matter where it originates, water pollution is a huge problem. Finding the source of contamination is important: it can help in reducing the pollution of a body of water.

Water pollution is divided into two main types: point source and nonpoint source.

When a body of water is directly polluted at a single location from an identifiable source (such as a pipe that leads factory waste directly into a lake), this is referred to as point source pollution. Point source pollution is discernible, confined and discrete.

Non-point source pollution is when a body of water is polluted from multiple sources or any other type of water pollution that is not point source. Runoff water that has collected fertilizer from a field is an example of non-source point water pollution.

A polluted waterway in Chennai, India
A polluted waterway in Chennai, India | Source

Non-point Source Pollution Examples

Non-point source (called NPS for short) pollution often comes from rainwater washing fertilizers and insecticides from farms and lawns. This runoff water can make its way from drainage ditches to rivers, lakes, marshland, or even seep into the water table.

Examples of common chemicals and other nonpoint source pollutants that often enter waterways often include:

  • Herbicides, insecticides, and fertilizers
  • Bacteria from animal waste (pets from urban areas and livestock from urban areas) and from septic systems
  • Toxic chemicals and other runoff from industrial areas
  • Litter (bottles, cans, plastic bags, cigarette butts)

During heavy rain in Bayonne, New Jersey, raw sewage is discharged into bodies of water via this pipe.
During heavy rain in Bayonne, New Jersey, raw sewage is discharged into bodies of water via this pipe. | Source

Examples of Point Source Water Pollution

Point source pollution was once the most common way US rivers were polluted. Due to regulations, this number has gone down, but it's still a huge problem for American waterways.

This type of pollution is dumped directly into a body of water through a number of ways including pipes, damaged containers, and overflow. Examples of point source pollution include:

  • Water treatment plants
  • Landfills
  • Oil spills
  • Sewage discharge
  • Pipes carrying chemical waste
  • Runoff from mines

Point source pollution near Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
Point source pollution near Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore | Source

Did you know?

Over 150,000,000 pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls (toxic) are dumped into the Detroit River every year.

The BP (Deepwater Horizon) oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico caused widespread damage to the Gulf's ecology, tourism, and the death of 11 people.
The BP (Deepwater Horizon) oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico caused widespread damage to the Gulf's ecology, tourism, and the death of 11 people. | Source

Are waterways in your area being polluted?

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How to Control Water Pollution

There are a number things that can be done in order to control water pollution. NPS pollution can be controlled by avoiding the use of harmful insecticides and fertilizers. Consider growing organically! Organic fruits, veggies, and meat taste better anyway!

By recycling garbage and not littering, you can help prevent against trash ending up in waterways. You can also join a group that cleans up litter left by others. Whether you're doing major litter cleanup by installing a litter trap in a river or just collecting a piece of garbage from a ditch, you can make a major difference.

If chemicals are being dumped directly into a waterway, contact the company responsible for the mess. If they're not up to helping, contact a representative. If nothing is being done, get loud: contact the local newspaper, blog about it, and get your local news station involved.

Plastic bottles and other items littering the banks of this river is an example of nonpoint source pollution.
Plastic bottles and other items littering the banks of this river is an example of nonpoint source pollution. | Source

© 2012 Melanie Palen

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    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 

      5 years ago from Indiana

      Great hub!

      It is so sad how polluted our planet has become. One of the worst cases I've seen was while visiting a coastal city in Africa where they really had no public sanitation in place. Trash is thrown out windows and is all over the roadways and could be seen in the coastal waters. One beautiful island we visited off the African coast had a huge dump pile in the middle of the island and children and adults were scavenging through it and what struck me were the number of plastic paper bags - about a third of the trash in that public trash pile was plastic bags:(

    • Francesca27 profile image

      Francesca27 

      6 years ago from Hub Page

      Wow! Your hub really opened my eyes. How did all this mess ever get started?

    • profile image

      kelleyward 

      6 years ago

      Melbel, this is a very important topic for a hub! I know we have many areas of water pollution here in Oklahoma, which is often behind many eco-friendly states. Thanks for writing this. voted up and shared! Kelley

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