How water pollution affects the environment

Water is an essential element for life, just like the air we breathe. And yet it seems that sometimes more importance is given to issues such as the ozone layer or global warming than to the pollution suffered by our rivers, seas, lakes and aquifers, which can be equally deadly. If you want to know how water pollution affects the environment, we will tell you about it in this article.

Water, a precious commodity

The human being is made up of 70% water and we live on a planet whose three-quarters of its surface is in the aqueous medium, although only 2.5% of the total is fresh water (and much of it in the form of ice at the poles). Neither plants nor animals can live without water, and people die earlier if they stop drinking than if they don’t eat. That is, we have to take care of our water reserves as what they are, a precious treasure for life. If we fill them with pollution and make them unusable for consumption, we will be causing enormous damage to the ecosystem and ourselves.

Causes of pollution

Water can be contaminated by accumulations of common garbage, either accumulated by currents that carry waste for kilometers or by dumping of large amounts at specific points. Some objects such as cans and plastic bottles tend to accumulate on the surface, causing veritable floating islands of garbage.

The pollution produced by wastewater discharges makes the water fill with bacteria and highly polluting toxic elements, both for the soil and for consumption. For this reason, it is necessary to regenerate them through treatment plants that prevent contamination of the environment and also allow these waters to be reused, for example for irrigation of crops.

Very important is also the pollution produced by the uncontrolled discharges of the industries to the waterways. Although it is a problem that is being tried to regulate and entails strong sanctions, the truth is that since the origins of the Industrial Revolution there have been discharges into rivers and seas that have caused havoc, and even today there is still. Sometimes river pollution is caused by runoff, when rainwater carries chemical compounds such as fertilizers into the riverbed.

Nor should we forget the accidents involving ships and large freighters at sea, such as the Prestige off the Galician coast a decade ago, which caused tons of fuel to be dumped into the sea with consequent serious damage to the surrounding marine ecosystem for years.

Likewise, water can also be contaminated naturally, following its own cycle. Sometimes it can come into direct contact with mineral and organic substances that contaminate it, present both in the earth’s crust and in the atmosphere.


The accumulation of plastic and other debris can be very harmful to marine fauna. Animals can accidentally eat it or injure themselves. Even the plastic rings on tin packs can be a death trap for some animals, which can be caught.

A direct consequence of the contamination of waters, both rivers and lakes and seas, is the entry of toxic elements into the food chain. The human being, being at the end of the chain, can end up ingesting large amounts of heavy metals that accumulate from one animal to another, and therefore it is recommended not to abuse the consumption of tuna or shark fin, for example. On the other hand, the more polluted the water is by these toxic compounds, the more likely it is that these elements evaporate and cause acid rain.

Polluted water can lead to the elimination of entire species due to lack of oxygen, becoming a totally hostile environment for the life of aquatic plants and animals.

The Pacific Garbage Island

Also known as “toxic soup” or as the great Pacific garbage patch, it is a huge accumulation of marine debris located in the North Pacific, between coordinates 135 ° to 155 ° W and 35 ° to 42 ° N. It has almost a million and a half square kilometers of surface occupied by plastics and other types of solid waste floating in the water, trapped in the currents of the North Pacific gyre. There is also another large spot, although smaller, in the Atlantic Ocean.

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