10 Effects of Water Pollution on Human Health

Water is one of the essential natural resources on the planet. More than 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered in water. Out of the significant amount of water, humans can consume only about 0.3% of it.

Even though a sizable portion of the Earth’s surface and our bodies are water, humans continue to contaminate various water sources. To this effect, 2.2 billion people lack access to safe drinking water services according to the United Nations (UN).

Water pollution occurs when a body of water becomes contaminated, usually by chemicals or microorganisms. Water pollution can cause water to become toxic to humans and the environment.

Polluted water makes water unsafe for drinking, cooking, cleaning, swimming, and other activities. The various pollutants are chemicals, trash, bacteria, and parasites.

The leading causes of water pollution is due to population growth include industrial waste, sewage, and other waste products.  This article explores the effects of water pollution on human health.

Effects of Water Pollution on Human Health

Over the last couple of decades, the issue of water pollution has commanded an increasing number of column inches in the mainstream media.

That’s due to the fact that our seas, oceans, rivers, lakes and other waterways are becoming more and more contaminated, even as our knowledge of the effects of water pollution on human health continues to grow. So how, exactly, does water pollution affect the human health?

The following are some negatives ways that water pollution can directly affect human health.

  • Oxidative Stress
  • Spreads Waterborne Diseases
  • Effect on the Health of Babies
  • Cancer
  • Hunger Related Sickness
  • Mental Health Issues
  • Damage to Immune and Reproductive Systems
  • Cardiovascular and Kidney Problems
  • Hormone Disruption
  • Respiratory Infections

1. Oxidative Stress

Oxidative stress can be seen or experienced due to imbalance between production and and accumulation of oxygen of reactive species in cells and tissues and the the ability of the biological system to detoxify the reactive species.

This majorly happens as result of human exposure to microplastics, a person may ingest microplastics through drinking water or through eating contaminated seafood.  

For instance, at Tokyo Bay in 2016 scientists examined 64 anchovies for microplastic consumption  77% had microplastics in their digestive systems.

Which when consumed can lead to oxidative stress, inflammatory reactions, and metabolic disorders in humans.

2. Spreads Water Borne Diseases

Unsafe water has severe implications for human health.

According to UNESCO 2021 World Water Development Report, about 829,000 people die each year from diarrhea caused by unsafe drinking water, sanitation, and hand hygiene, including nearly 300,000 children under the age of five, representing 5.3% of all deaths in this age group.

Microbes, toxins and water containing unnecessary amounts of salts give rise to many diseases. Around the globe more than 80% of diseases are due directly or indirectly to polluted water.

For example,  as per an estimate, almost 2.5 million people in over 34000 villages of India are suffering from  various water related diseases like cholera, , patches, jaundice, fever, viral fever, polio.

Millions of tribal villagers in Rajasthan are suffering from various diseases due to drinking dirty water from the ponds. Contaminated water contains a variety of disease-causing bacteria that results in several types of ailment.

Polluted water contains lead which when consumed by the humans while drinking water leads to producing various ailments such as joint pain, kidney disease and heart disease in them.

The waterborne diseases are infectious which spread primarily from polluted water. Hepatitis, cholera, dysentery and typhoid are the common waterborne diseases, which affect the majority of tropical area.

Apart from diarrhoea, and breathing problems, drinking polluted water causes skin diseases. If the polluted water gets stagnated, it becomes a breeding ground for mosquito and many other parasites which are very common in tropical areas.

Children often get sick if they drink polluted water and sometimes they even die due to intensity of the diseases. As per an estimate, 13 children die per hour in India, due to diarrhoea caused by contaminated water.

Polluted water is like a poison for human beings. Large amounts of chloride in drinking water deform the spine which becomes snaky and their teeth go yellow, start falling and moreover their hands and feet lose flexibility of the bones and their body deforms. It also increases the risk of kidney diseases.

A large amount of sulphide in polluted water is the reason of various respiratory diseases and drinking water contaminated with urea increases intestinal disorder.

Thus continuous intake of contaminated drinking water is the reasons behind various stomach related disorders and other diseases like lumps in throat, tooth decay, etc.

3. Effect on the Health of Babies

Composition of nitrate resulting from fertilizer and chemicals used in agricultural lands, waste dumps or pit latrines causes contamination of the groundwater. Such contaminated drinking water is the reason of blue baby disease in kids which changes their skin colour.

In this disease, nitrate contamination in groundwater results in decreased oxygen carrying capacity of haemoglobin in babies, leading to their death.

Radioactive substances produced from nuclear explosions also reach the water bodies and makes drinking water severely contaminated. The use of such water also increases the risk of having children with disabilities.

4. Cancer

Arsenic is a known human carcinogenic agent. Water contaminated with high levels of arsenic is a cause of bladder cancer, and it is also been associated with skin and lung cancers.

Drinking water from wells is a source of exposure to arsenic as well as other systems that rely on groundwater sources, such as aquifers, have higher concentrations of arsenic and radioactive materials and contribute to a high risk of cancer.

While water systems where droughts are more common may pose a higher risk, in some parts because of drier conditions create an environment where contaminants become concentrated as water levels are reduced.

5. Hunger Related Sickness

Although this particular outcome is not caused directly by consuming contaminated water, it is an indirect result of water pollution. That’s because over two-thirds of the world’s freshwater supplies are devoted to agriculture, so dwindling resources will inevitably result in lower crop yields and poorer quality.

Meanwhile, water pollution can negatively impact the food chain, which also compromises the amount of food available to the human race.

Given that the global population is expected to reach around 10 billion by 2050, agricultural output will need to increase by an estimated 50%.

If water pollution prevents that from happening, it’s likely that famine and hunger will become prevalent, especially in the developing world. Which will lead to hunger related sickness such as ulcer and psychological disorder.

6. Mental Health Issues

A new study by BU school of Public health researchers have found out that early exposure to contaminated water with the solvent tetrachloroethylene (PCE) increases the risk of bipolar disorder and post traumatic stress disorder.

Also exposure to water contaminated with pesticides leads to neurobehavioral effect which is linked to neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease

7. Damage to Immune and Reproductive Systems

Polluted water can interfere with people’s reproductive health, for example by increasing the chances of experiencing infertility or jeopardizing a person’s ability to have a healthy pregnancy.  

The presence of anthropogenic contaminants such as the endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in water can impact the endocrine system and subsequently impair development and fertility of humans even animals.

8. Cardiovascular and Kidney Problems

According to researchers in Columbia University Maliman School of Public Health, drinking water  polluted or contaminated with arsenic (metaliod) lead to thickening of the hearth’s main pumping chamber.

For example arsenic contaminated groundwater in American Indian Rural communities. 

Not only does exposure to arsenic lead to heart problem it can also the risk of developing high blood pressure, diabetes and kidney problem.

9. Hormone Disruption

Hormones in the body are produced and regulated by the endocrine system, which due to it’s complexity involves multiple organs and systems. The Bisphenol A in plastics is a major substance that affects hormone. It is a major hormone disruptor.

Bisphenol A(BPA) is a chemical that is used in harden plastics, not only that but is also found in a lot of products we make use of on daily basis.

Therefore, reduction of plastics pollution in water to a large extent can reduce the exposure of human to this chemical substance.

10. Respiratory Infections

Swimmers are at risk for respiratory infections if they breathe in small droplets of water from a pool or hot tub that contains harmful germs.

A severe type of respiratory issue as a result of this, is pneumonia (Lung infection) which is also known as Legionnaires’ Disease caused by a germ called Legionella.

Legionella can also cause Pontaic fever, a milder illness without pneumonia. Legionella germ can grow in hot tubs that are not properly cleaned or taken care of, they can also be found in some human made system such as plumbing systems, decorative fountains, and cooling towers.

Legionnaire’s disease is likely to affect people between the age of 50 and above, people who have lung disease, smokers both current and former etc.


Water pollution is a serious environmental issue which has several severe implications on human health and well-being. Therefore, it is important to take action to reduce water pollution and protect the quality of our drinking water.

This can include supporting government regulations, reducing harmful chemicals, and improving wastewater treatment processes. We must take action to reduce water pollution to protect people’s health and environmental health.


Environmental Consultant at Environment Go! | + posts

Ahamefula Ascension is a Real Estate Consultant, Data Analyst, and Content writer. He is the founder of Hope Ablaze Foundation and a Graduate of Environmental Management in one of the prestigious colleges in the country. He is obsessed with Reading, Research and Writing.

One comment

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