9 Types of Water Pollution

Do you know the types of water pollution we battle with daily? How many they are and how we can handle them? You will find some answers to these questions as you peruse this article.

The aquatic environment makes up three-quarters of the earth’s surface. 97 percent out of the entire volume is saline. The remaining 3 percent is freshwater. 75 percent of this freshwater is locked up in glaciers, ice caps, and the aquifer.

This shows that although water is everywhere, the quality available for domestic, agricultural, and industrial use is limited. Elven the available one is being depleted by different types of water pollution.

Water pollution is a pretty popular subject everywhere. Almost all water bodies and waterways have been polluted at one point or the other. Most types of water pollution come from human or anthropogenic activities. In the same vein, most types of water pollution can be controlled and even eliminated by the control and elimination of certain human activities.

Pollution as we all know is the release of harmful solid, liquid, and gaseous substances into the environment. These substances when released in little or large quantities alter the physical, biological, and chemical nature of that environment.

All types of pollution contaminate the environment (air, water, and land). Pollution can happen as a result of natural processes and human activities. Mudflow, fires, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunami, floods are all-natural occurrences that cause environmental pollution.

Pollution that takes place in the water or aquatic environment is referred to as water pollution. All types of water pollution lead to a reduction in water quality.

What is water pollution?

Water is a scarce key resource that all sectors of the economy compete for. It is a renewable natural resource that is necessary for sustaining life, food production, and maintaining our general wellbeing. In a simple sentence, all industrial, environmental, and metabolic processes are water-dependent.

Water as a natural resource can be recycled, transported, and used for diverse purposes such as solvent, temperature buffer, metabolite, living environment, and lubricants. Pollution of our water bodies poses a great threat to humans and the aquatic ecosystem.

When we say that water has been polluted, it means that that water has been rendered unfit for the intended use. This is because some of the several water quality parameters have been hampered by unguided and irregularities from several anthropogenic activities.

Water pollution is the presence of impurities that may be organic, inorganic, biological, or radiological in water. These impurities render the water toxic.

Materials responsible for different types of water pollution can be heavy metals, dyes, wastewater, solvents, toxic sludge, sullage, hormones, petrochemicals, radioactive wastes, human and animal pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and personal care product wastes, high temperature, alien species, pathogens, fertilizers, acids, alkalis, plastics, detergents, sediments, and crude oil.

Sources of all types of water pollution may be point sources, non-point sources, or transboundary sources. Point sources of water pollution are those sources that are single, direct, and can easily be identified. An example is an effluent discharge pipe.

Non-point sources of water pollution are pollution sources coming from diverse points. The pollutants are often the cumulative effect of small amounts of other pollutants gathered from a large area. This type of source delivers pollutants indirectly through environmental changes and accounts for the majority of the contaminants in streams and lakes. Examples include agricultural runoff or debris from land into waterways.

Transboundary pollution occurs when contaminated water flows from one country and enters into the waters of another country. An example is pollution occurring in the Arctic, where radioactive waste from reprocessing plant in England, thousands of miles away, have migrated through the Gulf streams into the Norwegian coast, contaminating fishes in the arctic with PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl).

Almost all types of water pollution can be identified by sight, color, and taste. These are physical parameters that show that particular water is polluted. Others include odor, turbidity, temperature, and electrical conductivity.

Other parameters can be tested in the laboratory to determine if water is polluted or not. These are the chemical parameters. They are the chemical properties of water that are altered when any of the types of water pollution takes place. They include the Total Dissolved Solids (amount of carbonates, sulfates, chlorides, fluorides, nitrates, and metal ions), Total Suspended Solids, electrical conductivity, salinity, pH, etc.

Biological organisms such as algae, fungi, viruses, protozoa, and bacteria present in water also indicate the level of pollution in water. They are affected by pollutants in water. Biological parameters give an indirect indication of the amount of pollution in water.

9 Types of Water Pollution

  • Surface Water Pollution
  • Groundwater Pollution
  • Petroleum Pollution
  • Sediment Pollution
  • Sewage Pollution
  • Thermal Pollution
  • Radioactive Pollution
  • Chemical Pollution
  • Solid Waste Pollution

1. Surface Water Pollution

Surface water pollution is a type of water pollution, occurring on waters located on the earth’s surface. Examples of surface waters are rivers, lakes, streams, oceans, seas, ponds, etc.

Rain and snowfalls are the major activities that refill surface water. This happens during the hydrological cycle. During the hydrological cycle, water evaporates from surface water bodies to form clouds. When the clouds become saturated with water vapor, they release rain or snow onto the earth’s surface as precipitation. Water that has been released flows as runoff into the rivers and then the oceans. The water again evaporates and the cycle continues.

Surface water pollution among other types of water pollution can easily be detected with the human eye. This means that they can also easily be removed.

Sources of surface water pollution can be point sources (such as domestic and industrial wastes), non-point sources (from agriculture farms, construction sites, abandoned mines), natural sources (siltation of soil, sand, and mineral particles), or anthropogenic (sewage and wastewater, industrial and agricultural wastes).

Eutrophication is an indication of water pollution in surface waters. It happens when nutrients are in excess in a water body. These nutrients come from the decomposition of organic waste materials by aquatic aerobic microorganisms. These microorganisms are aerobic thus, use up dissolved oxygen in the process. As more wastes find their way into surface water, nutrients available for decomposition increase, and deoxygenation also increases.

While this is taking place, the rate of growth of algae and other aquatic plants like duckweed escalates. They keep feeding on the nutrients until the nutrients become exhausted. At this stage, those aquatic organisms begin to die off and oxygen deficiency increases.

Surface water pollution is easier to address when compared to other types of water pollution. This is because surface water has a natural tendency to clean itself as it contains certain organisms that break down pollutants into harmless substances

2. Groundwater Pollution

Groundwater is water found between soil pores and underground rocks. Groundwater is very important for agricultural and industrial purposes. Among all types of water pollution, groundwater pollution is the most difficult to handle; it is almost impossible. Polluted groundwater can be distributed to surface waters.

Groundwater pollution happens when polluted water seeps into the ground and enters an aquifer. Causes of groundwater pollution can be dumping of raw sewage on soil, seepage pits, and septic tanks; the excessive use of nitrogenous fertilizers and unchecked release of toxic wastes and carcinogenic substances by industrial units; etc. These wastes gradually trickle down through the soil pores and find their way into groundwater as leachate.

Polluted groundwater can move over large distances through the empty spaces below the earth’s surface. When this happens, locating the source of pollution becomes difficult as pollutants find their way into new locations.

Types of water pollution can also be derived from the pollutants causing water pollution. Here, we have chemical pollution, solid waste pollution, wastewater pollution, thermal or heat pollution, radioactive pollution, etc.

3. Petroleum Pollution

These types of water pollution come from petroleum products such as oil, gasoline, and additives. They enter into water from ships and marine terminals, offshore oil rigs, runoff from parking lots, factories, oil dumping, drips of oil, fuel, and fluid from cars and trucks, dribbles of oil spilled onto the ground at the filling station, and drips from industrial machinery, spills from vandalized pipelines.

When the oil gets into water sources, they form an oil slick that floats on the water surface causing the death of marine life and severely affecting the ecosystem of the ocean. Most of the worst petroleum pollution disasters have been due to accidents involving oil rigs, pipelines, or oil tankers.

4. Sediment Pollution

Sediment pollution is caused by soil particles carried to streams, lakes, or oceans from the sediments. These sediments are large and are generated from erosion, floods, and tsunami.

When these sediments are carried into waterways, they damage the water by increasing nutrient load in the water.

5. Sewage Pollution

This is a type of water pollution resulting from the disposal of sewage into the water environment. In some coastal cities, rural areas, and unplanned cities, sewage is disposed into waterways. Some pleasant boats and large ships also dispose of sewage illegally into the aquatic environment.

Water can also be polluted with sewage when uncontrollable natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes occur. They cause sewage to flow into water sources. Treatment plant failures and overflows may result in untreated sewage entering rivers and coastal waters.

The sewage usually contains garbage, soaps, detergents, waste food, and human excreta, pathogenic or disease-causing bacteria, fungi, protozoa, algae, nitrates, and phosphates. All these pollute the water environment and cause diseases such as typhoid, cholera, gastroenteritis, dysentery, polio, and viral hepatitis.

6. Thermal Pollution

Thermal pollution happens when there is an alteration in the optimum temperature of a water surface. This is caused by industries that require the use of water in the cooling of their nuclear power plants and thermal plants.

After being used for cooling, the water taken from rivers, bays, or lakes is released into these waters as hot water. This causes a rise in the temperature of the water surface and leads to an imbalance in the ecology of the water body. It also lowers the level of dissolved oxygen in the water.

7. Radioactive Pollution

Most radioactive pollution originates from natural sources due to leaching from minerals. Others come from accidental leakage of waste material from uranium and thorium mines, nuclear-powered ships, power plants and industries, research laboratories, and hospitals that use radioisotopes. These radioactive pollutants are carcinogenic.

8. Chemical Pollution

This is pollution emerging from the release of chemical pollutants into the aquatic environment. They can come from agricultural or industrial activities. Chemical pollutants from agricultural activities include fertilizers (phosphates and nitrates), manure, pesticides ( eg. DDT, dieldrin, aldrin, malathion, carbaryl, etc.).

Those from industrial activities include but are not limited to highly toxic heavy metals such as chromium, arsenic, lead, mercury, etc. along with hazardous organic and inorganic wastes (e.g., acids, alkalis, cyanides, chlorides, trichloroethene, PCB, etc.)

9. Solid Waste Pollution

This is one of the most common types of water pollution. When solid waste from homes, offices, schools, open markets, malls, hospitals, streets, parks, are either littered around, disposed of improperly, or intentionally discarded into water surfaces, they constitute environmental nuisance in form of water pollution.

One most common forms of solid waste pollution in water is the problem of plastics in the ocean. These plastics are insoluble and are not biodegradable. When they end up on the high seas, they compete with aquatic organisms for space. These plastics also clog the respiratory organs of these organisms thereby, causing them to suffocate.

Another effect of plastics in high seas is that of biomagnification. Aquatic organisms become contaminated with plastics when they consume plastic pellets. When the contaminated organisms serve as food to those higher in the food chain, they also become contaminated. In this way, plastic toxicity persists and its toxicity in the food chain increases.


Is water pollution a global issue?

Yes, water pollution is a global issue.

How can I tell if water is polluted or not?

Most types of water pollution can be detected through taste, color, and odor. However, for more accurate detail on the status of the water, further laboratory analysis should be carried out and results compared with regulatory standards.
Do natural sources of water get polluted?

Yes, all sources of water can become polluted. Naturally, rainwater is the purest source of water but when it falls from a polluted atmosphere, the rains come down alongside dissolved air pollutants.


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