Water pollution affects millions of people around the world everyday. In fact, 1 in 10 people do not have access to safe drinking water, putting them at risk for waterborne illnesses and poor health. Unfortunately, pollutants in water sources can lead to cognitive impairment in children, disease, and in some cases, death.
In North America we are fortunate to have access to safe water from our taps. What most people don’t realize, however, is that just because it is safe does not mean it is healthy. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency regulates under 100 pollutants including microorganisms, disinfectants and their byproducts, chemicals, and radionuclides. Some estimates say that there are over 60,000 potential pollutants in today’s drinking water. What’s especially freaky is that according to a report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), nearly one quarter of Americans are served by water systems that are in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act.
You might be asking yourself what is in the water that makes it so unsafe. Although the answer to that is extremely complicated, and there are many things hiding in your tap water, the types of pollutants can be summed up into a few main categories.
- Pathogens: these include disease causing bacteria, viruses, and protozoa that pose a health risk for humans and animals. This are most often caused by the disposal of improperly treated sewage from humans and livestock. Luckily, most North American cities have adequate waste disposal treatments, and tap water is usually treated with chlorine to kill harmful pathogens. In some unlikely circumstances, water can still be contaminated if the proper measures aren’t taken (ahem! like the Walkerton water tragedy).
- Nutrients: particularly nutrients like phosphorous and nitrogen can lead to eutrophication in water. This causes the enrichment of waters and the acceleration of the aging of lakes and streams. Plants and algae can degrade the conditions of the water source, degrading the conditions for humans and animals. This is most often caused by agriculture runoff like nitrates (fertilizers and pesticides) which can be very harmful to humans, especially infants.
- Toxic Materials: metals like lead and mercury, petroleum, hydrocarbons, organochlorines like DDT and PCB, plastics, and pthalates are all toxic in the marine environment. Most of these materials can have devastating impacts on marine ecosystems and the food chain. Plastic, for example, became the fastest growing segment of the United States municipal waste system between 1970 and 2003. The ingestion of microplastics may be introducing toxins at the bottom of the food chain, which (even if you don’t eat fish!) can eventually reach humans. Toxic materials are a result of large quantities of these substances been used in industries and urban areas (think of that take-out container you had at lunch).
- Acidification: we’ve all heard the words before – Acid Rain – but what does that really mean? Acid rain is typically any precipitation with a pH below 5. Like most types of pollution, acidification does not respect spatio-temporal or country-wide borders. Since clouds move freely between places, the use of sulphur dioxide or nitrogen oxide in industries and automobiles in one location can easily pollute the water supply of another location.
- Disinfection Bi-products: while disinfection is an extremely important step for destroying harmful pathogens (skip back to #1), perhaps the means don’t justify the end. Chlorine is the most widely used water disinfectant worldwide, however we have some doubts that it is the best solution. Chlorine in drinking water has been linked to cancer in long term exposure. Chlorine is usually added to municipal water sources to kill harmful pathogens, like disease causing bacteria, viruses, and protozoa.
Action Plan – What You Can Do
Although the harm on our environment seems almost irreversible (and denying it doesn’t help!), there are many things that you can do to help the earth thrive. Luckily, it can start in your own home, life, and habits.
- Reduce the amount of plastic you use: This may seem like a no-brainer, but you wouldn’t believe how many of your favourite brands are using synthetic materials that harm marine environments. Look for products that use natural ingredients, minimize their plastic packaging, and don’t use microbeads (although Canada will ban them by 2018). Don’t forget to skip the takeout container at lunch, or carry your own (reusable) bottle with you during the day.
- Ride your bike: Or walk, or transit, or carpool. Anything that reduces your carbon footprint will help reduce the amount of acidification that occurs near you (and everywhere else!).
- Use natural cleaning products: The cleaning products you use get sent straight down the drain. Unfortunately most name-brand cleaning products use chemicals that have devastating impacts on aquatic environments environment. This includes pesticides, which can cause nervous system damage and cancer in marine animals.
- Reuse and recycle: We hear this again and again, but it couldn’t be more helpful. Instead of going out and buying a new product, see if you can reuse an old one. Better yet – borrow one from a friend! If you can’t possibly reuse a product, don’t throw it out – recycle it. Sometimes you’ll even get money back for it (remember bottle drives?).
There’s still hope for preserving the aquatic environment and our water supplies, but the planet could use your help! Do what you can to reduce your impact on the environment, and find new, creative ways to be sustainable. If you’re looking for a water filter that can deal with almost any pollutant, Santevia is right for you. Our Gravity Water System filters chlorine (and its bi-products!), heavy metals, sediments, and bacteria!
Categorized in: Sustainability
This post was written by Makena Anderson