In this lesson you will be able to answer the following questions:
- What is water pollution?
- What causes water pollution?
- What are the two sources of pollution?
- What are the different types of water pollution?
- How can water pollution be prevented?
Along with the online lecture, read chapter 3 of the textook Environmental Law for Non-Lawyers.
You will also need to go to the EPA website, read topics Clean Water Act, The Year of Clean Water and The Safe Drinking Water Act. Pay close attention to the laws and regulations under each act.
Water pollution is water that has been contaminated with harmful wastes.
There are some forms of water pollution that occurs through natural processes, but it is mainly the result of human activity. Everyone uses water on a daily basis in their homes and industries. The water that is used is taken from lakes, rivers and underground, which is known as groundwater, and after we have used and contaminated the water it is returned to the lakes, rivers and underground.
Wastewater is the water that is used by a community, and can also be referred to as sewage. If the water is left untreated before being released into the waterways, serious problems will occur. Humanity has taken its time to come to the realization of this serious problem. Water pollution also happens when rain water runoff from industries, rural, urban areas, and from mining operations and agricultural makes its way back into the lakes, rivers, streams, and oceans, which are receiving waters, and into the ground.
The two sources of pollution are point and non-point. Point source pollution is when the sources of pollution comes from only one point to the rivers. Non-point source pollution is when the source of pollution comes from the disturbance of the earth or from land that has been contaminated. Pinpointing these sources is hard to find.
Industry plays a big part in the occurrence in point source pollution. The wastewater and industrial discharges consist of greases, oils, metals, and chemicals like PCB's, pesticides, and debris that will, at some point, make their way back to the rivers.
Oil and Grease
Oil spills and dumping play a serious role in point source pollution. Grease spills, oil and the other hazardous substances that result from leaking cars, overturned trucks and oil tankers have a serious impact on the rivers and sewers because they will eventually end up as runoff and flow back into the water. When used motor oil or grease is disposed of, it will affect the water by running into storm sewers that overflow back into the rivers, or it is deposited directly into the rivers.
Additional Point Sources
The water is affected by overflow pipes from companies, industries, and other building that is depositing their wastes back into the rivers and lakes. This is referred to as thermal pollution, which causes the waters ability to hold oxygen to decrease.
Rivers, lakes and streams serve as a dumping ground for wastes. The types of wastes being dumped without a permit include raw sewage, paint, debris, natural debris, private and public litter, oils, scums, chlorides metals (lead, zinc, copper, cyanide, iron, chromium, and nickel), toxins from home use and industries, organic pollution (pet wastes, grass, leaves, human sewage, and dead organisms), and inorganic pollution (dissolved or suspended solids).
Sediments come from many different sources which are highly traveled open spaces that are not vegetated, abused stream banks, wetlands and streams that have been modified, other bodies of water, farm land that has been highly tilled and has caused the soil to erode and materials that are decomposed.
The problem that is caused by sediment is that it destroys the aquatic habitat by removing the riparian vegetation and alters the stream's natural hydrology. Not all of these particles sink and results as a muddy appearance. Some of the sediment particles may be contaminated and when they come in contact with the fish, can cause death.
Runoff consists of liquid substances that flows from one place to another and is not absorbed by the ground.
In rural and urban areas the runoff from streets and buildings consists of trash, oil, grease, road salts, lead, metals, lawn fertilizers, bacteria, and PCB's.
Agricultural storm runoff comes from melting snow and rain that carries pesticides, animal wastes, nutrients and sediments into ground and surface waters. Other contributing sources of storm runoff are timber cutting, logging, and construction sites.
Leakage occurs form abandoned sawmills, surface mining and waste piles that leak sediments, chemicals and acids. Without proper disposal of these wastes, serious groundwater contamination can result.
Sewers are combined overflows that consist of storm water and untreated sewage and sanitary sewer overflows are a major problem if overflowing occurs into the lakes and rivers. The overflowing deposits trash, bacteria, wastes, and other harmful pollutants into the water sources.
Different Types of Water Pollution
The different types of water pollution are microbiological, chemical, suspended matter, nutrients, and oxygen-depleting substances.
Microbiological is the disease causing microorganisms that include bacteria, viruses, and protozoa, that can cause anyone who swims in the water to become sick. The shellfish and fish that become contaminated and the people who ingest them may become ill.
Chemicals from industrial wastes that include solvents and metals and chemicals that are formed by the breaking down of natural wastes, example: ammonia is poisonous to aquatic life and fish.
Other toxic chemicals include pesticides that are used in agricultural and home use, herbicides for weed killing and insecticides for killing insects.
Materials like detergents and oils that remain on top of the water destroys its appearance and the chemical pollutants will cause an unpleasant odor. If chemical waste that is flammable is dumped into the water, there is a risk that the river may catch on fire.
Suspended matter is the tiny particles that are suspended in the water. They may be kept in suspension by the movement or turbulence, when in the receiving water, they will at some point in time settle out and form mud or silt at the bottom of the water. These sediments decrease the depth of the body of water. If the sediment consists of a large amount of biodegradable organic material, it will become anaerobic. If the sediment contains toxic materials and affect the organisms that live in the water, when the fish feed on them they can pass this on up the food chain, resulting in serious problems and destruction of the ecosystem.
Grease, another particle matter, will float on top of the water, creating a nuisance.
Phosphorous and nitrogen are the elements necessary for the growth of plants and are found in abundance in wastewater. In lakes and streams they cause an over growth of aquatic weeds, referred to as blooms, which are microscopic plants, and can present lots of problems. The accumulation of these weeds makes lakes and rivers unsuitable for swimming and boating. When this water is used as a drinking water source, the algae can clog the filters and cause unpleasant odors and tastes to finished water.
Biodegradable waste is wastes that is broken down and used as food by the microorganisms like bacteria. If there is too much biodegradable material, then this can cause a serious problem, oxygen depletion, in the receiving waters. Fish and aerobic microorganisms that live in the water use oxygen gas that is dissolved in the water when they ingest their food.
One point to remember: Oxygen in water is chemically bound and is not used for respiration. Also, oxygen is less soluble in water. If the water is saturated with dissolved oxygen, it may only contain ¼ the concentration that is contained in the air. If there is too much food in the water, then the bacteria that are consuming it can quickly use up all of the dissolved oxygen and te fish will be left without a sufficient amount of dissolved oxygen resulting in death by suffocation.
When the oxygen is depleted, other forms of bacteria that do not depend on dissolved oxygen take over.
Aerobic microorganisms convert nitrogen to sulfur and carbon compound in wastewater to odorless and harmless oxygenated forms such as nitrates, carbonates, and sulfates.
Anaerobic microorganisms are those that produce toxic and smelly ammonia, sulfides, amines, and flammable methane gases, known as swamp gases.
With the addition of dead fish helps us understand why we do not need excessive amounts of biodegradable materials flowing into the streams, rivers, and lakes.
The clean up of water pollution can be expensive. If we do our part by using preventive measure at home and work then the water resources will be returned to their natural state, free of waste and usable.
Ways to Prevent Water Pollution
- Never throw wastes into drains because of convenience.
- Dispose of garbage in a bin, landfill or by composting.
- Never wash animal waste into trenches. Scoop up the waste and place it in a plastic bag and dispose of in a trash can or bin.
- Never dispose or wash pesticides or toxic chemicals into storm drains or trenches.
- Find out where to take harmful waste in your area.
- Use fertilizers in small quantities and do not apply them if rain has been forecasted.
- Dispose of hazardous waste like asbestos, car batteries, and sewage from septic tanks, in a sanitary landfill. To do this you must obtain a permit from the town, state or city.
- Dispose of used motor oil at recycling centers. These are usually located at an area gas station or check to see where the nearest recycling center is located.
Enforcements for the Violations of Water Pollution
What the EPA is Authorized to Enforce
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may require discharges to keep and maintain records, use and maintain monitoring equipment, and sample effluents. EPA is authorized to enter premises to examine and copy records, inspect monitoring equipment, and sample effluents. An owner or operator may be able to refuse entry without a search warrant, pursuant to the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, unless where the owner or operator has given permission or an emergency exists.
Liability for the violation of the Clean Water Act is strongly enforced, and even in the event of accidental discharges, violation of permit requirements are illegal. The EPA has three branches of enforcement activity: administrative, civil, and criminal, that can be taken against violators of the Act.
The EPA can issue an administrative order to require compliance. Administrative penalties or fines for violations can be as high as $10,000 for each violation up to a maxiumum of $25,000. This type of penalty is known as a Class I penalty. When an informal administrative hearing takes place, the fine can be $10,000 per day for the violation up to the maximum amount of $125,000, Class II penalties, if a formal hearing takes place under the EPA. If the EPA ora state is hard at work prosecuting a violator in an administrative proceeding, or has already followed through with the prosecutions, then judicial enforcement action cannot take place.
The EPA can bring a civil suit for violators of the Act seeking penalties of $25,000 per day per violation. The Civil Penalty Policy, under the EPA, acts as a guide in determining and setting the amount of the penalties, which is based on different factors. Criminal actions can be brought against any responsible person for willful or negligent violations of the Act, or for any permit or order. Negligent violations are punishable by fines in the amount of $2,500 to $25,000 per day and one year in prison, while knowing violations are punishable by fines of $5,000 to $50,000 and up to three years in prison.
The Clean Water Act particularly authorizes citizens to bring suit in the federal district court against violators of either an effluent standard or limitation. The court is authorized to award civil penalties, litigation cost, and to order compliance with the Act.
In this lesson we have seen that water pollution is contamination by harmful wastes and the main cause is human activities. Water pollution comes from point and non-point sources. Point source is easy to locate because it comes from one point of river, lake or stream but non-point is hard to locate because it can come from anywhere within a distribution pipeline system. Many different types of water pollution exist, which include microbiological, chemical, suspended matter, nutrients, and oxygen-depleting substances. To prevent water pollution we must properly dispose of wastes and hazardous chemicals. If we follow the guidelines for disposal then our water resources will remain free of contamination.
EPA: Information on point and non-point sources
International Water Law 1989: Groundwater
Answer the following questions and email your response to email@example.com.
- How does the federal government define pollution?
- List the industrial point source use of water and give the ratios.
- List the pollutants that municipal sewage treatment plants test for.
- What are the non-point sources of pollution?
- What are the different types of water pollution?
- How can water pollution be prevented?
- What are the three branches of enforcement activity for the EPA?
- What is Class I and Class II penalty?
- What is the Civil Penalty Policy?
- What court does the Clean Water Act authorize citizens to bring suit in against violators?
Please review the definitions page and then complete the assignment associated with week 4 definitions.
Answer the questions in the Lesson 4 Quiz . When you have gotten all the answers correct, print the page and either mail or fax it to the instructor, Harriett Long. You may also take the quiz online and directly submit it into the database for a grade.