by Limus Woods
99% of the water that is readily available for human use is buried in soil, sand, and rocks. This groundwater is relied upon by at least half of Americans for hydration every day but is extremely vulnerable to pollution. A noted increase in the use of water filters across the nation reveals that there is some awareness of the serious health effects of ingesting polluted groundwater, and more and more people are realizing that they could catch diseases like hepatitis from oil, chemical, or gasoline contaminated water. But most people still don’t know how their water ends up at risk.
Sources of Groundwater Pollution
There are many sources of groundwater pollution and, unfortunately, humans are to blame for many of them. Poor management of waste, the rapid growth of industry, and irresponsible use of chemicals all endanger the groundwater people need to survive.
Natural Sources: While humans cause a lot of groundwater pollution, some contamination is due to natural processes of the earth. Substances like iron, fluorides, and sulfates found in rock often end up in groundwater, and when they collect in excess, they can harm its quality. Groundwater like this needs to be treated before it can be used by humans.
Septic Systems: In the U.S. around a quarter of homes are linked to a septic system for waste disposal. Individual systems release only a marginal amount of chemical or biological waste but when combined with other nearby systems, it can become toxic. Often containing viruses or bacteria, septic systems need to be adequately maintained to keep groundwater safe.
Chemicals: The EPA reports that there are close to 16,000 chemical spills each year. posed with difficult cleanup procedures, often times these chemicals end up being washed into the soil and find their way into our valuable groundwater resources.
Waste: Many average consumers don’t realize that the way they dispose of waste can impact the quality of the groundwater that they rely on. lawn waste, paint, cleaners, and oils all end up in groundwater wells every day. Pouring the wrong chemicals down the drain or neglecting to dispose of medication properly can end up harming your local sources of groundwater. Landfill waste also greatly contributes to groundwater pollution. Contaminants often leach out of landfills and into groundwater aquifers or wells. Landfill location is essential to maintaining safe drinking water.
Effects of Groundwater Pollution
Plant and animal life are often threatened by the decreasing quality of groundwater. Waterborne illness and chemical concentrations end up spreading among human and animal populations that rely on groundwater resources. Often the people who rely on the water most are unable to pay for expensive cleanup measures. Dangerous illnesses like hepatitis and cholera are often linked to ground water pollution and poor water sanitation. Often this type of contamination goes unnoticed for long periods of time while it silently affects large communities. Often times people only notice the effects of contaminated groundwater when birth defects begin to be reported. One example of a serious condition caused by groundwater pollution is the nitrate induced illness called Methemoglobinemia or “Blue Baby Syndrome”. This can affect children whose formula is mixed with nitrate rich water. Pollution from Benzene has been known to cause cancer as well. Groundwater pollution also has economic effects. Poor water quality can harm any industry linked to its use. Fishermen, for example, suffer when their catch is affected by groundwater pollution.
What can be done?
One of the best ways to protect groundwater is with strict regulation of the substances we use and how we dispose of them. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s job is to ensure that consumers and businesses have the ability to properly dispose of chemicals and waste in order to protect groundwater, soil, and air. The Safe Drinking Water Act is just one example of a regulation put in place to protect groundwater. It sets forth principles for waste disposal, well use and requires drinking water to meet a minimum standard. The amount of pollution that can end up in groundwater is regulated by the Clean Water Act.
You can also take steps at home to ensure that your local groundwater doesn’t get more polluted. You don’t need to rely on government regulation and intervention to keep your drinking water clean when you can take action yourself. Make sure you know what can and cannot go down the drain and make your neighbors aware as well. If you see people using unsafe fertilizers in their yard or throwing away chemicals, you should intervene because their actions affect your water’s quality.