Implications of Poor Water Quality for the Environment

published May 13, 2019
2 min read

Water Quality

The simple actions you take, such as filtering water or throwing your soda can into the recycling bin, have much more significant benefits to the environment and your health than you probably thought.

As important as these considerations are, we live in a global society with many sources of pollution and several side effects stemming from them. This leads to poor water quality that can have severe repercussions on our planet.

Types of Water Pollution

The types of pollution harming our environment are widespread. From the arsenic-plagued water of Bangladesh to the lead crisis that is still crippling Flint, Michigan, there are no shortages of examples that highlight the water crisis around the world. It is essential to understand the types of pollution to fully grasp the effects it has on humans and the natural environment.

1. Heavy Metals

Many types of heavy metals leak into our lakes, streams and oceans on a regular basis, but there are some that are more prominent than others. Arsenic, mercury and lead are all prevalent forms of pollution around the world stemming from coal-burning power plants and industrial facilities discharging waste into the groundwater.

2. Pesticides and Fertilizers

Rain causes surface-level fertilizers and pesticides from fields to runoff into nearby streams. These are then contaminated with nitrates and phosphates, in addition to the other chemicals in pesticides and fertilizers.

3. Microbial Pollutants From Sewage

This form of organic pollution, called microbial, is a natural form of contamination from bacteria and organisms. It is made more prominent by organic waste being intentionally or accidentally deposited into the natural water supply by sewage treatment facilities or wastewater facilities.

Effects on Human Health

Water pollution caused 1.8 million deaths in 2015, according to a study by The Lancet. These statistics are not rare and need to be reversed. Understanding how the types of pollutants summarized above contribute to human health decline will help give us insights on how to prevent future generations from experiencing water-related illnesses.

1. Low-Income Families and Water Quality

Low-income families are most at risk of low-quality water. These families generally live near power plants and industrial facilities that are known to be significant contributors to the world’s pollution problems.

Chemicals and metals are leaked or dumped into nearby water sources and are then consumed by the residents. Families living in Flint, Michigan, have experienced these conditions firsthand. They are forced to drink and bathe with bottled water, which is unattainable for some low-income families.

2. Cholera and Microbial Pollution

Microbial pollution has a major effect on human health. Cholera and typhoid are common diseases caused by low-quality water. Cholera and other diseases related to poor sanitation and hygiene are most prominent in developing countries where water quality is often overlooked and overcrowded populations lead to waste and bacteria draining into the drinking water.

The World Health Organization found that each year, there are up to 143,000 cases of cholera-related deaths. These deaths could be prevented with higher water quality standards around the globe.

Effects on the Natural Ecosystem

Pollution affecting marine animals may not seem to have a direct impact on the ecosystem or your daily life. However, as diseases work their way up the food chain, they become a much larger problem and are much more noticeable.

1. Eutrophication

Nitrates and phosphates run off into the water via agriculture facilities and other chemical dispensing facilities. These are a natural phenomenon, but too much of something isn’t always a good thing. This influx in nitrates and phosphates leads to rapid increases in algae growth.

Algae consume oxygen in the water, making it difficult or even impossible for other marine life to exist there. This process, called eutrophication, creates dead zones in the water, which debilitates that ecosystem.

2. Trash and Marine Life

Garbage and litter create marine debris, which in large quantities, leads to trash patches in oceans. Plastic bags and aluminum cans suffocate and starve marine animals, leading to larger problems for the environment if plants and fish are dying. In an area where the water is polluted, mammals and birds eating those fish are then starved, wreaking devastation on yet another ecosystem.

How to Help Improve Water Quality

There are many ways to improve water quality on a large scale, such as regulating businesses and municipalities and taking initiatives to offer clean water to impoverished communities. In addition, carefully disposing of household waste is vital to improving water quality on a local level.

Learning about and understanding the effects of throwing cans and plastic bottles on the beach or emptying paint or other chemicals outside would greatly improve the environment and be a starting point for reducing the planet’s pollution crisis.


Emily Folk is a conservation and sustainability freelance writer and blogger. Check out her blog, Conservation Folks, or follow her on Twitter for the latest updates.