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Global Health Impacts Of Water Pollution

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Discuss about the Global Health Impacts of Water Pollution.



The environment plays a crucial role in determining the health factors of the global population. Today there are lots of advocacy programs and campaigns to ensure the welfare of the environment especially under the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP). Water is part of the physical environment and yet a very paramount health determinant for the population as stated by Wang et al 1. Access to clean water for drinking and general use is one of the priorities of the WHO among other individual governments that have made it a millennial goal. In fact, adequate clean and fresh water supply for drinking is currently a basic need for every human being according to Hogan 2. However, statistical records indicate that a section of the world population is deprived of this need. The current sustained threat on freshwater resources across the world includes not only over-exploitation and/or poor water management but also environmental pollution i.e. water pollution as stated in Kponee et al 3. There are several causes of fresh water pollution and these include untreated waste discharge into water bodies, crude dumping of industrial effluents in fresh water bodies, agricultural field run-off, chemicals among others. While industrial growth and urbanization are paramount factors in promoting economic growth, they are the key contributors of the increasing synthetic organic substance use which leads to the pollution of freshwater bodies. Developing countries in particular suffer the health impacts of water pollution as a result of chemical discharge into groundwater from industries and from agricultural run-off according to Chang et al 4. Even so, the developed world suffers these health impacts of water pollution as well, especially in cities as a result of urbanization. This particular study will focus on discussing the health impacts of water pollution on the global scale. The discussion will focus on the definition of water pollution, its different causes, the health impacts and a clear critique of different literature on the changing environmental modifications bringing about the health impacts. This particular topic is of special interest as water continuous to be more scarce and yet more contaminated as a result of the ever increasing anthropogenic activities. The discussion will be imperative in highlighting the current state of water pollution and the different direct and indirect health impacts as a result of the related environmental modifications.

Water pollution is one of the current concerns to environmental conservation and management agencies and health institutions by extension. It refers to the process of contaminating different water bodies including rivers, aquifers, groundwater, lakes and oceans as a result of different anthropogenic activities. It occurs particularly when different pollutants i.e. particles, substances and even chemicals get discharged into the water bodies both directly and indirectly without sufficient treatment.  According to Moss 5, water pollution can either at point or non-point source or even trans-boundary and therefore the second most important environmental concern apart from air pollution.  Water pollution can therefore be defined further as any change and/or modification of the environment physically, chemically and biologically which directly or indirectly changes the water properties and thus leading to detrimental health impacts on living things. Water covers about 70% of the surface of the Earth and forms one of the most basic resources for human survival on the planet as indicated by Hogan 2. A lot of developing countries have documented deaths as a result of inadequate portable water for drinking and for domestic purposes. Even so, the health impacts caused by water pollution do not only affect humans directly but indirectly too by negatively influencing the whole functionality of aquatic ecosystems. According to Wang et al 1 recent time has seen different councils, governments and organizations work continuously towards educating, protecting, restoring waterways and even encouraging individuals to prevent water pollution and protect water ecosystems.


Health Effects of Water Pollution

Water pollution results in the contamination of water which causes several diseases among them water borne diseases. According to Lengoasa 6 water –borne diseases refer to different infectious diseases which are spread mainly through contact with or consumption of contaminated water. Despite the fact that these particular diseases can be spread by flies and through filth, it is clear that water is the main medium that enables the spread. Majority of intestinal diseases are very infectious and their transmission is by fecal waste in contaminated water. Pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, protozoans parasitic worms and bacteria found in human fecal matter cause the various enteric diseases. In regard to Gasana 7, these particular diseases are very prevalent especially in areas that have poor sanitary conditions and therefore have contaminated water. The pathogens go through different sources of water while interfusing directly through food and water handlers. These diseases include among others hepatitis, dysentery, paratyphoid fever, typhoid, cholera, bacillary and amoebic dysentery, and poliomyelitis and affect large populations especially within the tropical regions of the world.

A part from the above microorganisms, a lot of chemicals which exist both naturally and others which are added as a result of anthropogenic activities dissolve in water and thus contaminating as indicated in Wang et al 1. This results in various disease conditions. Pesticides for instance contain organophosphates and carbonates which are both carcinogenic and damaging to the central nervous system in humans. Several pesticides comprise of carcinogenic compounds and chemicals which are beyond the recommended level as shown in Hogan 2. Chlorides in such pesticides also cause damage to the reproductive and the endocrine system. Heavy metals like Lead found in contaminated water is a dangerous health hazard as it damages the central nervous system and affect both adults and unborn babies. The most at risk individuals in regard to Lead effect include pregnant women and children. Fluorides are also harmful water contaminants as they result to yellowing teeth among affected individuals according to Rowell et al 8. People living in areas that have Fluoride tend to have brownish and yellow teeth. They are also prone to damages to the spinal cord among other diseases that lead to crippling.

According to Kim et al 11, water contaminated with Nitrates poses a risk to the population as they result to the “blue baby” syndrome. This disease condition occurs among infants who have been put on formula milk prepared with contaminated water. Nitrates restrict the oxygen levels reaching the brain and thus leading to the dreaded “blue baby” condition. They are also carcinogenic to the digestive tract apart from resulting in algal bloom and thus eutrophication in fresh surface water. Other hazardous water contaminants include petrochemicals and Benzene which are carcinogenic even in low level exposures as shown in Kponee et al 3. Petrochemicals are reported to contaminate groundwater especially from storage tanks of petroleum dug underground .On the other hand, water contaminated with Arsenic lead to poisoning resulting into damage to the liver and the nervous system. Arsenic also leads to vascular diseases and even skin cancer in exposed individuals. Salts also contaminate fresh water rendering it unusable.


Disruption of the food-chain

Water pollution like any other environmental modification interferes with the food chain as an indirect health impact to humans. Pollutants including Lead and Cadmium once consumed by some tiny animals which are later eaten by fish disrupts the food chain to the higher levels. In particular, over 100000 synthetic organic compounds being used today find their way into the aquatic environment as shown in Wang et al 1. They accumulate in aquatic organisms and thus interfere with the food chain. Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are the most hazardous elements in the ecosystem and particularly to human health according to Kponee et al 3. These include industrial chemicals and/or agricultural pesticides which are added into freshwater sources. Large scale use of pesticides chemically contaminates groundwater relied upon by animals and humans. The population around such contaminated water bodies consumes poisoned sea food and end up developing diseases such as hepatitis. Consumption of sea food and other animals with high concentrations of harmful elements like arsenic result to adverse health effects. For instance, high arsenic concentrations that were discovered present in drinking water sources in about six districts of West Bengal led to skin lesions as described by Y 9. Even so, the pollution was found to have been caused by natural causes and therefore the government embarked on the approaches of removing the arsenic content.

Water pollution such as oil spillages on seas lead to the death of aquatic animals, some of which are reliable food sources for humans. The release of untreated sewage among other untreated chemical effluents into water bodies renders the water bodies inhabitable for aquatic life. As a result of this contamination the sea animals die and end up at the nearby beaches dead. These include crabs, birds, sea gulls, fish, and dolphins, among others whose habitat is modified negatively and thus rendered harmful. According to Chang et al 4, an ecosystem refers to how living things interact and depend on each other in a given environment. The global ecosystems can however be modified and/or destroyed severely as a result of water pollution. Today a lot of areas are experiencing the impacts of careless anthropogenic water pollution, which in turn hurts back humans. For instance, Bhattacharya 10 indicates that run-off from agricultural farms, golf courses; back yards have pesticides including the harmful DDT which eventually contaminate water sources. On the other hand leachate from different landfill sites in cities and rural areas forms another source of water pollution. The chemicals in this leachate affect the ecosystems as an indirect impact on humans but also lead to both endocrine and reproductive system problems among humans and the wildlife according to Kponee et al 3. These contaminants infuse into groundwater persist in their chemical compound forms to end up interfering with the ecosystems.


Interpretation of the Findings on the Health Impacts of Water Pollution

From the literature above, water pollution is mainly caused by anthropogenic activities which compromise the quality of water and thus result in problems to the ecosystems, death of dependent living things and diseases. A lot of areas for particularly have both contaminated surface and ground water as a result of heavy metal, POPs and nutrient infusion as shown in Hogan 2. These comprise of the main components that lead to diseases related to water pollution. Apart from poor management of water sources, it is evident that industries and individuals leaving their effluents to join the water sources untreated are part of the water pollution problem. According to Bhattacharya 10, there can be an assurance of safe water for all only when there is access to it, its sustainability and equity in regard to provision. The WHO has fostered different programs aimed at not only promoting access, sustainability and equity in the use of water resources but has also put in place related policies for government to take up this particular initiative.  

Generally on a global scale, urban areas boast of higher safe water sources coverage as compared to rural areas. These urban areas however experience water contamination as a result leaky joints on water pipes in areas that have sewer lines and water pipes close to each other as shown in Chang et al 4. In other occasions, water may get polluted at the main sources as a result of human activities and thus lead to the above harmful health impacts. The current approaches aimed at resolving environmental issues such as conservation fall within the jurisdiction of a number of local and international bodies.  As mentioned earlier, water pollution is one of the major agendas in these particular programs. The world has learnt enough regarding the effects of water pollution starting the Mina Mata disease in Japan where individuals fed on sea food contaminated with inorganic mercury as described by Gasana 7. Since then, the Japanese government shut down the plant that was letting its wastes into the nearby beach in order to prevent any future recurrences. In other areas, cholera outbreaks have occurred along river courses where people share a common water source and this has always brought about the need for continued surveillance and control of infectious diseases, particularly those that are water-based, water related and water-washed in nature.



In conclusion therefore, the above discussion highlights mainly the health impacts of water pollution globally. The study narrows down to the definition of water pollution, its different causes, the health impacts and a clear critique of different literature on the changing environmental modifications bringing about the health impacts. Among the different causes of water pollution as a type of environmental modification includes release of untreated industrial wastes into water bodies, release of untreated sewage, open dumping of domestic wastes in water bodies, agricultural run-off contaminated with fertilizers, and pesticides. Water pollution has led to water-borne diseases, death of aquatic animals some of which are food sources, negative effect on the ecosystems and further, disruption of the food chains. Among the diseases caused by the chemicals, nutrients and microorganisms within the water contaminants include yellowing of teeth, “blue baby” syndrome, central nervous system damage, dysentery, cholera, typhoid and paratyphoid fever. The discussion has highlighted the current global state of water pollution and the different direct and indirect health impacts due to related environmental modifications. Water pollution can thus be prevented by relevant institutions according to Newton 12 through; public education on prevention measures; creation of preventive policies and their enforcement; governmental funding of prevention procedures including surveillance and control and further; creating a culture of cleanliness through behavior change programs in communities globally.



Wang, Q., & Yang, Z. Industrial water pollution, water environment treatment, and health risks in China. Environmental Pollution. 2016. 218, 358-365.

Hogan CM. "Water pollution.” Encyclopedia of Earth.Topic ed. Mark McGinley; ed. in Chief C. Cleveland. National Council on Science and the Environment, Washington, DC. 2010.

Kponee, K., Chiger, A., Kakulu, I., Vorhees, D., & Heiger-Bernays, W. Petroleum contaminated water and health symptoms: a cross-sectional pilot study in a rural Nigerian community. Environmental Health. 2015. 14(1).

Chang, H., & Bonnette, M. Climate change and water-related ecosystem services: impacts of drought in California, USA. Ecosystem Health and Sustainability. 2016. 2(12), e01254.

Moss B. "Water Pollution by Agriculture" (PDF).  Trans. Royal Society B. 2008. 363: 659–666.

Lengoasa, J. Climate Variability and Change: Impacts On Water Availability†. Irrigation and Drainage, 2016; 65(2), 149-156.

Gasana, J. (2014). Water and Health. Air & Water Borne Diseases, 03(02).

Rowell, C., Kuiper, N., & Shomar, B. Potential health impacts of consuming desalinated bottled water. Journal of Water and Health. 2015. 13(2), 437.

Y, K. Arsenic-Polluted Groundwater in Cambodia: Advances in Research. International Journal of Water and Wastewater Treatment. 2016 (ISSN 2381-5299), 2(1).

Bhattacharya, D. Large Volume Holding of Water at Surface is Potent Anti-Dote to Pollution and Health Hazards. Air & Water Borne Diseases; 2017, 06(01).

Kim, H., & Park, S. (2016). Hydrogeochemical Characteristics of Groundwater Highly Polluted with Nitrate in an Agricultural Area of Hongseong, Korea. Water, 8(8), 345.

Newton, D. Chemistry of the Environment. Checkmark Books. 2008; ISBN0-8160-7747-9.


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