Industrial water pollution is a widespread problem throughout the planet. When harmful chemicals and compounds are discharged into water, the water becomes unsuitable for drinking and other uses. Although most of the Earth’s surface is covered by water, we can only obtain fresh water from water bodies such as ponds, lakes, rivers, streams, and reservoirs. This means that it’s in our best interest to keep them clean.
We have come a long way since the industrial revolution. Everything from our manufacturing processes, science and technology, to our life in general has significantly changed for the better. However, everything comes with a price. All the advancements and developments made in the past couple of centuries also brought a plethora of problems along with them, including water pollution.
Pollution is the process of contaminating the environment with harmful and waste materials, which bring about a drastic change in the surrounding atmosphere’s quality. Environmental pollution can be classified into the following types: water pollution, air pollution, and noise pollution. Water pollution refers to the release of pollutants into the water, making it unfit for drinking and other purposes. The five main sources of water pollution are domestic sewage, stormwater runoff, industrial effluents, agricultural runoff, and wastewater from septic tanks.
Causes of Industrial Water Pollution
Lack of Strict Policies
Many countries in the world suffer from the lack of strict policies to control pollution, especially in countries that are developing or underdeveloped. Although most countries have policies in place, the apathy of the enforcement authorities has enabled industries to bypass such laws easily.
Reliance on Outdated Technologies
Another cause of water pollution is the reliance of some industries on outdated technologies that generate more pollutants compared to modern technologies. What industries do is they forgo upgrades and carry on using outdated technologies to avoid paying for the high cost of modern technologies.
Lack of Capital
It is common practice in many countries to discharge industrial water into rivers or lakes without adequately treating it. This is especially true for smaller industries that lack capital to purchase pollution control equipment.
Unplanned Industrial Growth
Unplanned industrial growth is partly responsible for water pollution. Industrial growth contributes to the positive growth of a country’s economy, but it also adversely affects the environment, especially when it is sudden and unplanned. The growth can also be responsible for the lack of proper waste disposal sites, as well as a complete disregard for pollution control laws.
Extracting from Mines
Industrial water pollution is also caused by the extraction of minerals through mining and drilling, which makes the land unfit for agriculture, and pollutes both surface water and ground water. Any accidental leakage can find its way into the surrounding water and then enter the ocean. Both the land and the sea can be polluted by oil spills. Water can experience an increase in mineral content and a change in its pH level from wastes generated during mining operations.
Effects of Industrial Water Pollution
The wastes generate in numerous industrial processes can cause the following changes when they are introduced into the water bodies.
Effects on the Ecosystem
Industrial water pollution can have radical effects on the ecosystem. In various industrial processes, water is used for many different purposes, and becomes contaminated with heavy metals, toxic chemicals, organic sludge, and even radioactive sludge. When such polluted water is not treated before being thrown into the ocean or other bodies of water, they become unsuitable for any use.
When radioactive sludge is released to the water, it often collects at the bottom of water bodies. Radioactive sludge can remain highly radioactive for decades, posing serious health risks for people living nearby. Thermal pollution is the increase in ambient water temperature. It can cause harm to aquatic or marine life, especially to organisms that are extremely sensitive to slight changes in temperature. Nuclear reactors and power plants are among the biggest sources of thermal pollution.
Effect of Eutrophication
The balance of the ecosystem can be disrupted when the water’s nutrient content goes through changes. For instance, when eutrophication occurs (water’s nutrient content increases), it can promote algal bloom that can cause the oxygen content of water to drop. Though algae produce oxygen during daytime, they use the oxygen dissolved in water at night.
After an algal bloom, what often follows is the death of a large quantity of algae, which are decomposed by bacteria with the help of oxygen. Thus, the entire process depletes the amount of dissolved oxygen in water. In some cases, this process can reduce the oxygen content of water to dangerous levels that render it incapable of supporting aquatic life. Such hypoxic areas of the ocean are known as dead zones.
Increase the Murkiness of Water
The murkiness of water can be increased by industrial wastewater. When water becomes too murky, it prevents sunlight from reaching the bottom. Consequently, bottom-dwelling plants may not be able to photosynthesize. It can also block the gills of fish and make it difficult for them to use dissolved oxygen from the water.
Effect of Chemicals
Asbestos, sulfur, mercury, lead, nitrates, toluene, phosphates, dyes, pesticides, alkalies, acids, benzene, chlorobenzene, carbon tetrachloride, polychlorinated biphenyl, volatile organic chemicals, and poisonous solvents – these are the common industrial pollutants that cause water pollution. Chemicals like asbestos is a carcinogen that causes mesothelioma and increases the risk of benign intestinal polyps, while sulfur is detrimental to marine life.
Various fertilizers contain nitrates and phosphates, both of which can amplify the effects of eutrophication, potentially causing the formation of dead zones. On the other hand, drinking water with high levels of carbon tetrachloride can cause problems with the liver. Another industrial pollutant benzene is suspected to be linked with diseases such as low blood platelets and anemia, and an increased risk for cancer.
Chlorobenzene is a chemical that can be found in dyes and insecticides. Meanwhile, toluene is a pollutant produced by the oil and petroleum industry. Both chlorobenzene and toluene can damage the kidneys, liver, and the central nervous system. Volatile organic chemicals are fundamentally solvents used in various household and industrial products. These chemicals can pollute the groundwater when not properly disposed of, and can cause an array of health problems such as nausea, headaches, memory impairment, and liver damage.
Control and Prevention
Although it is a tall order to contain industrial water pollution, it is not impossible. But without the cooperation of citizens and industrial units, reducing water pollution would not be possible. Thus, further awareness needs to be raised among the common masses about how water gets polluted, its effects on the health of living beings, and how it can be prevented.
The establishment and effective implementation of strict pollution control laws and legislations will play a huge role in pollution control. Moreover, the development of cost-effective pollution control equipment, and incentives from the government for using such equipment can encourage industries to be more serious about controlling pollution.
Ordinary wastes, such as domestic sewage, can easily be treated by the municipal system. But some wastes like oil and grease, heavy metals, and volatile organic compounds require a more specialized kind of treatment. Industries can separate such dangerous wastes by installing a pre-treatment system. The wastewater that has been partially treated can be sent to the municipal facilities for further purification.
Large-scale industries produce a lot of wastewater. For this reason, they must update their manufacturing processes to reduce the number of pollutants, and setup and operate their own on-site treatment systems. Industrial wastewater treatment can be conducted in three phases: primary treatment involving mechanical processes, secondary treatment through biological processes, and tertiary treatment by physical, chemical and biological processes.
In primary treatment, pollutants are removed from water by screening, grinding, flocculation, and sedimentation processes. In secondary treatment, wastewater treatment is done with the help of biological methods. Lastly, the wastewater goes through tertiary treatment where it gets recycled using physical, chemical and biological processes. On the other hand, thermal pollution can be controlled by installing cooling towers, or by setting up cooling ponds.
In the United States alone, more than half of the total water pollution is caused by the industries. In the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 1996 National Water Quality Inventory, the US EPA reported to the Congress that approximately 40% of the surveyed estuaries, lakers and rivers were too polluted for fishing, drinking, and swimming. In an effort to curb the water pollution problem, the United States introduced various legislations, including the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act (1972), the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (Clean Water Act of 1972), and the Safe Drinking Water Act (1974). In 1988, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act was also amended. The most significant prerequisites for the success of such legislations are the cooperation of citizens and industrial units, proper enforcement of laws and regulations, and the availability of efficient and cheaper pollution control techniques.