Groundwater, an essential source of our public and private drinking supplies, can become easily contaminated by various sources.
In this article, we’ll peel back the layers of groundwater pollution – its causes, effects, and preventive measures.
Groundwater is water that exists underground in saturated zones beneath the land surface. It’s crucial as it provides drinking water to half of the world’s population and is a vital source of irrigation. However, natural and human activities can pollute this valuable resource.
What is Groundwater?
Groundwater is water that soaks into the ground and fills all tiny spaces in the soil. It’s like a hidden lake under our feet. Both people and plants need it to live. Over half of everyone in the United States uses groundwater for drinking water! It also helps plants grow when we use it for irrigation.
But not all rain or snow seeps down to become groundwater. Some stay on top of the land as lakes and rivers. However, bad things can happen when materials from this surface water get into our precious groundwater!
Importance of Groundwater
Groundwater matters a lot. It is what half of the people in the United States drink every day. Groundwater also helps farms grow food. When farmers water their crops, they often use groundwater.
This makes it a very important part of our lives and health. We must take good care of it so it stays clean and safe for all to use.
10 Causes of Groundwater Pollution
Groundwater pollution comes from several sources, both natural and human-made. Certain minerals in the earth can naturally seep into groundwater supplies. However, human activities contribute massively to this problem, too.
1. Waste from Sewers and Other Pipelines
Sewers and pipes carry a lot of waste. Sometimes, this waste can get into groundwater. This happens when sewers or pipes leak or break open. Chemicals, road salts, and other harmful stuff from mining sites can seep through these leaks.
This makes the water under the ground dirty.
Septic tanks are another problem. They hold untreated waste from our homes. When they do not work right, this dirty stuff can get out and enter our groundwater.
Underground storage tanks share the same issue, too! If they have leaks, toxic chemicals like oil or gasoline can escape into the soil and reach our important groundwater supplies.
2. Improper Disposal of Hazardous Waste
Some people wrongly throw away dangerous waste. This can lead to problems for our groundwater. If not thrown away right, oil, gas, road salts, and chemicals can hurt the water.
Tanks under the ground can cause leaks. These leaks let bad things into our water. Septic systems that aren’t built or cared for well also harm water by letting in germs and home cleaning stuff.
Also, old waste sites where no one keeps watch could leak bad materials into the earth and water below. Landfills without a good bottom barrier might do this, too.
3. Natural Gas Drilling
Natural gas drilling harms our water. This method, known as fracking, can pollute groundwater. It happens when chemicals used in the process seep into the ground and mix with our water source.
Some of these chemicals are toxic substances that may harm humans who drink this polluted water. Badly designed or poorly looked after drilling projects can cause this pollution to happen more easily.
4. Saltwater Contamination
Saltwater contamination messes up groundwater. It happens when things like road salts get into the groundwater. This can happen more in winter because we use salt to melt ice on roads and sidewalks.
Mining sites can also play a part by letting out toxic substances that mix with water. These substances can make the groundwater salty, like ocean water. Drinking this kind of polluted water is not good for our health at all!
Landfills can harm our groundwater. They are places where we bury garbage. Some landfills have a kind of layer at the bottom. This layer is like a coat that keeps bad stuff from getting into the soil and water below.
However, not all landfills have this layer.
Even if there is a good coat, it may get cracks or holes in it over time. If this happens, harmful things from the landfill seep into the ground. These include oil, gasoline, and toxic chemicals that come from storage tanks buried there.
Also, some bacteria and viruses can enter groundwater from poorly made septic systems near these sites.
6. Atmospheric Contamination
Dirty air can harm our water supply. This is called atmospheric contamination. It happens when pollutants in the air fall to the ground with rain or snow. These pollutants include dust from farms and factories, smoke from fires, and gases from cars and power plants.
They mix with the rain or snow and then seep into the ground. Over time, this dirty water can get into our groundwater. Groundwater is important because we use it for drinking, cooking, cleaning, and watering crops.
So if it gets dirty, it can make us sick or ruin our food source.
7. Pesticide and Fertilizer Use
Farmers use pesticides and fertilizers to grow crops. These chemicals kill bugs and weeds that can harm the plants. But these same toxins can pollute groundwater. Rain or watering plants helps these substances sink into the earth.
Over time, they reach our water supply below ground. This is called groundwater contamination. Drinking this polluted water for a long time might lead to cancer.
8. Mining and Quarrying
Mining digs up rocks and soil. This process can harm groundwater. The quarrying does the same thing but with stone. Both duties can free toxic substances from deep in the ground. These toxins might leak into the water under our feet, making it unsafe to use.
9. Military Bases
Military bases can make groundwater dirty. Often, military sites have storage tanks filled with gasoline, oil, and chemicals. If these leaks, the groundwater gets bad. Septic tanks on such sites might leak harmful bacteria and toxic chemicals.
This also taints the water under our feet. Also, some military bases have old or mismanaged waste spots where dangerous stuff leaks into the soil and harms the groundwater. Even throwing away trash in the wrong way at these bases can mess up our water supply underground!
10. Natural Sources
Earth can harm its own groundwater, too. Stuff like rocks and minerals may leak into the water under the ground. This is a natural source of pollution. Some minerals like arsenic are bad to drink, even if they come from the earth itself.
The Impacts of Groundwater Contamination
Groundwater contamination is not a small problem. It can cause big trouble for both people and animals. For example, drinking polluted water can lead to serious sickness like hepatitis and dysentery.
These are illnesses that really harm your digestive system.
If you drink dirty water for a long time, more problems might arise. Some types of cancer can happen because of this kind of pollution. This is why clean groundwater is very important to stay healthy and safe.
Harmful Effects of Polluted Groundwater
Dirty groundwater can make you sick. Drinking it might give you diseases like hepatitis and dysentery. This is because harmful things like used motor oil, toxic chemicals, or waste from leaky landfills get into the water.
Groundwater with poison is bad for people, animals, and plants. It can kill them or make them very sick. The same water we drink can hurt us if it gets dirty.
In some cases, polluted groundwater may even cause cancer in humans and animals. If gasoline, oil, road salts, or other dangerous stuff gets into the groundwater, it becomes a silent killer over time.
Many health issues, such as kidney damage, liver problems, and troubles with our nervous and circulatory systems, have been linked to poisoned groundwater, too.
How to Prevent Groundwater Contamination
You can stop groundwater from getting dirty. There are a few steps to take at home and in your town. First, cut down on the chemicals you use. This means less cleaning stuff, fewer lawn care substances, and fewer farm field products like weed killers.
It’s also important to throw away risky things the right way. These include car battery acid, paint, and household cleaners. They should not be buried in your backyard or dumped into open landfills.
Last, fix any leaks in your septic systems quickly if you find any! Leaks allow nasty things like bacteria and viruses into our water supply underground.
Groundwater pollution is a big problem. Things like gas, oil, and chemicals can seep into our water. This can make us sick and hurt animals too. We have to work hard to stop this from happening!
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