The two types of areas that are most impacted by water pollution are those that are right next to a body of water or those that have only one source of drinking water. However, the impact of water pollution is often compounded by other factors that are independent of the area’s distance to water. These factors include socioeconomically challenged places, which tend to be places where poor people live. Human health is affected the same way by water pollution anywhere a person lives, but impoverished people often do not have access to proper health care and do not have the political power to change their environmental settings.
Coastal regions are heavily impacted by water pollution for several reasons. Coastal regions may be ports where oil- and chemical-leaking ships frequently visit. Coastal regions are also places where sewer channels merge to dump waste water into the ocean. Ocean tides may bring physical debris such as plastic trash and fecal matter to the coast. Since major cities are often on or near the coast, industrial waste from the city will flow into the coastal waters, bringing heavy metals, pathogenic microorganisms, litter and toxic chemicals such as PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls).
Only One Water Source
Areas in which inhabitants rely on only one water source can be heavily impacted by water pollution. This is a common problem in rural and urban areas in African countries. Many people will travel for miles to fetch water from one well. If these wells are not properly and regularly maintained, they may spread disease-causing microorganisms or contain toxic chemicals. Sources of water contamination can result from heavy metals that run-off from industrial plants and improperly maintained septic tanks that leak. Underground water sources must be regularly monitored for safety, and rural areas may not have the funds or expertise to keep this up.
Down-River From A Major City
Areas that are downstream of a major city can be victims of waste runoff. All the bad stuff gets dumped into a river, which carries it to a town that can be miles away. Even if the upstream city carefully regulates its chemical waste disposal, sewage can carry disease-causing bacteria from one place to another. Scientists measure the amount of a type of bacteria called Enterococcus. This type of bacteria is found in human and animal feces. Enterococcus is considered a surrogate for measuring the presence of other pathogenic, or disease-causing, bacteria.
The Poor Parts of Town
One of the most underappreciated, but critical, impact factors of water pollution is poverty. Toxic chemicals and microorganisms affect people in the same way no matter where they live. However, poverty increases a person’s exposure to contaminated sources of water. This happens because impoverished people can’t afford alternative sources of water, often don’t have the education to know what the dangers of bad water are, and don’t know that fetuses and children are particularly vulnerable to toxic chemicals. Impoverished people also may lack the political representation and political know-how that is needed to change laws and enforce policies that will protect them.
About the Author
David H. Nguyen holds a PhD and is a cancer biologist and science writer. His specialty is tumor biology. He also has a strong interest in the deep intersections between social injustice and cancer health disparities, which particularly affect ethnic minorities and enslaved peoples. He is author of the Kindle eBook "Tips of Surviving Graduate & Professional School."