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water pollution

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Definition of water pollution

The addition of harmful chemicals to natural water. Sources of water pollution in the United States include industrial waste, run-off from fields treated with chemical fertilizers, and run-off from areas that have been mined.

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The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

MORE ABOUT WATER POLLUTION

What is water pollution?

Water pollution is the addition of harmful chemicals to clean water.

Water is easily polluted because of the number of substances that can easily dissolve into it. These include toxic substances such as arsenic and cyanide, which are used in a variety of fertilizers and pesticides. Water pollution can also be caused by other harmful substances, such as oil or garbage being dumped into the water.

Water pollution can happen to both ground water (water that seeps into the ground from rain and other sources) and surface water (the water found in oceans, lakes, and rivers). Water pollution is often both disastrous and expensive because water can easily spread pollution to a huge area and the pollutants dissolve into the water itself, becoming nearly impossible to remove entirely.

In the United States, water pollution has several main causes that include:

  • Agriculture. Agriculture is the leading cause of water pollution worldwide. Fertilizers, pesticides, and animal waste enter runoff that seeps into clean water, filling it with harmful toxins and bacteria.
  • Sewage. The United States alone dumps around 850 billion gallons of uncleaned sewage back into the water supply every year. This dirty water includes pollutants such as human waste, metals from industrial runoff, and other toxic chemicals.

Oil and radioactive waste. These pollutants are often released (accidentally or otherwise) into the water supply as part of industry despite attempts by environmental agency regulations to prevent it.

Why is water pollution important?

The first records of the phrase water pollution come from around 1855. It combines the words water, the clear, drinkable liquid made of hydrogen and oxygen, and pollution, the introduction of harmful substances into the environment.

Water pollution is an incredibly serious issue because clean, drinkable water is not an endless resource. Based on current usage, it is estimated that nearly 6 billion people won’t have access to enough water by 2050. Without lowering the amount of water pollution, that number can only grow.

Beyond that, water pollution also causes serious damage to the environment. Water pollution can cause eutrophication, in which the algae population explodes and takes vital nutrients away from other marine life. Water pollution can also kill vast numbers of wildlife directly by poisoning from toxic substances like mercury or physical harm from debris like plastics and other trash. Needless to say, toxic substances also pose serious health risks to humans as well.

Did you know … ?

According to scientific estimates, humans have access to less than 1 percent of the world’s available freshwater. This is further reduced by water pollution, which highlights how important it is to prevent water from being polluted.

What are real-life examples of water pollution?

Many people are aware of how serious a problem water pollution is.

What other words are related to water pollution?

Quiz yourself!

True or False?

Water pollution comes from harmful chemicals that get into water.

How to use water pollution in a sentence

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