• What Causes River Pollution?


What Causes River Pollution?

Sep 07 2021

It’s no coincidence that many major towns and cities around the world are built near to rivers, streams and other bodies of water. The H2O that these sources store is vital providing the nearby population with drinking water, irrigating their crops and supplying a plentiful amount of water with which to wash themselves, their clothes and their belongings.

However, the flipside of this arrangement is that while rivers are great for humans, humans aren’t always great for rivers. Proximity to urban epicentres often results in much anthropogenic pollution of the waterways in question, compromising the quality of the water and potentially endangering the lives of the aquatic organisms living in it. Here’s a brief rundown of some of the major causes of river pollution in the UK and the rest of the world today.

Agricultural run-off

The practice of using fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides to improve crop yield has become commonplace in farms across the globe. However, during periods of heavy rainfall, the chemicals contained in these products can become washed into rivers and streams, causing an imbalance in nutrient levels. For example, high concentrations of ammonia, nitrogen and phosphate can cause eutrophication, wherein certain types of algae grow rapidly to the detriment of other species.


Industrial effluent

Manufacturing plants, factories and other industrial facilities all produce copious amount of wastewater effluent. While they are legally required to treat this effluent before discharging it back into the environment, there are parts of the world where the laws are not as strict or as widely enforced as others. However, recent advances in the technology behind wastewater treatment systems should hopefully mean that such contamination soon becomes a thing of the past.


In the UK, we are blessed with a robust sewerage system. Not all countries are as fortunate, with many households around the globe dumping human waste directly into the nearest body of water. Even in this country, municipal treatment plants do not serve every single home, with some individuals instead turning to a septic tank to handle their wastewater. Over time, the waste from these can eventually leach into the surrounding soil and cause groundwater pollution.


After prolonged periods of precipitation, flooding can occur throughout Britain. Climate change is making this more of a common occurrence and the short-term effects of this phenomenon are endured by the people whose homes, businesses and belongings are destroyed. However, a more subtle consequence of flooding is the contamination of rivers with all kinds of pollutants, with the scientific community still in discussion over the best way to clean up flooded rivers and lakes after the fact.


Unfortunately, humans are not always the most thoughtful or responsible of creatures. People are sometimes careless or even deliberately reckless and discard their rubbish directly into rivers. This can accumulate over time and either entangle the fauna which resides within its confines, or else ingest smaller particles of waste and damage their internal organs as a result. Eventually, much plastic pollution from rivers finds its way into the ocean, where trillion of pieces remain floating today.


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