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Water Pollution
Environmental Pollution

Types of Water Pollution

There are various types of water pollution based on the various causes of water pollution. Various classifications can be made, based on various water pollution causes:

1. The type of the water pollutants – based on this classification criteria, water pollution can be:

I) Chemical – when various chemicals are the water pollution causes. The following chemicals are the most common water pollutants:

  • Crude oil and various petroleum products (including gasoline, diesel fuel, kerosene, motor and lubricating oils, jet fuel). These compounds are lighter than water and thus always sit on top of water forming sheens of “free product”. However, part of these compounds dissolve in water and, even in small amounts may be harmful and at the same time may remain unnoticeable by the eye.
  • Fertilizers (including nitrates and phosphates) – while small amounts are useful to life, higher amounts of nitrates and phosphates in water are only benefic to algae and harmful microorganisms and are poisonous to human and aquatic life. These contaminants cannot be seen themselves in water (as they do not form sheens or color the water), but their effects can. The typical effect of water pollution by fertilizers (usually through agricultural runoff) is the fast and abundant water growth.
  • Chlorinated solvents (including TCE, PCE, 1,1,1-TCA, carbon tetrachloride, Freons) which sink in water (are denser than water) and are quite persistent and toxic. These compounds thus, cannot be seen by the eye, in contrast with petroleum products that are easily seen as sheens on top of water surface.
  • Petroleum solvents (including benzene, toluene, xylenes, ethylbenzene)
  • Other organic solvents and chemicals (such as acetone, methyl ethyl ketone, alcohols such as ethanol, isopropanol; or oxygenate compounds such as MTBE)
  • Antibiotics and other pharmaceutical products;
  • Perchlorate – perchlorate salts are used in rocket fuels, as well as many other applications such as fireworks, explosives, road flares, inflation bags, etc. This contaminant is usually associated with military bases, construction sites (when explosives are used). However, natural formation in arid areas may account for perchlorate in water, too (e.g., in Chile, Texas or California where natural formation of perchlorate has been observed)
  • Trihalometanes – these are usually byproducts of water chlorination and may pollute groundwater and surface water via leaking sewer lines and discharges. Examples of such compounds are: chloroform, bromoform, dichlorobromomethane;
  • Metals and their compounds – of higher health risk are the organo-metal compounds which may form when metals from water react with organic compounds from water. Common examples include Hg, As, and Cr poisoning of water. Thus, if water is polluted with both metals and organic compounds the health risk is higher. And so is the effect of water pollution on aquatic life.
  • Pesticides/insecticides/herbicides – comprise a large number of individual chemicals that get into water due to agricultural activities directly (by spraying over large areas) or indirectly with agriculture runoff. The insecticide DDT is a typical example of such type of water pollutant.
  • PCBs – in spite of their recent ban, their ubiquitous environmental presence makes these contaminants usually associated with urban runoffs.

II) Radiological – when radioactive materials are the water pollutant causes. Please read more at Radiation Pollution.

III) Biological – when various microorganisms (e.g., bacterial species and viruses), worms, and/or algae occurring in a large number are the water pollution causes. This type of pollution is caused by decaying organic material in water, animal wastes, as well as improper disposal of human wastes.

2. The type (grouping) of the source of water pollutants:

  • Point sources – including any localized source such as an industrial process, mining activity, etc. These sources are usually regulated and thus their effect may be predicted and of low impact. However, an exception related to accidental leaks and spills.
  • Non-point sources – include un-localized sources from which pollutants are carried away by water discharges and runoffs. Thus, non-point pollution may involve a broad range of pollutants usually at lower amounts than the point sources