Friday, September 21, 2012

Water Worries

Water sustains life on this planet. Over two-thirds of earth’s surface is covered with water. Over ninety seven percent of the planet’s water is saltwater, unfit for human use. Water pollution is a large factor that affects the earth's ecosystem. Water pollution is the contamination of water bodies and comprises of ocean pollution, river pollution, lake pollution and ground water pollution. Perhaps the most startling prediction of the twenty-first century is the looming concern about water shortage. In fact it is already happening in parts of the planet at this moment. It is not a much as a shortage of water, but a shortage of clean drinking water and water to sustain life on this planet.

We are polluting our water supply at an alarming rate. Water pollution has many causes and characteristics. Water pollution can come from various sources. Industry and agriculture involves the use of various chemicals that can run-off into water and pollute it. Metals and solvents from industry can contaminate lakes and rivers. Petroleum is another form of chemical pollutants that usually contaminates water through oil spills. It is easy to dispose of waste by dumping it into a river or lake. In large or small amounts, discharged intentionally or accidentally, it may be carried away by the current, but will never totally vanish. It will reappear downstream in changed form or diluted. Freshwater bodies have some ability to break down some waste materials, but not in the quantities discarded by modern society. This overload that results, called pollution, eventually puts the ecosystem out of balance. Most often our waterways are being polluted by municipal, agricultural and industrial wastes, including many toxic synthetic chemicals, which cannot be broken down at all by natural processes. Even in tiny amounts, some of these substances can cause serious harm to human and animal health.

Our ocean, coastal marshes and waters, marine fisheries, and our tourism industry, are all affected from offshore drilling. Ocean transportation of oil is very risky as is noticeable by the continuous spills of oil along our coastline. There have been numerous oil spills throughout the world. One major example of how humans are destroying our precious oceans is the BP oil rig tragedy in 2010 which released about 4.9 barrels of oil in the gulf waters before it was capped. As of august 2012 tar balls from the BP oil rig spill are washing up along the shores of the Gulf waters. In additition to that radiation from the ongoing Fukushima nuclear disaster has been found in sites across North America. The mainstream media is not really saying much about this. It is hard to detect radiation in our waters but this could have a disastrous effect on our food supply that depends on the oceans and cause health issues in humans in the future. For example, kelp beds off the coast of California show 500% higher levels of radioactive water pollution than before the Fukushima disaster.

We in North America tend to take water for granted. Many of us in certain areas think water in infinite. We are so used to turning our taps on in our kitchen or showers and have water come out. Most of us in North America have access to fairly clean drinking water, whether it is from a tap in your kitchen or bottled water. However, the water in the homes and offices in the western world is not as safe as you may think. A Ralph Nader Report stated that over 2300 chemicals that can cause cancer have been detected in U.S. drinking water. Drinking water pollution is growing rapidly. North Americans use over 75,000 water pollution chemicals in total and over one thousand new ones are developed each year. Many of these chemicals will end up in our drinking water supply in one form or another. Our planet reuses and recycles the same water over again and as a consequence, there are traces of health threatening water pollution chemicals in much of our drinking water.

Pharmaceutical pollution is another type of water pollution that could have major implications on wildlife, agriculture and humans. Residues of birth control pills, antidepressants, painkillers, shampoos and a mixture of other chemicals are turning up in North American waterways. North Americans are prescribed millions of doses of prescription drugs every year and livestock are given millions more. As the body does not always absorb these drugs completely, they are excreted and now prescription drugs re showing up in our ground water, soil, waterways and even our drinking water according to findings by scientists. Conventional sewage treatments don't always purge the remnants of drugs that are disposed of. Adding to the issue are prescription drugs that aren't used, then are flushed down the toilet or put in landfills, which sequentially end up in our water. Hundreds of active pharmaceutical ingredients are used in a variety of manufacturing, including drug making. For example, lithium is used to make ceramics and treat bipolar disorder, nitroglycerin is a heart drug and also used in explosives; copper shows up in everything from pipes to contraceptives. These are just a few ingredients that often end up in our water.

Other toxic chemicals in our homes also end up in our water supply. Personal care products and household cleaning products such as bleach, fabric softener, lotion, perfume and hair dye end up in our water supply. The water coming out of our taps and showerheads is not as clean as we may believe. There is even a toxic rocket fuel ingredient that has fouled public water supplies around the United States. The ingredient, perchlorate, has been discovered in at least 395 sites in 35 states at levels some scientists say could interfere with thyroid function and cause developmental health concerns, particularly for babies and fetuses. Another major contaminate in water is atrazine. Atrazine is a widely used herbicide applied on a variety of crops such as corn and sugar cane. It is a tightly regulated chemical in regards to allotment in the levels in water. According to a USA Today report, every day, millions of Americans turn on their taps and get tap water that exceeds the legal limits for dangerous contaminants. It is estimated that up to seven million people in the United States alone get sick from drinking tap water every year.

According to reports from the Joint Monitoring Program for Water Supply and Sanitation by the World Heath Organization and the United Nations Children's Fund, in 2002, one out of six people lacks access to safe drinking water, that is about 1.1 billion people, and more than one third of the global population lack adequate sanitation, that is close 2.6 billion people. With access to just 5 liters of water each day, more than a billion people in water poor regions around the globe survive on the same amount of water used to flush a toilet or take a five minute shower. Asian rivers are the most polluted in the world. They have three times as many bacteria from human waste as the global average and twenty times more lead than rivers in western industrialized countries.

The world is running out of usable water. Humans are polluting, depleting, and diverting its finite freshwater supplies quickly. This, along with variations in water availability, means that the water to produce food for human consumption, industrial processes and all the other uses is becoming scarce. Right now there are over one billion people on this planet without adequate drinking water. In many parts of the world, surface waters are too polluted for human use. Ninety per cent of wastewater in the Third World is discharged untreated. Eighty per cent of China's and 75 per cent of India's surface waters are too polluted for drinking, fishing, or even bathing. The story is the same in most of Africa and Latin America. Even in North America large water bodies like the Great Lakes are dumping spots for some heavy industries. Currently, over 80 countries, representing 40 per cent of the world’s people, are subject to serious water shortages. Conditions may get worse in the next 50 years as populations grow and as climate change disrupts rainfall patterns. Since 1950 worldwide water consumption has more than tripled and the trend is expected to continue. Water scarcity threatens economic and social gains and is a potent fuel for wars and conflict. Agriculture accounts for over 80 per cent of world water consumption. This planet faces a water crisis. A shortage of water will make a shortage of oil and other commodities seem pale in comparison. A water crisis that will hit Asia and other parts of the world is eminent if we don't change our ways.