Rapid industrialization, inadequate sanitation, and urban expansion are all contributing to water pollution. Polluted water is not only a problem for the environment; it is also a major public health threat.
In this article, we will discuss the different health problems that can be caused by drinking polluted water, how they are caused, and the societal implications of this crisis.
Source of water contamination
There are many different sources of water pollution, including:
Industrial activities: Factories can release pollutants into the air and water. These pollutants can include chemicals, metals, and plastics.
Agricultural runoff: When farmers use pesticides and fertilizers, these chemicals can run off into nearby water bodies.
Sewage discharges: Sewage treatment plants release treated wastewater into the environment. However, some sewage treatment plants may not be able to remove all pollutants from the wastewater.
Careless disposal of pollutants: People may carelessly dispose of pollutants such as oil, antifreeze, and paint into storm drains or other waterways.
These pollutants can infiltrate groundwater, rivers, and lakes, making the water unsafe to drink, swim in, or fish.
One example of a major water pollution incident is the Camp Lejeune Toxic Water incident. At Camp Lejeune, hazardous chemicals such as TCE and PCE contaminated the base’s drinking water supply for decades. This exposure to contaminated water has caused a variety of health problems for veterans and their families.
Diseases caused by water contamination
Cholera is a dangerous bacterial infection that can cause severe diarrhea and vomiting. It is due to the Vibrio cholerae bacteria, which is found in feces. Cholera can be deadly if it is not treated quickly.
Cholera is spread when people eat or drink food or water that has been contaminated with feces from an infected person. The most common symptoms of cholera are profuse diarrhea and vomiting. These symptoms can lead to dehydration very quickly.
If a person with cholera is not treated quickly, they can go into shock and die within hours. Cholera can be treated with antibiotics and fluids.
- Typhoid Fever
Typhoid fever is a serious illness caused by the Salmonella typhi bacteria. It is spread when people eat or drink food or water that has been contaminated with feces from an infected person. Typhoid fever is more common in places where water and food are not clean and where sanitation is poor.
Early signs of typhoid include fever, tiredness, stomach pain, and headache. As the disease gets worse, people may have a high fever, be very tired, and have a rash.
If left unaddressed, complications loom large, including intestinal hemorrhaging or perforation.
- Hepatitis A
Hepatitis A is a highly contagious viral liver infection. It is spread primarily through the fecal-oral route, meaning that the virus is passed from person to person when someone ingests food or water that has been contaminated with the feces of an infected person. The virus is robust and can survive in water and food under a variety of conditions, making it a particular threat in areas where water treatment and sanitation are poor.
Symptoms of hepatitis A typically develop within 15-50 days of exposure to the virus. The most common symptoms include fatigue, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), abdominal discomfort, and a mild fever. While hepatitis A is rarely fatal, it can cause debilitating symptoms and liver inflammation. In severe cases, it can lead to acute liver failure, requiring hospitalization and sometimes a liver transplant.
Arsenicosis, or arsenic poisoning, is a long-term health condition caused by exposure to arsenic through contaminated water. It is especially common in areas where people rely on groundwater for drinking and where the groundwater is naturally high in arsenic.
Bangladesh, India, and some parts of the United States are examples of areas with high levels of arsenic in the groundwater.
Exposure to arsenic over time can lead to a variety of health problems, including:
- Skin problems, such as rashes, lesions, and hyperpigmentation
- Peripheral neuropathy, which can cause numbness, tingling, and pain in the hands and feet
- Cancer of the skin, bladder, lungs, and other organs
Arsenicosis is often difficult to diagnose in the early stages, as the symptoms are often mild and nonspecific. This is why it is important to test water for arsenic and to filter water if necessary.
- Fluorosis (Dental and Skeletal)
Fluorosis is a condition that can be caused by consuming too much fluoride. Fluoride is a mineral that is added to water supplies in many parts of the world to help prevent tooth decay. However, too much fluoride can cause problems with teeth and bones.
There are two main types of fluorosis: dental fluorosis and skeletal fluorosis.
Dental fluorosis is the most common type of fluorosis. It affects children whose teeth are still developing. Dental fluorosis can cause teeth to become discolored and pitted. It can also make teeth more brittle. Dental fluorosis is not painful, but it can make teeth less attractive and more susceptible to decay.
Skeletal fluorosis is a more serious type of fluorosis that affects bones and joints. Skeletal fluorosis can cause pain, stiffness, and joint problems. In severe cases, it can lead to bone deformities.
Fluorosis is most common in areas where the water supply has high levels of fluoride. It is also more common in people who drink a lot of bottled water, as bottled water often contains high levels of fluoride.
- Lead Poisoning
Lead poisoning is a serious health condition that can be caused by exposure to lead, a toxic heavy metal. Lead is often found in old paint, contaminated water, and contaminated soil.
When people are exposed to lead, it can build up in their bodies over time. Lead poisoning can damage the nervous system, cognitive development, and vital organs.
Symptoms of lead poisoning can include abdominal pain, headaches, developmental delays, and behavioral problems. Long-term exposure to lead can cause irreversible damage, including intellectual disabilities and behavioral disorders.
Children are especially at risk of lead poisoning because their bodies are still developing.
Access to clean and safe water is a basic human right, yet millions of people face the daily threat of waterborne diseases due to toxic water sources. Governments, organizations, and communities must work together to improve sanitation, provide access to clean water, and educate people about the risks associated with toxic water. Only through concerted efforts can we combat the silent threat of diseases caused by toxic water and ensure a healthier future for all.