Groundwater Contamination


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Created: Aug 12, 2021 at 1:32 p.m.
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Abstract

Groundwater is one of the most important reserves of water available on this planet. It can account for about one-third of the water consumed by humans and is the main source of water used in irrigation and food production. However, groundwater is also one of the more easily contaminated sources of water due to human activities. Groundwater contamination can lead to poor quality of drinking water, degraded surface water systems, loss of a viable water supply, and even health problems.

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Groundwater is one of the most important reserves of water available on this planet. It can account for about one-third of the water consumed by humans and is the main source of water used in irrigation and food production. However, groundwater is also one of the more easily contaminated sources of water due to human activities. Groundwater contamination can lead to poor quality of drinking water, degraded surface water systems, loss of a viable water supply, and even health problems.

Groundwater contamination is the most pressing area of concern in urban places where human activity is concentrated in dense bubbles. In such areas, the potential to have water poisoned by a large number of contaminants seep into the ground is higher than otherwise. But how does groundwater affect our drinking supply?

Contamination of Groundwater

Imagine you’re washing your car at home. After the wash, your car is sparkly clean and you drive off happily, satisfied with the service. However, unbeknownst to many, the water used to clean your car, which is loaded with chemicals, has run off onto the lawn.

From here the water is slowly absorbed by the soil, and because the soil is porous and permeable, it allows the water to travel through it. The contaminated water will then flow from the surface levels of soil to the aquifers—which is an underground layer of rock or sediment that holds groundwater—and from which the water is extracted for human use using water wells.

Contaminated groundwater can move especially quickly through fractures in rocks and macropores which are relatively large holes or cracks that allow water and contaminants to navigate through them. Some examples of macropores include root systems and animal burrows.

But the amount of contaminants that follow the water throughout its entire journey to the aquifers depends greatly on the distance between the source of contamination and the aquifer; the longer the distance the smaller the amount of contamination. This is because natural processes such as oxidation, biological degradation, and adsorption may occur within soil layers and reduce the number of contaminants that reach the aquifer. Even if these processes do not occur in the interim, the concentration of contaminants can reduce once the water mixes in with the existing groundwater in the aquifer and dilutes them.

However, the concentration of contaminants can increase if water from numerous sources draws towards one aquifer. This can happen when aquifers contain water wells that draw water from nearby streams or rivers which have been contaminated. The contamination of these surface waters can then add to the contamination of the groundwater and increase its concentration. In other cases, water wells may be artificially recharged using water from irrigation, industrial processes, and treated sewage. In many cases, this can result in the groundwater containing increased concentrations of nitrates, metals, microbes, or synthetic chemicals, thereby contaminating it.

This is just one more reason (among many) why cleaning up your car at a professional automotive car wash and servicing business (who have the proper plumbing and water treatment plumbing processes in place), is a not only good idea for you and your car, but also for the environment.

Treatment of Contamination

Contaminated water wells may have to be abandoned to preserve the health of people, or they can be cleaned up. Cleaning up contamination can take multiple years and thousands of dollars. But in an age where usable water is scarce, conserving every natural source of water is important.

Once the contaminants in this water have been controlled, the groundwater can be treated in several ways to ensure that it is safe for human consumption. The contaminant can be contained to prevent it from affecting other sources of water at a later time; the water can be pumped, treated, and returned to the aquifer; the contaminant can be allowed to reduce naturally once an appropriate control has been implemented.

Monitoring groundwater contamination, and ensuring that water pumped from groundwater sources is of proper and hygienic quality is important to prevent populations from getting sick. Consumption of water containing bacteria and viruses can cause hepatitis, cholera, or giardiasis.

Methemoglobinemia, otherwise known as ‘blue baby syndrome,’ can also be developed by infants who drink water high in nitrates which can cause their skin to turn blue from lack of oxygen in the blood. Water that contains benzene may cause cancer, and water that contains lead can cause a host of health problems including learning disabilities in children, nerve, kidney, and liver problems, and pregnancy risks.

Because of the myriad problems that groundwater contamination can lead to, it is of utmost importance that proper disposal and treatment of contaminated water is undertaken before it is allowed to seep into the ground and collect in water wells. Any suspicions of groundwater contamination or faults in the disposal or treatment facilities must be immediately reported to the United States Environmental Protection Agency or your city council to properly investigate the concern and mitigate any potential issues arising from groundwater contamination.

How to Cite

Grayson, J. (2021). Groundwater Contamination, HydroShare, http://www.hydroshare.org/resource/229dedef17ab49dfaf890239ed657605

This resource is shared under the Creative Commons Attribution CC BY.

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