Common water pollution sources
















 Propagation of Error, Common Water Problems, and Landfill

 Decomposition lecture (September 24, 2004)




Propagation of Error, Common Water Problems, and Landfill

Decomposition lecture (September 24, 2004)






Urban runoff can carry organic, inorganic, biological pollutants, oil, and grease. Nitrates, phosphates, coliform, sediment, trash, and other debris are also often found in storm water runoff.



Quick Links

Ø          Detergents, fertilizers, and pet waste

Ø        Automotive products

Ø          Yard waste and litter

Ø          Erosion

Ø          Cigarette butts

Ø          Dumpsters

Ø        Recreation



Detergents, fertilizers, and pet waste

These sources of water pollution often contain the nutrients nitrate and phosphate. Excess amounts of these two nutrients can lead to uncontrolled algae blooms that cause fish kills and block sunlight for use by underwater vegetation. Pet waste can also be a human health threat because it contains bacteria, viruses, and parasites. “Detergents in waterways can destroy the external mucus layers of fish that protect them from bacteria and parasites.”6 Most detergents also lower water surface tension, allowing chemicals to be absorbed more easily by fish and aquatic life. Fertilizers often release ammonia into the water and as it decays dissolved oxygen is removed.


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Automotive products, paint, cleaners, and pesticides

Automotive products include motor oil, antifreeze, and grease. Toxins from automotive products, paint, and cleaners in our waterways can make water unusable for fishing, swimming, and drinking. Four quarts of motor oil can create an 8 acre oil slick and just five quarts can contaminate over 250,000 gallons of water.13 Pesticides used for destroying pests can also kill many fish, birds, bugs, and other wildlife. “They are generally very persistent in the environment and may accumulate in fish, shellfish, and wildlife to levels that pose a risk to human health and the environment.”11


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Yard waste and litter

As these items decompose in water, oxygen gets removed so less is available for fish and other aquatic life. Plastic items are easily carried into surface water by storm water runoff. They spoil the beauty of surface water and fish often mistaken plastic as food. Municipal trash is very difficult to eliminate because there are numerous contributing sources.5


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Excess amounts of sediment can clog fish gills, block sunlight for underwater vegetation, and smother fish-spawning beds. “Sediment is the largest contributor of storm water pollution by volume.”13 Loose sediment often has phosphates attached to it. If sediment that contains phosphate reaches surface water even more problems can occur. As sediment collects in surface water less area is available for water storage so flooding can occur. In worst cases sediment can decrease the water storage capacity of bodies of water which can result in flooding.


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Cigarette butts

It’s estimated that 4.5 trillion non-biodegradable cigarette butts are littered yearly. The butts are composed of cellulose acetate, a form of plastic that takes just as long to decompose as other forms of plastics. They can harm aquatic life if fish, birds, and other creatures mistaken them for food. “Cigarette butts are the largest component of beach litter in the United States.”9 The butts of cigarettes contain hazardous compounds such as cadmium, arsenic and lead, all of which can adversely affect any animal that consumes it.


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Liquid waste can easily drip from leaking dumpsters and get washed into surface water by storm water runoff. Un-bagged trash can also be carried to waterways by wind if dumpsters remain opened or if they are overfilled.


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The demand on water resources continues to increase and that increasing demand also increases the potential for damage to the water quality of our lakes, rivers and shorelines. Increases in both turbidity and phosphorus concentrations were observed during the 2001 Limnology Analysis of Half Moon Lake.2 These increases were observed shortly after motorboat activity from the Ski Sprite rehearsals. 


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