Classification of water pollutants

Classification of water pollutants

    • To understand the effects of water pollution and the technology applied in its control, it is useful to classify pollutants into various groups or categories. First, a pollutant can be classified according to the nature of its origin as either a point source or a dispersed source pollutant (non point source).A point source pollutant is one that reaches the water from a pipe, channel or any other confined and localized source. The most common example of a point source of pollutants is a pipe that discharges sewage into a stream or river. Most of these discharges are treatment plant effluents.

    • A dispersed or non point source is a broad, unconfined area from which pollutants enter a body of water. Surface runoff from agricultural areas carries silt, fertilizers, pesticides, and animal wastes into streams, but not at only one particular point. These materials can enter the water all along a stream as it flows through the area. Acidic runoff from mining areas is a dispersed pollutant. Storm water drainage systems in towns and cities are also considered to be dispersed sources of many pollutants, because, even though the pollutants are often conveyed into streams or lakes in drainage pipes or storm sewers, there are usually many of these discharges scattered over a large area.

    • Point source pollutants are easier to deal with while pollutants from dispersed sources are much more difficult to control. Many people think that sewage is the primary culprit in water pollution problems, but dispersed sources cause a significant fraction of the water pollution. The most effective way to control the dispersed sources is to set appropriate restrictions on land use. For example, the following list identifies nine specific types of water pollutants.
        1. Pathogenic organisms,
        2. Oxygen – demanding substances,
        3. Plant nutrients,
        4. Toxic organics,
        5. Inorganic chemicals,
        6. Sediment,
        7. adioactive substances,
        8. Heat,
        9. Oil
    • Domestic sewage is a primary source of the first three types of pollutants. Pathogens, or disease – causing microorganisms, are excreted in the feces of infected persons and may be carried into waters receiving sewage discharges. Sewage from communities with large populations is very likely to contain pathogens of some type.

    • Sewage also carries oxygen-demanding substances, the organic wastes that exert a biochemical oxygen demand as they are decomposed by microbes. BOD changes the ecological balance in a body of water by depleting the dissolved oxygen (DO) content. Conventional sewage treatment processes significantly reduce the amount of pathogens and BOD in sewage, but do not eliminate them completely. Certain viruses, in particular, may be somewhat resistant to the sewage disinfections process. To decrease the amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous in sewage, usually some form of advanced sewage treatment must be applied.

    • Toxic organic chemicals, primarily pesticides, may be carried into water in the surface runoff from agricultural areas. Perhaps the most dangerous type is the family of chemicals called chlorinated hydrocarbons. They are very effective poisons against insects that damage agricultural crops. Unfortunately, they can also kill fish, birds, and mammals, including humans. And they are not very biodegradable, taking more than 30 years in some cases to dissipate from the environment.

    • Toxic organic chemicals can also get into water directly from industrial activity, either from improper handling of the chemicals in the industrial plant or, as has been more common, from improper and illegal disposal of chemical wastes. Proper management of toxic and other hazardous wastes is a key environmental issue, particularly with respect to the protection of groundwater quality. Poisonous inorganic chemicals, specifically those of the heavy metal group, such as lead, mercury, and chromium, also usually originate from industrial activity and are considered hazardous wastes.

    • Oil is washed into surface waters in runoff from roads and parking lots, and ground water can be polluted from leaking underground tanks. Accidental oil spills from large transport tankers at sea occasionally occur, causing significant environmental damage. Blowout accidents at offshore oil wells can release many thousands of tons of oil in a short period of time. Oil spills at sea may eventually move toward shore, affecting aquatic life and damaging recreation areas.

Last modified: Thursday, 29 March 2012, 9:17 PM