Water pollutants

Sediment of suspended matter is another class of water pollutants. These are insoluble particles of soil and other solids that become suspended in water. This occurs when soil is eroded from the land. High levels of soil particles suspended in water, interferes with the penetration of sunlight. This reduces the photosynthetic activity of aquatic plants and algae disrupting the ecological balance of the aquatic bodies. When the velocity of water in streams and rivers decreases the suspended particles settle down at the bottom as sediments.

Excessive sediments that settle down destroys feeding and spawning grounds of fish, clogs and fills lakes, artificial reservoirs etc. Water soluble radioactive isotopes are yet another source of water pollution. These can be concentrated in various tissues and organs as they pass through food chains and food webs.  Ionizing radiation emitted by such isotopes can cause birth defects, cancer and genetic damage.

Hot water let out by power plants and industries that use large volumes of water to cool the plant result in rise in temperature of the local water bodies. Thermal pollution occurs when industry returns the heated water to a water source. Power plants heat water to convert it into steam, to drive the turbines that generate electricity.

For efficient functioning of the steam turbines, the steam is condensed into water after it leaves the turbines. This condensation is done by taking water from a water body to absorb the heat. This heated water, which is at least 15oC higher than the normal is discharged back into the water body. The warm water not only decreases the solubility of oxygen but changes the breeding cycles of various aquatic organisms. Oil is washed into surface water in runoff from  roads and parking lots which also pollutes groundwater. Leakage from underground tanks

One of the worst oil spill disasters that have occurred is that of the Exxon Valdez. On 24th march 1989 the Exxon Valdez, a tanker more than three football fields wide went off course in a 16 kilometre wide channel in Prince William Sound near Valdez in Alaska.

It hit submerged rocks, creating an environmental disaster. The rapidly spreading oil slick coated more than 1600 kilometres of shoreline killing between 300,000 and 645,000 water birds and a large number of sea otters, harbor seals, whales and fishes. Exxon spent $ 2.2. billion directly on the cleanup operations. However some results of the cleanup effort showed that where high pressure jets of hot water were used to clean beaches coastal plants and animals that had survived the spill were killed. Thus it did more harm than good.

Exxon pleaded guilty in 1991 and agreed to pay the Federal Government and the state of Alaska $ 1 billion in fines and civil damages. This $8.5 billion accident might have been prevented if Exxon had spent only $22.5 million to fit the tanker with a double hullone inside the other. Such double hulled vessels would be less likely to rupture and spill their contents. The spill highlighted the need for marine pollution prevention.

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