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Water Pollution

Water Pollution

Like clean air, fresh water is also becoming a scarcity. The limited availability of fresh water and its unequal distribution make water pollution a matter of great concern. Water pollution is generally localised and confined, making it more severe. The pollutants undergo many reactions and can become hazardous. 70% of India's fresh water is polluted, including several high altitude lakes. While water pollution is easier to study and manage, its control is highly complex and very costly.

Sources of water pollution

Direct additions

  • Discharge of domestic, industrial or agricultural effluents.
  • Direct application of herbicides to control water plants that interfere with man's use of freshwaters.
  • Direct application of insecticides to fresh waters to destroy larvae of mosquitoes, the vector of malaria.
  • Molluscicides widely used in the tropics to control the snail vectors of schistosomiasis

Indirect additions

  • Run-off of insecticides and herbicides applied to the land.
  • Carelessly dumped waste pesticides and their empty containers in pools or streams
  • Land fill sites and toxic waste dumps contaminate ground water.

Types of pollutants found in water

  • Organic pollutants
  • Inorganic pollutants
  • Thermal pollutants
  • Radioactive materials

Organic pollutants


  • Domestic sewage (major source)
  • Urban run-off (from houses, factories and roads)
  • Industrial effluents

Effects - Depletion of dissolved oxygen (the recommended DO level for natural water is 4 to 6 ppm)


Origin - Faecal contamination of water can introduce a variety of pathogens into waterways, including bacteria, virus, protozoans, parasitic worms and vectors.

Some water-related diseases and their causative organisms


Causative organisms

Mode of Spread




Salmonella typhi

Ingestion of contaminated food, water, milk, unwashed raw vegetables and flies

Continuous fever which progressively increases day by day, the temperature being higher in the evening than in the morning accompanied by body aches, headache and constipation, Haemorrhage from an ulceration in the small intestine


Vibrio cholerae

Ingestion of water or food contaminated by the bacteria from the stool of a cholera patient

Painless diarrhoea followed by vomitting; patient may pass 30 to 40 stools per day which soon becomes typically iyrice waterli in appearance i.e. watery and colourless with flakes of mucous floating in them

Bacterial dysentery

Shigella spp.

Through contaminated food, water and by direct personal contact

Diarrhoea, with the presence of blood and mucous in the stools accompanied by severe griping pain in the abdomen. Stools are not too frequent (4-10 per day) and the faecal matter is scanty. Patient looks ill.



Primary hosts are rodents, which carry the organisms in their kidneys and the patient may become infected by wading or swimming in water contaminated with the rodent™s urine

Fever, pain in legs, nausea, vomitting are common, congestion of the conjunctival blood vessels around the corneas of the eyes


Infective hepatitis

Hepatitis virus

Stools that contain virus contaminating the water and food

Loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea accompanied by fever. The urine is dark coloured. Eye and skin have yellow colouration


Amoebic dysentery

Entamoeba histolytica

Ingestion of cysts in food and water

Abdominal discomfort to diarrhoea, with or without the presence of blood or mucus in the stools, accompanied by fever, chills and griping pain in the abdomen


Giardia(=Lamblia) intestinalis

Cysts which are voided with the faeces and enter the new hosts in food or water

Intestinal disorders leading to epigastric pain, abdominal discomfort, loss of appetite, headache and loose bowels



Schistosoma spp.

Eggs of the flukes pass out with human faeces or urine and if they reach fresh water, develop into miracidia larvae which infect snails. The cercaria stage develops in the snails and on leaving the host, cercaria penetrate the skin of humans wading in the water.

Allergy-like itch, rash, aches, fever, eosinophilia, etc. When infection is heavy, the eggs may be deposited in the arterioles of the lungs causing cardio-pulmonary schistosomiasis or corpulmonale or ayerza disease, which may lead to congestive heart failure

Guinea worm

Dracunculus medinensis

Unfiltered water containing the infected copepods

Blister near the ankle, burns around the blister, allergy and aches

Ways by which water bodies get polluted

There are some ways in which bodies of water get polluted:

  • Discharge of untreated domestic sewage into waterways.
  • Discharge of industrial effluents.
  • Discharge of agricultural wastes into waterways.
  • Use of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and weedicides which seep into the ground water.
  • Discharge of fertilizer residues as run-off from farm lands into waterways.
  • Accidental spillage of oil in the seas by tankers.

Control of Water Pollution

  • Legislation should be enforced to control water pollution.
  • Effluents from industries should be treated and then discharged into water bodies.
  • Treated effluents can be recycled for other uses like agriculture, and the sludge after drying can be used as manure.
  • Many more sewage treatment plants must be installed. At present, raw sewage is fed directly into water bodies.

Water Purification - At Home

  • The vessels which store water should be clean.
  • Rusted, greasy vessels should not be used for storing water.
  • Water must be filtered through a clean, white cloth before storing.
  • The traditional 3-pot filters can be used for purifying water.
  • Water must always be boiled before drinking.
  • Modern water filtering equipment capable of removing bacteria can also be used.

Water Purification - by the Community

  • The surroundings of water bodies should be kept clean.
  • Care should be taken to prevent the disposal of sewage and domestic or industrial waste into bodies of water.
  • Proliferation of Eichornea (water hyacinth), Pistia and algal bloom on water must be avoided.
  • Fish should be introduced into bodies of water to purify the water.
  • Wells should be kept open to allow fresh air and sunlight to act as a natural sterilizing agent on the surface of the water.
  • Wells and tanks must be desilted regularly.
  • Washing of clothes and vessels, cattle and automobiles should be prohibited at public tanks, yeris, etc.

Water Purification - by Industries

Effluents must be recycled and effluent treatment plants must be installed. Each large industry should have its own water treatment plant and small industries should contribute to a co-operative plant. Water pollution by industrial effluents must be treated at the site before the effluents are released into the water body. The Government should punish industries heavily if they pollute fresh water, and should supervise and inspect industrial effluent treatment plants to ensure proper de-toxification and recycling measures. LEGISLATION Right to life, which is a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, has been interpreted by the courts to also include a right to pure air and water.

Time and again many citizens avail of this provision to fight against polluted water.

Section 277 of the Indian Penal Code deals with water pollution, which reads as follows:

Whoever voluntarily corrupts or fouls the water of any public spring or reservoir, so as to render it less for the purpose for which it is ordinarily used, shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three months, or with the fine of one thousand rupees, or with both.

The more recent legislation on water pollution is the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974. This Act is meant to curb the various kinds of pollution ranging from domestic to industrial pollution. Violations under this Act are more severe.

Parts X-B and XI-A of the Merchant Shipping Act, inserted by the Amending Act of 1983 deals with every aspect of marine pollution.

Note: Any citizen, who finds any water source polluted by a government or private agency may give a complaint to the State Pollution Control Board (PCB) and wait for 60 days for the PCB's action. Only in cases where the PCB does not respond can the citizen go to the court. However it is to be noted that this applies only to suits under the Water Act of 1974.

Another important right available to the citizens of this country is that where there is no water available for them to sustain their life and if that is caused due to the neglect of the State, that individual or individuals can file a writ petition either under Article 32 or Article 226 of the Constitution for the violation of their fundamental right, i.e. right to life which is enshrined under the Article 21 of the Constitution. This could also be applied to cases where the drinking water source is polluted by a government or private agency.

Source : CPR Environmental Education Centre, Chennai

Last Modified : 2/12/2020

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