River Water Pollution and Its Effects on Human Health


This paper focuses on one of the most researched topics in the global environmental realm. It intends to explicate the pollution situation in the inland water channels, that is, permanent and seasonal rivers. Subsequently, this study will focus on the levels of water pollution in both permanent and seasonal rivers and extend to the impact of the polluted water on human health, economic development, and urbanization. The current trend shows that most rivers will be unable to support aquatic life in the near future. Besides, the research indicates that most rivers have polluted water to levels that are not appropriate for domestic use. This paper will also provide concrete evidence that the high pollution levels are extending effects to the most immediate dwellers. In some instances, people have suffered respiratory problems due to the odor from the rivers.

Keywords: pollution, water, environment, river


River Water Pollution and Its Effects on Human Health


Water is among the most essential natural resources on the surface of the earth. Besides, this natural resource is crucial for the survival of all bio-creatures, including human beings. It guarantees the continuity of food production and economic development. Currently, there are numerous urban centers facing acute water shortage. About 39% of the world’s food products are grown under irrigation (Blackman, 2010). Also, extensive industrial processes depend on water during the production cycle, utilizing it in cooling machines and as a raw material, among other purposes. The surrounding and economic advancements are highly dependent on the availability of water, its seasonality, and the quality of both underground and surface waters. The water quality is highly influenced by human activities, whereby it is deteriorating due to the high growth rate of urban centers, increasing population, climate change, and broad spheres of human activities, among other factors. One of the most affected freshwater sources is the rivers. Rivers transect thousands of kilometers and hundreds of cities and farms before reaching their destination (Yi et al., 2011). As a result, many global rivers are likely to be polluted by the release of harmful substances from the cities and farms. The global river pollution becomes apparent at times during accidents though horrifying scene of dead fish floating on the surface water. However, river pollution has manifested itself as chronic and insidious pollution as a result of various human activities. River pollution is responsible for the global deterioration of the quality of river water.

Among the many ways through which rivers can be polluted, change in water temperature by industrial effluents can be quite detrimental. The essentiality of water temperature in determining physical, chemical, and biological processes in rivers cannot be underrated. An increase in water temperatures catalyzes the rate of chemical reactions, thus increasing evaporation and volatilization. Besides, high water temperature decreases the solubility of important gases, such as oxygen, which support aquatic life (Vörösmarty, 2010). Moreover, aquatic organisms experience the increased respiration rates in warm water, which have a direct effect on the rate of decomposition (Chapman & Kimstach, 1992). Therefore, sudden changes in water temperatures can have enormous effects on aquatic life. Also, abnormal high water temperature may enhance the growth of unwanted water plants and wastewater fungi (Metcalf & Eddy, 1991). Discharge from industries and outcomes of sewerage treatment plants are the most potential contributors to high water temperatures in rivers (Chapman & Kimstach, 1992).

Pollutants can also alter river water’s pH. These pollutants may include pesticides, insecticides, or industrial chemicals. Normal river water maintains a pH of 6.0 to 8.5, although it can be affected by pollutants entering the river channels (Chapmank & Kimstach, 1992). Water pH remains the most significant parameter to measure the quality of water, since many biological and chemical processes within the water depend on it (Chapmank & Kimstach, 1992). Fresh water bodies remain suitable for many aquatic lives if their pH value is neither too high nor too low (Schwarzenbach et al., 2010). Low water pH makes rivers more corrosive to any metallic or concrete structures on their course. In addition, they may affect the availability of important nutrients, such calcium and magnesium. On the other hand, an extremely high pH level in river waters causes defects of important minerals such as iron and manganese (Al-Yeseri, 2011).

Rivers can also be polluted by free oil emulsifiers. Majority of the global rivers are covered by insoluble and low-density substances which create an oily surface preventing oxygen dissolution (Li & Zhang, 2010). This phenomenon can trigger hazardous environmental disasters. Pollutants of this nature come from domestic and industrial waste. For instance, oils can enter rivers through spills, improper disposal, and leaks (Jaishankar, 2014). The amount of oxygen dissolved in water is crucial for all forms of aquatic life oxygen dissolves in water through diffusion from the atmosphere or as a result of photosynthesis from aquatic plants. However, its rate of diffusion can be influenced by the presence of oil emulsifiers on the surface of water.

Rivers can also be polluted by the release of heavy metals in the channels by industries. The most common and hazardous metals include chromium and lead. The release of lead in freshwater rivers may come from atmospheric deposition, industrial discharge, and oil leakages. On the other hand, chromium may enter rivers from industrial effluents, such as gunneries, textiles, ceramics, and chrome plating industries. Dumping this metal in rivers in levels above the standard limit can have detrimental ecological effects (Begum et al., 2009). Heavy metals cannot be removed from the rivers by natural elimination; as a result, they move through various aquatic environments up to the humans through food chain transfers (Chapmank & Kimstach, 1992). The heavy metal phenomenon often causes dangerous effects on the environment, thus exposing humans to an increased toxicity risk. Heavy metals have various effects on the human body. These effects may range from nervous system problems, mutation creation, and kidney damage to tumor inductions (Singare et al., 2011).

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Large farms use fertilizers and other nutrient supplements to counter soil degeneration. These nutrients are essential for plant and animal growth (Gundersen & Baskin, 1994). However, presence of these nutrients in rivers is seen as pollution, and their effects are detrimental. High concentration of nutrients in rivers provides the required conditions, which expedite the growth of unwanted aquatic plants particularly algae. These nutrients, among many others, can cause eutrophication in aquatic ecosystems (Ma et al., 2009). Once the grown algae decompose, they reduce the diffusion of oxygen in the water, which may cause death of aquatic life. Moreover, algae and other decaying fungi add turbidity, color, odor, and undesirable tastes to water. Subsequently, these effects of decaying algae and organic matter are hard to remove; therefore they reduce the acceptability of rivers as a domestic water source (Singare et al., 2011).

Since river pollution has proved to be a threat to the balanced ecosystem, management strategies of water quality perseverance have been formulated globally. Governments have set policy instruments, which include a set of arrangements for abating river to pollution to attain some target level of water quality (Ma et al., 2009). However, there are self-regulatory strategies, such as public participation, public disclose, and voluntary connections, which can supplement the formal government regulations (Blackman, 2010).

The government can regulate river pollution by imposing direct regulations on processes or products. Besides, this can be achieved through enforcing certain levels of pollutant emissions and fostering companies to limit their operations to certain places and time (Chave, 2001). As a result, the application of the instruments of pollution control depends on the set qualitative and quantitative regulations along with enforcements systems to limit polluters behavior (Benoit, 2005). In general, the regulatory measures involve laws, which mandate pollutant emitters to achieve a predetermined reduction level (Austin, 1998). This approach is primarily based on principle that governments must outline ambient environmental objectives pertaining to health and ecological effects (Huang & Xia, 2001). The command and control-based instruments are geared towards achieving sustainability in the globe. One of the most common and successful instruments used is setting standards. Governments can set regulations incorporating different types of standards, such as ambient standards, effluent measures, and technology-based standards. The stipulated guidelines are used as a reference for evaluation and pollution control. Setting water quality standards should be guided by the achievable local technology and the assimilative capacity of the receiving water.

Governments can also impose economically based instruments to control the release of effluents and other waste into river channels (Benoit, 2005). These instruments are determined by market forces, thus being the market-based measures. Application of these instruments is guided by financial consequences; therefore, polluters are not told how much to pollute, but their actions accrue financial consequences. The greatest advantage of this market-based guidelines is that they can help reduce river pollution at the lowest cost while achieving the maximum level of environmental protection. Proper implementation of these strategies can help reduce river pollution with the governments less involved. Although these strategies have not been widely used, studies indicate that they are becoming an important aspect in environmental decision making (Blackman, 2010).

Research has indicated that one of the most effective self-regulatory measures towards an integrated river water management is public participation. Public attitude towards river water pollution is an essential part of achieving a sustainable strategy of pollution regulation (UNEP, 2008). According to Benoit (2005), the public helps provide unconsidered river management strategies in areas where pollution data is not available. In addition, public involvement enables regulators to analyze the effect of any intended strategy before imposing standards for water and effluent. Regulators knowledge about the impact of the management technique ensures that the set improvement programs are attainable within the technological and financial capabilities of the country concerned (Chave, 2001). The basic reason for public involvement in the river pollution control measures is to enhance understanding, promote agreement, and achieve a consensus regarding the river water pollution management. The surrounding community can provide a regular check-up of water quality in the rivers; thus, involving them in developing and enacting any management program is a base for success. For instance, the US government has, through the US-EPA, developed stream manuals for stream monitoring.

Pollution of rivers can also be curtailed through non-legally binding contracts between firms and the government or between the public and industries (Rousseau, 2001). These contracts are referred to as voluntary environmental contracts. In this scenario, firms agree to reduce their pollution by specific amount within a given period of time (Dowd et al., 2008). Developed and developing countries have different voluntary programs, for instance in developed nations; these programs are aimed at encouraging polluters to comply with mandatory regulations. In return, voluntary programs in developing countries are aimed at resolving extensive noncompliance with mandatory regulations (Blackman e al., 2006).

In conclusion, rivers are important sources of both domestic and industrial water; they provide the base required for economic development. In addition, a large percentage of global food is grown under river-fed irrigation. However, the quality of water is deteriorating as human activities intensify on the earth’s surface. The major effects of the current pollution levels are damaging ecosystems and contributing to climate change. Besides, human health is put under the potentiality of eradication with continued river pollution.


Annotated Bibliography

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The article revolves around the concentration of metals and their effects on physical and chemical parameters of water. The paper also discusses the contamination levels which might lead to dangerous implications on human health. The paper was published between 2010 and 2011.

This work relevant to this paper as it has helped in outlining the effects of river pollution by metals.

Benoit, I. (2005). Effluent trading to improve water quality: What do we know today? Tijdschrift voor Economie en Management, 50(2), 229-260.

This paper explains how polluters can buy controllers that reduce the amount of polluting substances in watershed or drainage basins. This paper was published between 2004 to 2005.

This work is relevant to the current study as it proposes some control measures which industries can adopt to reduce pollution.

Chave, P. (2001). The EU Water Framework Directive. IWA Publishing.

This book was published in 2001 based on the The EU Water Framework Directiv, which had been previously distributed in the Official Journal of the European Community. The work provides the framework of managing and maintaining quality of water in European countries.

This paper is relevant to the study because it suggests several implementations which can be harnessed to reduce river and water sources pollution in general.

Rousseau, S. (2001). Effluent trading to improve water quality: What do we know today? Katholieke Universiteit Leuven.

This paper highlights the most probable water management practices which can improve water quality. The paper also highlights the systems and strategy programs which can adequately improve water quality. This paper was published between 2000 and 2001.

This paper was chosen because it provided the basis on how river water can be kept in sufficient quality.



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