Everyone understands pollution is bad, especially when it gets into sources of fresh water used for drinking, washing and irrigating. But what about pollution specifically makes it such a hazard, and is a certain type of contaminant worse than others? Understanding which pollutants are most worrisome, how they get into groundwater and how they affect it for the worse are essential for any water well or borewell owner, as well as the average person keen on protecting himself from impurities. Maintaining a safe and clean environment for groundwater is essential for the health of the world and its people. Learn more about groundwater contamination below.
Common Types of Pollutants
There are many kinds of natural substances that can lower quality level in groundwater aquifers, including iron, sulphides, manganese and arsenic. Sometimes radioactive decay of uranium, which can be found in some bedrock, can result in radon gas, which is also radioactive. Other natural contaminants include saltwater intrusion, where saltwater invades fresh groundwater sources. More commonly, however, manmade substances and processes are to blame for polluting the groundwater supply in Canada and around the world. Leaking septic systems, livestock wastes, fertilizers and pesticides, landfills and even graveyards can contribute to contaminated groundwater. Once groundwater is contaminated it is difficult, expensive and often impossible to clean. The number one contributing factor in Canada’s groundwater pollution is industrial and agricultural activities, with nitrite being the single most common contaminant.
How Pollutants Affect Groundwater
The reason pollutants are so dangerous to groundwater is because the water dissolves a variety of compounds, so even a little contamination can spread quickly throughout the entire supply of water. For instance, a single litre of gasoline can pollute 1,000,000 litres of groundwater. Many people won’t even realize the water is contaminated until there is a noticeable problem; an odd taste or smell. By then it may be too late to fix. Some of the most worrisome chemicals for groundwater are known as DNAPLS: dense, non-aqueous phase liquids. These chemicals are incredibly common; they’re used in dry cleaning, car repair, electrical equipment and asphalt processes to name a few, and they’re heavier than water. They immediately sink to the bottom of the aquifer where it becomes even more difficult to remove them.
While there is now evidence to suggest that even downstream pollution can migrate upstream, more often upstream contamination affects areas much further downstream. Groundwater aquifers flow downstream, taking their pollutants with them. Eventually these aquifers flow into above ground fresh water sources, such as lakes, rivers and streams ultimately affecting more than just people but also wildlife and the environment. Even groundwater that isn’t directly contaminated by runoff, agricultural practices or septic tanks can eventually become polluted if lakes and rivers are. Evaporation of above ground water sources takes the chemicals with it, turning around and raining those pollutants down where they seep into the soil and into the groundwater.
How to Protect a Well from Contamination
It’s everyone’s responsibility to hold the government accountable for enforcing environmental regulations that will protect groundwater sources from contamination by companies and people. But individuals can make a difference too with their own water wells. Proper installation of a well on high ground far away from contamination is essential, as is testing the quality of the water routinely.
Keeping groundwater clean is crucial to our survival. Understanding how groundwater becomes polluted and working to limit the possibilities of it happening should be at the forefront of everyone’s efforts. Whether you own a well, use groundwater for domestic use or don’t, protecting the environment and health of everyone depends on maintaining groundwater’s purity.