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5 Major Water Pollutants

January 21st, 2020 by Lauren Tirrell


Sip a glass of cool, clear water as you read this, and you may think water pollution is a problem… somewhere else. But while most Americans have access to safe drinking water, potentially harmful contaminants—from arsenic to copper to lead—have still been found in the tap water of every single state in the nation. With a growing list of ways our water can be contaminated, it’s smart to stay educated in order to protect and prevent. Here are five main types of water pollutants:



Pathogens can be bacteria, protozoa or viruses. Bacteria, for example, are commonly found in water. However, when they start to increase above safe levels, water contamination occurs. Some examples of microorganisms found in water that cause diseases are Salmonella, Giardia lamlia, Norovirus, Cryptosporidium parvum, and E. coli. High levels of pathogens may result from on-site sanitation systems or inadequately treated sewage discharges. Older cities with aging infrastructure may have leaky sewage collection systems, which can cause sanitary sewer overflows. Pathogen discharges may also be caused by poorly managed livestock operations. The presence of E. coli bacteria usually indicates that water has been contaminated with human or animal waste.



Organic materials are things like petroleum, insecticides and herbicides, detergents, disinfecting cleaners, and prescription drugs. One of the most frequently detected highly toxic organic chemicals is methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE). MTBE was formerly used as an air-cleaning gas additive. Although it is now a banned chemical, it will take years before it is thoroughly removed from contaminated water systems. Water contaminated with this organic chemical can cause leukemia, lymphoma and tumors in the testicles, thyroid glands and kidneys. 



Inorganic materials include things like ammonia, chemical waste, fertilizers, and heavy metals. Heavy metals like arsenic, mercury, copper, chromium, zinc and barium — though harmless in very small amounts, act as pollutants when they end up concentrated in water. This can be due to leaching from waste disposal, increased human activity or industrial accidents. This kind of water pollution, especially in higher concentrations, can cause severe health problems in humans and other organisms, including death.



Macroscopic pollutants are large, visible items in waterways or bodies of water. Trash, either intentionally dumped into bodies of water, or discarded on the ground and washed by rainfall into storm drains, are eventually discharged into waterways. This has led to the formation of the "great Pacific garbage patch," which is now the size of France. Other types of macroscopic pollution include nurdles (small plastic pellets), pieces of wood, and metal. Though it may seem easy enough to manage, time is of the essence. These larger pollutants must be removed in order to avoid disruption of aquatic ecosystems and contamination upon the chemical breakdown of these objects.



Thermal pollution is the rise or fall in the temperature of a natural body of water caused by human influence. A common cause of thermal pollution is the use of water as a coolant by power plants and industrial manufacturers. It can also be caused by the release of very cold water from the base of reservoirs into warmer rivers. Elevated water temperatures decrease oxygen levels, which can kill fish and alter food chain composition, and reduce species biodiversity. Urban runoff may also elevate temperature in surface waters.


Exposure to these types of water pollutants in our environment and in our everyday drinking water is becoming a major health problem. Taking action and analyzing what is just below the surface allows problems to be identified and addressed before they cause widespread contamination. Con-Test has been the leader in water analysis services for over 3 decades. Through our efforts, we are advocates for a cleaner earth and healthier environment. Click here to learn more about our water testing and analysis services.


Con-Test Analytical Laboratory is one of the leading environmental laboratories in the country. Located in the Greater Boston area, Con-Test services over 30 states nationally. Known as one of the top-quality environmental laboratories, Con-Test is a partner with leading international firms, the EPA, state governments, and more. Our diverse areas of expertise include air toxins, sediment, tissue, solids, aqueous, product testing and more. Contact us to learn more about our analytical testing services.

Posted in the category Water Testing.

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