Inorganic water pollutants include:
Macroscopic pollution – large visible items polluting the water – may be termed "floatables" in an urban storm water context, or marine debris when found on the open seas, and can include such items as:
Thermal pollution is the rise or fall in the temperature of a natural body of water caused by human influence. Thermal pollution, unlike chemical pollution, results in a change in the physical properties of water. A common cause of thermal pollution is the use of water as a coolant by power plants and industrial manufacturers. Elevated water temperatures decrease oxygen levels, which can kill fish and alter food chain composition, reduce species biodiversity, and foster invasion by new thermophilic species. Urban runoff may also elevate temperature in surface waters.
Thermal pollution can also be caused by the release of very cold water from the base of reservoirs into warmer rivers.
Water pollution may be analyzed through several broad categories of methods: physical, chemical and biological. Most involve collection of samples, followed by specialized analytical tests. Some methods may be conducted in situ, without sampling, such as temperature. Government agencies and research organizations have published standardized, validated analytical test methods to facilitate the comparability of results from disparate testing events.
Sampling of water for physical or chemical testing can be done by several methods, depending on the accuracy needed and the characteristics of the contaminant. Many contamination events are sharply restricted in time, most commonly in association with rain events. For this reason "grab" samples are often inadequate for fully quantifying contaminant levels. Scientists gathering this type of data often employ auto-sampler devices that pump increments of water at either time or discharge intervals.
Sampling for biological testing involves collection of plants and animals from the surface water body. Depending on the type of assessment, the organisms may be identified for biosurveys (population counts) and returned to the water body, or they may be dissected for bioassays to determine toxicity.
Common physical tests of water include temperature, solids concentrations (e.g., total suspended solids (TSS)) and turbidity.
Water samples may be examined using the principles of analytical chemistry. Many published test methods are available for both organic and inorganic compounds. Frequently used methods include pH, biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), chemical oxygen demand (COD), nutrients (nitrate and phosphorus compounds), metals (including copper, zinc, cadmium, lead and mercury), oil and grease, total petroleum hydrocarbons (TPH), and pesticides.
Biological testing involves the use of plant, animal or microbial indicators to monitor the health of an aquatic ecosystem. They are any biological species or group of species whose function, population, or status can reveal what degree of ecosystem or environmental integrity is present. One example of a group of bio-indicators are the copepods and other small water crustaceans that are present in many water bodies. Such organisms can be monitored for changes (biochemical, physiological, or behavioral) that may indicate a problem within their ecosystem.
In urban areas of developed countries, municipal wastewater (or sewage) is typically treated by centralized sewage treatment plants. Well-designed and operated systems (i.e., with secondary treatment steps or more advanced treatment) can remove 90 percent or more of the pollutant load in sewage. Some plants have additional systems to remove nutrients and pathogens, but these more advanced treatment steps get progressively more expensive.
Nature-based solutions are also being used instead of (or in combination with) centralized treatment plants.
Cities with sanitary sewer overflows or combined sewer overflows employ one or more engineering approaches to reduce discharges of untreated sewage, including:
Households or businesses not served by a municipal treatment plant may have an individual septic tank, which pre-treats the wastewater on site and infiltrates it into the soil. Improperly designed or installed septic systems can cause groundwater pollution.
Globally, about 4.5 billion people do not have safely managed sanitation as of 2017, according to an estimate by the Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation. Lack of access to sanitation often leads to water pollution, e.g. via the practice of open defecation: during rain events or floods, the human feces are moved from the ground where they were deposited into surface waters. Simple pit latrines may also get flooded during rain events. The use of safely managed sanitation services would prevent this type of water pollution.
Some industrial facilities generate wastewater that is similar to domestic sewage and can be treated by sewage treatment plants. Industries that generate wastewater with high concentrations of organic matter (e.g. oil and grease), toxic pollutants (e.g. heavy metals, volatile organic compounds) or nutrients such as ammonia, need specialized treatment systems. Some industries install a pre-treatment system to remove some pollutants (e.g., toxic compounds), and then discharge the partially treated wastewater to the municipal sewer system. Industries generating large volumes of wastewater typically operate their own treatment systems. Some industries have been successful at redesigning their manufacturing processes to reduce or eliminate pollutants, through a process called pollution prevention.
To remove heat from wastewater generated by power plants or manufacturing plants the following technologies are used:
Non point source controlsSediment (loose soil) washed off fields is the largest source of agricultural pollution in the United States. Farmers may utilize erosion controls to reduce runoff flows and retain soil on their fields. Common techniques include contour plowing, crop mulching, crop rotation, planting perennial crops and installing riparian buffers.
Nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) are typically applied to farmland as commercial fertilizer, animal manure, or spraying of municipal or industrial wastewater (effluent) or sludge. Nutrients may also enter runoff from crop residues, irrigation water, wildlife, and atmospheric deposition. Farmers can develop and implement nutrient management plans to reduce excess application of nutrients and reduce the potential for nutrient pollution.
To minimize pesticide impacts, farmers may use Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques (which can include biological pest control) to maintain control over pests, reduce reliance on chemical pesticides, and protect water quality.
Point source wastewater treatmentFarms with large livestock and poultry operations, such as factory farms, are called concentrated animal feeding operations or feedlots in the US and are being subject to increasing government regulation. Animal slurries are usually treated by containment in anaerobic lagoons before disposal by spray or trickle application to grassland. Constructed wetlands are sometimes used to facilitate treatment of animal wastes. Some animal slurries are treated by mixing with straw and composted at high temperature to produce a bacteriologically sterile and friable manure for soil improvement.
Sediment from construction sites is managed by installation of:
Discharge of toxic chemicals such as motor fuels and concrete washout is prevented by use of:
Effective control of urban runoff involves reducing the velocity and flow of storm water, as well as reducing pollutant discharges. Local governments use a variety of storm water management techniques to reduce the effects of urban runoff. These techniques, called best management practices for water pollution (BMPs) in the U.S., may focus on water quantity control, while others focus on improving water quality, and some perform both functions.
Pollution prevention practices include low-impact development techniques, installation of green roofs and improved chemical handling (e.g. management of motor fuels & oil, fertilizers and pesticides). Runoff mitigation systems include infiltration basins, bioretention systems, constructed wetlands, retention basins and similar devices.
Thermal pollution from runoff can be controlled by storm water management facilities that absorb the runoff or direct it into groundwater, such as bioretention systems and infiltration basins. Retention basins tend to be less effective at reducing temperature, as the water may be heated by the sun before being discharged to a receiving stream.