water pollution

water pollution

State resulting when substances are released into a body of water, where they become dissolved or suspended in the water or deposited on the bottom, accumulating to the extent that they overwhelm its capacity to absorb, break down, or recycle them, and thus interfering with the functioning of aquatic ecosystems. Contributions to water pollution include substances drawn from the air (see acid rain), silt from soil erosion, chemical fertilizers and pesticides, runoff from septic tanks, outflow from livestock feedlots, chemical wastes (some toxic) from industries, and sewage and other urban wastes from cities and towns. A community far upstream in a watershed may thus receive relatively clean water, whereas one farther downstream receives a partly diluted mixture of urban, industrial, and rural wastes. When organic matter exceeds the capacity of microorganisms in the water to break it down and recycle it, the excess of nutrients in such matter encourages algal water blooms. When these algae die, their remains add further to the organic wastes already in the water, and eventually the water becomes deficient in oxygen. Organisms that do not require oxygen then attack the organic wastes, releasing gases such as methane and hydrogen sulfide, which are harmful to the oxygen-requiring forms of life. The result is a foul-smelling, waste-filled body of water. See also eutrophication.

This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
For the full entry on water pollution, visit Britannica.com.

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