20 Top Effects Of Water Pollution On Human Health

In this article, we look at some of the common effects of water pollution on human health.

The problem of water pollution is a complex one and the solutions are not easy to implement. However, with a combination of efforts from individuals, businesses, and governments, we will make significant progress in reducing water pollution and protecting the environment.

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There are some countries that top the list for worst cases of water pollution, some other countries have the least occurrence of water pollution, also some countries have implemented policies that would reduce the effects of water pollution. These have all been covered in this brief introduction.

Water pollution if the introduction of contaminants or pollutants into water bodies like groundwater, aquifers, oceans, rivers, lakes, etc. There are several sources of water pollution, and this has multiple negative effects on the economy, our environment, and our overall health.

Statistics from World Health Organization show that over 2 billion in the world do not have access to safe drinking water. Water pollution is also the cause of over 1.4 million deaths of children under the age of 5 due to diarrhea. Water pollution is a serious issue that can lead to waterborne diseases such as cholera, dysentery, and typhoid.

According to statistics from United Nations Environment Program, over 80% of wastewater that comes from various human activities is discharged into the environment without being treated. This untreated wastewater carries disease-causing agents such as chemicals, heavy metals, pathogenic microorganisms, etc. 

Before now I told you that there are some countries that have the worst case of water pollution. These countries are mostly low – middle-income countries, they have less to no environmental regulations, and they have more reliance on polluting industries. The top 5 countries on this list include:

  • China
  • India
  • Pakistan
  • Bangladesh
  • Nigeria

On the other hand, we have countries that have the least severe cases of water pollution. These countries typically are high-income countries, they have stronger environmental regulations, and they are more dependent on sustainable development. The top 5 countries in this category include:

  • Finland
  • Iceland
  • Norway
  • Sweden
  • New Zealand

Lastly, for this introduction, let us look at some of the countries and the policies that they employ to help combat the issue of water pollution.

  • USA: The United States government has employed policies like the safe drinking water act, the clean air act, and the clean water, to help combat the issue of water pollution in the country.

  • China: The Republic of China has placed a ban on coal-fired boilers in urban demographics, employed a nationwide emissions trading scheme, and included a cap-and-trade system for emissions.

  • India: Some of the steps taken by India include placing a ban on construction in Delhi during winter, a national program to plant trees, and the provision of clean cooking stoves for poor households.

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Common Water Pollutants

Let us quickly look through some of the sources that these pollutants emerge from. This could include human activities or natural processes, but their presence in water can make a lot of negative changes to our health, the ecosystem, and overall water quality.

  • Volatile Organic Compounds: this could be from industrial processes, fuel emissions, gasoline, etc.

  • Selenium: common sources include mining and industrial discharges.

  • Sulfates: common sources include acid mine drainage and industrial discharges.

  • Nitrates: common sources include fertilizers, agricultural runoff, etc.

  • Detergents: common sources include industrial and domestic wastewater.

  • Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products: Common sources include wastewater and disposal of unused medication.

  • Cyanide: common sources include mining and industrial processes.

  • Arsenic: common sources include industrial discharges and natural deposits.

  • Ammonia: common sources include livestock waste and agricultural runoff.

  • Chlorine and Chlorinated Compounds: common sources include disinfection of wastewater and drinking water.

  • Acid rain: Common sources include fossil fuel combustion and industrial emissions.

  • Microplastics: common sources include plastic waste and the disintegration of larger plastics.

  • Thermal pollution: common sources include power plants and the discharge of heated water from industries.

  • Radioactive substances: common sources include mining and nuclear power plants.

  • Oil and Grease: common sources include urban runoff and industrial discharges.

  • Organic Chemicals: Examples include pesticides and herbicides and are usually from industrial effluents and agricultural runoff.

  • Heavy metals: examples include cadmium, mercury, and lead; they usually come from mining activities and industrial discharges.

  • Pathogens: examples include bacteria and viruses, and they usually come from untreated wastewater and sewage.

  • Nutrients: examples include nitrogen and phosphorus, and their sources include fertilizers, agricultural runoff, and sewage discharges.
  • Suspended Solids: sources include agricultural runoff, construction sites, and soil erosion.

The Effects of Water Pollution on Human Health

There are several negative effects of water pollution. Remember we drink water, we use it to cook, we use it to bathe, to brush our teeth, etc.

There are so many ways in which we come in contact with water, so if this water is polluted, it will definitely affect our health. Some of the effects of water pollution on human health are:

Waterborne Disease

Once a body of water is polluted, it becomes a breeding ground for several waterborne diseases like cryptosporidiosis, typhoid fever, hepatitis A, etc. These can all easily be spread from various persons through poor water treatment and inadequate sanitation.

Gastrointestinal Infections

Some polluted water contains pathogens like parasites and viruses as I told you before, and these pathogens cause gastrointestinal infections like giardiasis, dysentery, and cholera when you drink from the polluted water.

Endocrine Eruption

Some polluted water contains chemicals that can disrupt your endocrine thereby interfering with your hormonal balance.

Several complications can stem from this, some of which include hormone related cancers, developmental abnormalities, and reproductive problems.

Heavy Metal Poisoning

If your drinking water contains heavy metals like cadmium, mercury, or lead, it can lead to your body accumulating these toxic substances and lead to health complications like developmental issues in children, organ failure, and neurological damage. 

Birth Defects

If a pregnant woman exposes her unborn child to water pollutants by drinking polluted water, it can cause health issues for the baby, some of which include developmental delays, birth defects, and even long-term health issues.

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Respiratory Problems

When polluted water is used for cleaning in the household and for carrying out activities like irrigation, it can lead to air pollution and cause respiratory problems like allergies and asthma.

Neurological Disorders

When pollutants like industrial chemicals, pesticides, and heavy metals contaminate your drinking water, it can lead to neurological disorders such as neurodegeneration, learning disabilities, cognitive impairments, etc.

Reproductive Issues

Water pollution can negatively affect your reproductive organs. Exposure to pollutants like heavy metals, industrial chemicals, and pesticides can cause a reduction in male sperm count and sperm motility, making it difficult for men to conceive.

Water pollution also increases the chances of miscarriage because pollutants can alter DNA of sperm and eggs which leads to birth defects.

Skin Issues

As I stated earlier, our skin comes in contact with water several times in several ways, and if that water is polluted, several skin diseases like eczema, irritations, rashes, and allergies may arise.

Kidney Damage

When you are exposed to drinking water that has heavy metals and industrial chemicals in it, it can damage your kidneys and cause serious health problems for you.


Water is used for growing crops and for feeding livestock. If this water is polluted and you use it to irrigate your farms and feed your livestock, it may lead to their death, thereby causing food shortage and malnutrition for man.

Dental and Skeletal Issues

Consuming water contaminated with fluoride can cause dental fluorosis and skeletal problems for you. Dental fluorosis is a condition that causes white spots or streaks on your teeth.

Although it does not cause any pain or discomfort, it can be aesthetically unpleasant and makes it difficult for you to whiten your teeth. Skeletal fluorosis on the other hand is painful.

It is a serious condition that causes stiffness and tenderness in bones leading to bone deformities like narrowing of joints and thickening of bones.

Cardiovascular Diseases

Water pollution increases your chances of gaining heart disease, stroke, and hypertension.

Heavy metals cause inflammation in the body that can damage arteries causing them to narrow or clot. This condition can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Vector-Borne Diseases

Water pollution creates a breeding nest for mosquitoes which in turn cause malaria. Other vector-borne diseases that can be carried like malaria include Zika fever and dengue fever.

Other effects of water pollution on human health include: 

  • Mental health impact e.g., stress, anxiety, etc.
  • Digestive disorders e.g., diarrhea, cramps, and nausea.
  • Allergies and asthma
  • Weakened immune system.
  • Financial stress.

Ways to Reduce Water Pollution

Ways to reduce the effects of water pollution include: 

  • Improved sewage treatment and management.

  • Reduced use of pesticides and fertilizers.

  • Employing sustainable agricultural practices.

  • Ensuring responsible chemical use.

  • Implementing erosion control measures.

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