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Sources of Water Pollution

This section gives information about the most significant sources of water pollution.

Sewage (Waste Water)

Sewage is another name for waste water from domestic and industrial processes. Despite strict regulatory control, the Environment Agency data shows that the water and sewage industry accounted for almost a quarter of the serious water incidents in England and Wales in 2006.

Agricultural Pollution

The agriculture industry covers 76% of the land area of England and Wales. Agricultural processes such as uncontrolled spreading of slurries and manure, disposal of sheep dip, tillage, ploughing of the land, use of pesticides and fertilisers can cause water pollution. Accidental spills from milk dairies can also affect the quality of water.

Oil Pollution

Every year there are about 3,000 pollution incidents involving oil and fuels in England and Wales. Oil spillages affect water quality in a number of ways. Oil can make drinking water unsafe to drink. A substantial amount of oil released into oceans and seas will destroy wildlife and the ecosystems that sustain them. Oil spills also reduce oxygen supplies within the water environment. The main causes of oil related water pollution are:

  • loss from storage facilities
  • spillage during delivery and;
  • deliberate disposal of waste oil to drainage systems

Radioactive Substances

Radioactive waste is another source of water pollution. Radioactive substances are used in nuclear power plants, industrial, medical and other scientific processes. They can be found in watches, luminous clocks, television sets and x-ray machinery. There are also naturally occurring radioisotopes from organisms and within the environment. If not properly disposed of, radioactive waste can result in serious water pollution incidents.

River dumping

Lots of people dump supermarket trolleys, bicycles, garden cuttings and electronic waste into rivers or river banks. This is illegal and offenders may be charged for fly-tipping if caught. River dumping not only causes water pollution; it also harms wildlife and increases the risk of flooding. Fly-tipping (this includes river dumping) is a criminal offence. In the most severe cases, it can attract a maximum fine of £50,000 or a 5 year jail term.

Marine Dumping

The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) estimates that a staggering amount of waste enters into the sea every year. Part of this is due to deliberate dumping of waste into coastal waters. Other sources of waste at sea include plastics and other materials blown or washed from land. Marine dumping is illegal under international and UK legislation. For more information visit the Marine Pollution page.

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