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Did you know natural groundwater is generally considered safe to consume? Ideally, this would always be the case. Unfortunately, most groundwater sources do not remain untouched as they once did, safe to filter out unwanted matter independently. Today, it is difficult to find groundwater that has not been contaminated in some way. We will review how water gets contaminated in the first place, the sources of contamination, the negative effects of groundwater pollution, and what we can collectively do to prevent it.

Water Wells

Water wells help drain, collect, and transport water. Since floor drains and drainage wells end up collecting run-off, spilled liquids, and wastewater, wells that are not regulated may contain all kinds of chemicals from agricultural or industrial waste. These wells rely on sturdy, well-maintained infrastructure like storage tanks to ensure water sources do not get contaminated.

Poorly Constructed Wells

Pesticides or chemicals tend to seep into irrigation wells with structural issues located near agricultural land.

Improperly Constructed Wells

Wells that are not constructed correctly introduce a vicious cycle of polluted groundwater. Problems with the well leave it vulnerable to coming into contact with contaminated surfaces or water, resulting in contaminated groundwater.

Improperly Abandoned Wells

When wells no longer in use are not properly sealed off from large water sources like aquifers, contaminated water people use for drinking. Abandoned wells often turn into dumping grounds for industrial waste and oil, or indirectly contaminate water from rusted parts.

Septic Systems, Sewers, and Other Pipelines

One of the main offenders of polluted groundwater, septic systems and sewers that are improperly constructed or not maintained remains one of the biggest threats to any water supply. The large number of septic tanks used throughout a country cumulatively contribute to exposing groundwater to bacteria, viruses, and more. Even the chemicals found in the cleaning supplies used to clean septic tanks can further contribute to contamination.

Landfills

Landfills constantly collect improperly disposed hazardous materials. Without regulation, these materials end up in landfills and find their way into groundwater sources by means of run off from heavy precipitation. While some landfills are thoughtfully placed in a safe area away from aquifers and protect run off, other older landfills do not uphold such regulations.

Chemicals

Millions of underground storage tanks, where some tend to slowly leak all kinds of chemicals that make their way into the soil and contaminate groundwater. Chemical and oil spills, even when cleaned up, will still remain, even if diluted, on the ground in which it was spilled.

Uncontrolled Hazardous Waste

Without proper knowledge or regulation, people frequently do not dispose of hazardous materials the right way. Many people do not know the dangers many household materials can cause. Things like paint, weedkillers, motor oil, and medications need to be properly disposed of, so they don’t end up in landfills. Similarly, industrial workplaces need to take care that they are not pouring hazardous materials down drains. These sources all make their way to contaminating groundwater and other water sources.

Atmospheric Contaminants

Some contamination occurs naturally from sources found in soil like iron, arsenic, sulfates, chloride, and more. These conditions vary greatly from region to region. Without testing the soil, groundwater sources found nearby will continue to contain high amounts of these contaminants.

Mining Activities

Mining unearths metals, minerals, and sulfides which can easily make their way into groundwater located below mines. Even mines that are no longer active still pose a threat, since they often get used as wells when not in use.

Pesticides and Fertilizers

Household use of landscaping chemicals, fertilizers, insecticides, and pesticides can negatively affect groundwater sources just from regular use. The real danger occurs when businesses, farms, and municipalities use these same chemicals on a much larger scale. Rural areas in particular have to be careful of the groundwater pollution caused by wells on farms.

Contaminants Found in Groundwater

researcher taking samples of containments found in ground water

There are dozens of different kinds of contaminants found from many of the sources listed above. It is important for everyone to know the sources of contaminants to play a part in preventing polluted groundwater. Within these sources, you will find all kinds of contaminants such as aluminum, arsenic, cooper, chloride, lead, mercury, zinc, and more. We will list some common sources of theses contaminants below.

Agriculture

  • Fertilizers
  • Pesticides
  • Irrigation Sites
  • Animal Burial Sites

Industrial

  • Asphalt
  • Electronics
  • Pipelines
  • Mines
  • Wells
  • Petroleum

Commercial Businesses

  • Airports
  • Gas Stations
  • Dry Cleaners
  • Golf Courses
  • Cemeteries
  • Laundromats

Residential

  • Motor Oil
  • Lawns
  • Swimming Pools
  • Septic Systems

Effects of Groundwater Contamination

When water contamination levels become unmanageable, many serious negative effects follow. Water supplies’ quality degrades even to the point of no longer being safe to drink. Unsafe drinking water leads to potential health problems that interrupt daily life. Groundwater sources may even begin to dwindle or might be completely abandoned as a possible drinking source. Contamination not only affects water sources of humans, but also habitats for aquatic animals like shellfish. The scariest part about groundwater contamination is how slowly it moves and remains undetected. By the time most people realize groundwater is contaminated, it becomes difficult and expensive to reverse. Municipalities often have to make the call if it is worth the investment of cleaning up a polluted water source. Clean-up efforts usually cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, requiring either pumping and treating the water, or attempting to stop the pollution by mitigation.

How to Prevent Groundwater Contamination

Many regions have government regulations in place to prevent groundwater pollution. These different environmental regulations are in place so the government can set standards for clean water, clean up contaminated sources from chemical spills, regulate storage of chemicals and hazardous materials, regulate pesticide use, and more. With firm restrictions, we can stop lots of groundwater contamination, but it will still take the cooperation of individuals and businesses alike to educate themselves and take care of their part in keeping groundwater sources clean and safe.

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