Are you drinking microplastics? Tap water samples from major metropolitan areas on five continents showed that more than 83% were contaminated with plastic fibres. [Source] Link opens a new window
Pollution is a human problem. Some 80% of the world’s wastewater is dumped—largely untreated—back into the environment, polluting rivers, lakes, and oceans. [Source] Link opens a new window
In 2018, there were more than 300 reported incidents of toxic or harmful algae blooms around the world. [Source] Link opens a new window
Most problems related to water quality are caused by intensive agriculture, industrial production, mining and untreated urban runoff and wastewater. [Source] Link opens a new window
Is Your Water Safe To Drink?
You may be surprised to learn that the answer to this question isn’t an easy yes or no. Most North Americans rely on treated municipal water for their everyday needs. But when freshwater sources – the lakes, rivers, and streams upon which we rely – are not properly protected, they are at risk of pollution that can seriously harm ecosystems and threaten the safety and quality of our drinking water.
Freshwater is critical for life and in limited supply. It follows that we should protect it at all costs. And yet, this resource is regularly subject to contamination from many sources, causing challenges that have destructive impacts. Here are just a few of the top threats to freshwater health.
While nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen are part of a healthy ecosystem, an excess or oversupply can have serious consequences for freshwater health. Intensive agriculture is contributing to this excess. When it rains, or when crops are overwatered, nutrient-rich fertilizers runoff into watersheds, contributing to rapid algae growth – and sometimes, large algal blooms – in freshwater sources. Through a process called eutrophication, these blooms can deplete the water’s oxygen levels, killing fish and other aquatic species. There can also be direct impacts for humans – in 2014, a summer bloom in Lake Erie caused a three-day drinking water crisis for residents of Toledo, Ohio.
You’ve probably heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, but did you know that freshwater has a plastics problem, too? The tiny microplastics that enter waterways come from a variety of sources, including the microfibres from our clothing, microbeads used in cosmetic products, and the breakdown of larger plastic productions, such as water bottles and plastic bags. According to a 2017 study by Orb Media, tap water samples from major metropolitan areas on five continents showed that more than 83% were contaminated with plastic fibres. Microplastics have been linked to several serious health concerns for humans and aquatic species.
While North American cities have advanced wastewater treatment facilities, some 80% of the world’s wastewater is dumped—largely untreated—back into the environment. What does this mean? Whatever we use and consume, including chemicals and pharmaceuticals, could end up in freshwater sources.
Giving People the Power
Freshwater pollution is pervasive, but it isn’t always easy to spot. As a concerned individual, it can be tricky to know what to look for. AquaHacking Challenge winner Water Rangers saw that people care about their waterways and developed an affordable system that allows anyone to monitor freshwater health, record what they observe, and share that data openly.
Citizens are concerned about the health of lakes, rivers, and streams, and they want to do something to help. Our user-friendly solution enables them to monitor these resources, notice changes over time, and flag concerns to authorities. Our long-term goal is to make water testing accessible to everyone – and, in the process, we want to contribute to building healthy communities.
Executive Director, Water Rangers