Water Pollution

Victoria Schoenlaub

14 min Read Time | August 10th 2021

Key Takeaways

This topic focuses solely on a company’s impact on aquatic ecosystems and biodiversity through water pollution. This involves, but is not limited to the leakage of toxic chemicals/sludge, food waste, metals, fertilizers, pesticides, heat, etc in water bodies that can have adverse impacts.

In your analysis, it is essential to assess what contaminants are released from the company and where, even though the contamination can spread far from the original polluting source.

Only write about companies that dispose of wastewater concentration levels of chemicals/substances that exceed the maximum authorised level of a given country.

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What it is?

When it comes to water, companies have different kinds of impacts, i.e., their consumption which causes reserve depletion, their wastewater which can cause health impacts to our drinking water supply, and their water pollution, which affects aquatic ecosystems and biodiversity as well as harming humans that may ingest it.

Water pollution leads to the spreading of diseases, kills/harms life below water, destroys other forms of aquatic life, and damages habitats. From an environmental point of view, the analysis should explore the contamination, pollution, and destruction of natural habitats, and the wildlife that lives there. This occurs from the exposure to harmful and/or toxic chemicals that would have not occurred over the natural course of things.

Because water can dissolve substances, it is particularly vulnerable to pollution. Water pollution “occurs when harmful substances - often chemicals or microorganisms- contaminate a [body of water], degrading water quality and rendering it toxic to humans or the environment.”

Water pollution often occurs when toxic substances from farms, factories, and households make their way into an aquifer.

Here, this topic specifically looks at a company’s impact on water pollution in regards to specific water bodies, including both surface water and groundwater (which eventually seeps into rivers, lakes, and oceans). A company can cause water pollution not only through their wastewater, but also through their disposal of toxic chemicals, food waste products, toxic sludge, leakage of metals, oil spills, fertilizers, pesticides, animal waste, excess nutrients, and even their effect on the water temperature, known as heat pollution.

Caution

Since we have various sub-topics under the water theme, we do not want to mix these topics. Therefore, it's important to check which topic has been covered on the platform and to determine if the topic you wish to write about is significant enough to stand on its own.

Please also do not mix social and environmental impacts in one analysis.

Categories of water pollution

  • Groundwater

  • Surface water

  • Ocean water

  • Point source

  • Nonpoint source

  • Transboundary

Common sources of water pollution

  • Agricultural

  • Sewage and wastewater

  • Oil pollution

  • Radioactive substances


Source
https://www.nrdc.org/stories/water-pollution-everything-you-need-know#whatis

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SDG choice

✅ SDG 6
✅ SDG 14 (see aquatic ecosystem pollution)

Impact assessment

Water use, such as depletion, consumption, and withdrawal, is a separate topic to water pollution and discharge.

⚠️ Therefore, the topic of wastewater is only relevant if the analysis is dealing with how the wastewater is polluting water supplies and harming ecosystems and biodiversity or entering water bodies that humans drink from.

Do not treat these two impacts in one analysis.

The volume of water discharged alone is insufficient to assess the impact of wastewater. It is not relevant unless there is some negative impact.

The analysis should assess where and how much the company is responsible for the pollution of local water bodies.

  • What impact does this pollution have?
  • How is the local ecosystem affected?

Avoid writing a list of one example after the other. Rather, focus on the most recent year in which you can find 1-2 significant examples of this occurring and then look at the historical trend over time.

  • Is this a recurring issue?
  • Has the company's behavior changed in regards to this? If yes, then there is no current impact.
  • What is the big picture?


The introduction should discuss the issue of water pollution and how the industry (in which the company is in) is contributing to this overall problem. Include absolute values when possible and ensure the information is recent and relevant.

For example
: if the topic is on an agricultural company causing algal blooms, then the introduction should focus on the harm of algal blooms on aquatic ecosystems and how many algal blooms are documented around the world and out of this, how much the agricultural industry is responsible for it.


In the core analysis
, we need the following information:

  • Analyse which contaminants were discharged (substance/type).
  • How much water pollution is caused by the company? This should be above legal safety limits.
  • How and why this is occurring?
  • Where the pollution came from and where it went.
  • What are the resulting impacts? What are the environmental consequences or the illnesses contracted if ingested/used?

When assessing a company’s responsibility for polluting a local water body (especially large-scale ones in which multiple companies are involved), it is imperative that you show the facts and figures to prove such links and estimates on how responsible the specific company is.

Examples of evidence include court rulings, scientific reports, company reports, violations/fines, etc.

What is also helpful is to provide information on how responsible the industry is for water pollution as well as providing the market share of the company in that given industry. This in turn shows how large and influential the company is in regards to this issue.

To show that a company is linked, here is an example of Tyson foods:

Tyson Foods, the largest meat company in the United States, has captured over 20% of the market share in chicken, beef and pork 2;p5. Tyson has been linked to disproportionately contributing to the growing size of the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico each year for three reasons:

  • Tyson is the only meat company with major processing facilities in each of the states that have contributed the highest levels of pollution to the Gulf.
  • Tyson is one of two companies whose meat facilities have the highest documented levels of nitrate contamination.
  • Tyson's top feed suppliers are those clearing the majority of the grassland prairies, removing a natural filter between US farmlands and the Gulf.

Source: https://app.impaakt.com/analys...

When assessing the impact on the aquatic ecosystem, here is some information to include:

  • The decline of a local species population and/or other indicators of biodiversity loss.
  • The change in living organisms' behavior or growth.
  • Scientific claims if the location is considered a “dead zone”, “contaminated” or any other scientific assessments, lab work, and research.


The analysis can only be published if the wastewater disposed of includes concentration levels of chemicals/substances that exceed the maximum authorised level of a given country.


Remember to describe the scale of the impact by taking into account:

1/ The breadth of the impact

  • Is the impact local, national, or global?

  • How many water bodies/ areas are concerned?

2/ The depth of the impact

  • Is the water source profoundly affected, or does the issue just marginally impact them?

  • Are the changes brought by the issue profoundly changing society or the planet?

3/ The persistence of the impact

  • How long would the impact described last for? Months? Years? Decades?

  • How reversible is the impact described in the impact analysis? Can it be easily stopped/extended?


Help readers rate the company’s impact by linking studies to the chemical/element discharged by the company and making comparisons with competitors and industry average, when relevant.


To increase the robustness, it is valuable to know:

  • Whether or not the wastewater was treated.
  • If so, then how much of it was treated?
  • Evaluate whether the number of pollutants in the wastewater discharged is above or below safe levels of the given areas. Even if the chemical concentration is below safe levels or below the maximum allowed emission of pollutants, the analysis should still be treated as a negative one.

Additional Information on Assessing Pollution

The concentration of chemicals, which is commonly reported in wastewater samples as mg/L or ppm, shows the volume of a substance (i.e., mg of BOD) present in a known volume of wastewater (i.e., in 1 Liter).


Concentration is, therefore, a relative number and does not tell us how much there is of the chemical/substance, such as the mass or the weight that is being discharged.

The absolute number is referred to as loading. Loadings are commonly reported as kg per day (kg/d).

BOD stands for Biochemical Oxygen Demand and is defined as “the amount of dissolved oxygen needed by aerobic biological organisms to break down organic material present in a given water sample at a certain temperature over a specific time period.”

Other chemical measurements include:

  • COD (Chemical Oxygen Demand)
  • TOC (Total Organic Carbon)
  • O&G (Oil and Grease)


To show the scale of the chemical concentration, it is valuable to state what the measurements of these chemicals are in a healthy body of water.

There are 4 main categories to measure wastewater quality:

1 - Organics

"A determination of the concentration of carbon-based (i.e., organic) compounds aimed at establishing the relative 'strength' of wastewater."

For example:

  • Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD)

  • Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD)

  • Total Organic Carbon (TOC)

  • Oil and Grease (O&G)

2 - Solids

"A measurement of the concentration of particulate solids that can dissolve or suspend in wastewater."

For example:

  • Total Solids (TS)

  • Total Suspended Solids (TSS)

  • Total Dissolved Solids (TDS)

  • Total Volatile Solids (TVS)

  • Total Fixed Solids (TFS)

3 - Nutrients

"A measurement of the concentration of targeted nutrients that can contribute to the acceleration of eutrophication."

For example:

  • Targeted nutrients: nitrogen and phosphorus

  • Acceleration of eutrophication: the natural aging of water bodies...etc.


4 - Physical Properties and Other Impact Parameters

"Analytical tests designed to measure a varied group of constituents directly impact wastewater treatability."

For example:

  • Temperature

  • Color

  • pH

  • Turbidity

  • Odor


Sources

http://butane.chem.uiuc.edu/pshapley/Environmental/L31/1.html#:~:text=BOD%20values%20are%20usually%20reported,20%20mg%2FL%20or%20less.
https://extension.uga.edu/publications/detail.html?number=C992&title=Understanding%20Laboratory%20Wastewater%20Tests:%20I.%20ORGANICS%20(BOD,%20COD,%20TOC,%20O&G)#:~:text=Concentration%20

Industry-Specific Information

Agriculture

Agriculture is the number one source of contamination in rivers and streams. When it rains, fertilizers, pesticides, and animal waste containing not only harmful bacteria and viruses but also excessive amounts of nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus) can leach into local water bodies. This leads to algal bloom events and biodiversity loss.

It is important to mention how many farms the company has, specifying the regions, and linking cases of algal blooms/contaminated water bodies that the company is responsible for.

Textile/fashion

Around 150 liters of water is used per kilogram of fabric to carry out the process of dyeing. Harmful chemicals are often released into the environment through unfiltered wastewater. To address this topic and not overlap other topics on our platform, there must be clear links to the company polluting a local water body.


Mining/nuclear power plants/weapon production

Radioactive waste is “any pollution that emits radiation beyond what is naturally released by the environment.” Since radioactive waste can stay in the environment for thousands of years, it severely threatens surface water, groundwater, and marine resources.

To address this issue properly, provide information on where the radioactive waste was disposed of and how this impacts the local water body. Be sure to include the long-lasting effects as well as clear links that the company caused this issue.

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