Water pollution: causes and effects

This section offers information on the causes and effects of water pollution, as well as information about the types of water pollution that are of special concern in Canada.

Surface and ground water in this country are generally clean. However, it is sometimes locally or regionally polluted. Pollution enters water bodies in a number of ways, including industrial and municipal discharge, runoff, spills, and deposition of airborne pollutants.

It is easy to dispose of waste by dumping it into a river or lake. In large or small amounts, dumped intentionally or accidentally, it may be carried away by the current, but will never disappear. It will reappear downstream, sometimes in changed form, or just diluted. Freshwater bodies have a great ability to break down some waste materials, but not in the quantities discarded by today's society. This overload that results, called pollution, eventually puts the ecosystem out of balance.

Sometimes nature itself can produce these imbalances. In some cases, the natural composition of the water makes it unfit for certain uses. For exampe, water flowing in the highly saline terrain of the prairies or gushing from highly mineralized springs in some parts of the country cannot sustain fish populations.

But most often our waterways are being polluted by municipal, agricultural and industrial wastes, including many toxic synthetic chemicals which cannot be broken down at all by natural processes. Even in tiny amounts, some of these substances can cause serious harm.

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