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Water Pollution

Polluted water filled with discarded plastic

Water is essential for life on Earth, which means that any pollutants or contaminants which find their way into water will soon find their way into the bodies of plants and animals which drink or come into contact with it. Plus, the same applies for people too, which should make even those who do not particularly care about the environment sit up and take notice.

Water pollution can either be direct through the discharging of waste into a body of water such as a lake, river or the sea, or it can be indirect in that it is not deliberately disposed of into a watercourse but finds its way there, the most common route through seeping into the ground and entering groundwater which then flows through to the river or stream.

Contaminated water is one of the most common forms of environmental pollution, not to mention one of the most damaging to the health of living organisms; entering bodies through drinking, contact or uptake from roots. As a result, much legislation exists to try and prevent water pollution, including severe penalties for those who do break the rules or act negligently and pollute the water.

Not only will water pollution be a danger to health and life, but it can also lead to substantial loss of tourism and cost local economies lots of money in lost revenue as visitors stay away. Examples include beaches and coastlines affected by oil spills, and lakes which have had the numbers of fish decimated from water pollution and have put fishing businesses at risk of closure.

Direct and Indirect Water Pollution

Water pollution is a term which describes pollution and contamination to various watercourses including the sea, rivers, streams and groundwater. Water is essential to life on earth, and so contamination of this can have far-reaching consequences as it puts at risk the health, safety and wellbeing of all creatures, including humans, that depend on it for survival.

The method of water pollution can fall into two categories: direct and indirect. Direct pollution comes from releasing fluids directly into the water, such as a business expelling contaminated water or toxic solids mixed in with water directly into the sea or a river. This makes the water poisonous for fish and other aquatic creatures, often resulting in death. Not only this, but animals drink this water, causing ill-health or death to them also. Humans too can be affected. Although people in developed countries no longer rely on fetching water out of the stream or river for drinking, there is still a risk to those who swim in or take part in activities such as canoeing on the polluted water, as swallowing some of it can cause illness to them and even death in extreme cases.

Indirect pollution of water is not caused by contaminants being introduced directly into the water, but instead from those which end up there. An example includes chemicals from fertilisers and pesticides which are slowly washed through the soil and find their way into groundwater and then into various watercourses. Also, air pollution can result in acid rain falling to the ground, which can be extremely harmful to wildlife, including polluting lakes, streams and rives and making the water deadly for those creatures leaving in and near it.

Whether water pollution is direct or indirect, the results can still be the same, i.e. illness and possibly death to any living thing that lives in it or takes in the water. It is therefore imperative that individuals and businesses take steps to reduce their pollution levels and lower their impact upon the environment.

Blocking Watercourses and its Environmental Impact


Companies located next to watercourses or operating alongside them need to ensure that their operations and actions do not affect it in a way which violates any environmental legislation that is in place to prevent damage to the environment. This can affect companies such as timber and logging businesses who are felling enormous trees next to mountain streams/rivers which may fall in and block the flow, or manufacturing companies who are situated next to a watercourse and might accidentally or deliberately dump objects into the water, divert it or cause an environmental incident which pollutes it and proves harmful or deadly to living organisms.

Negative Aspects Of A Blocked Watercourse

Whilst polluting the water and causing death or illness to fish who live in it and to animals and people who may drink or swim in it is often the primary cause of concern as it is the most common, the blocking of watercourses should not be overlooked however. Blocking a stream or river can cause flooding which can destroy animal habitats and cause damage to property. It may result in a health and safety risk if it were to destabilise buildings or structures and cause a collapse, and in severe flooding people can drown or be swept away by the strongly-flowing water.

Blocking a waterway can prevent the natural migration of fish such as salmon which travel great distances through the water to reach their breeding grounds. Depending upon where the blockage occurs it can trap fish in a certain area and result in a build up of silt and other material which leads to poor water quality and a hazard for the fish.

Neutralisation of Water to Protect the Environment

The presence of high levels of acids or alkalis is just one of the many ways in which water can be contaminated and therefore damaging to the environment. Not only can it put plants and animals at risk that rely on the water to drink and sustain life, but can also be lethal for fish and other aquatic creatures which live in the water.

A pH at either end of the scale can be too much for certain species of life form to live in, and a dramatic change in the composition of the water to such a level can kill instantly. However even a slight change in pH levels can cause distress, suffering and a slower death as, for example, a raising or lowering of the pH level can severely disrupt the workings of a fish's gills in the uptake of oxygen.

To combat this, a company must take steps to ensure that the waste it discharges into surrounding watercourses does not alter the pH balance of the water. Ideally this will be achieved by not discharging anything into the water, but where this is unavoidable the company can treat all waste water in a process of neutralisation to bring it back up or back down to a neutral level of around 7 before it is released. This will often produce residues or gases which can also be harmful to health and the environment if released into the open, and may themselves require specialist treatment to render safe and harmless.

The discharge of waste water and the treatment and dealings with acidity or alkaline levels require specialist knowledge and a highly trained person who knows what they are doing. There is also likely to be a need for compliance with permits and regulations, either on a local or national level, depending upon the location and jurisdiction in which the activities are taking place.

Repairing Leaks, the Environment and Health and Safety


Non-salty water, or freshwater, is one of the most important commodities in the world. Despite two thirds of the earth's surface being covered in water, only a small proportion of the total water on the earth is freshwater which is suitable for drinking, as the majority is salt water in the ocean which is not suitable for mammals and other species. Therefore humans, like a lot of other creatures, depend upon freshwater to drink and sustain life, and is why the conservation and use of water is one of the most pressing environmental concerns in the world today.

Many hot countries in the world near the equator suffer greatly from a lack of available clean drinking water, and for them conserving every drop is crucial. Even in more tepid climates like those found in European countries where freshwater is more in abundance, there can still be times of drought where water is scarce and hosepipe bans are put into place, with water rationing rare but not unheard of in severe instances.

So whichever country a person lives in, the conservation of water is an important issue. Whilst some are lucky enough for it only to be a financial matter if a leaking tap or pipe is providing them with a bigger water bill than it could be, for others it may ultimately be a matter of life and death. Either way, it is an issue of great magnitude in the world as a whole.

Whilst a lot of water is wasted by people using more than they need, such as through actions like keeping taps running whilst they brush their teeth for instance, leaking pipes and dripping taps can also contribute to a tremendous volume of useable water being lost. This will result in more water being required from a reservoir, which will also need to be treated to make it safe to drink. This can result in drought which has wide-ranging environmental effects on people, wildlife, crop irrigation, watersports activities and the destruction of small ecosystems.

Can Leaks be a Health and Safety Danger?

There is also a possibility that leaks can create a danger to the health and safety of people depending upon certain conditions such as:

1) Although the term "leak" conjures up images of a tiny trickle, it could also be applied to a substantial flow which may result in flooding, particularly if the pipe or container is becoming structurally weak and a small hole or crack will soon become a gaping hole. If so, this could create a threat of drowning if a person were to get stuck or trapped.

2) In cold weather, a leak which results in water all over the floor or ground could freeze and become extremely slippery, posing a slip and fall danger.

3) The actual substance that is leaking can obviously have an impact on health and safety. In this article we have talked about water, but leaking pipes and containers can also contain hazardous substances such as acid, antifreeze or supercooled liquid such as liquid nitrogen. This in itself can pose a significant danger to a person were it to come into contact with their skin.

4) Secondary problems can also arise from leaks, most specifically from machinery which relies on the liquid to perform a function such as lubrication or acting as a coolant. If this is not present, the machine can malfunction, catch fire, explode, or any number of other disastrous consequences which can cause injury, illness or death.

How Can Rain Contribute to Pollution?

When rain and pollution are thought of together in the same breath, most people will think of acid rain which falls to earth and causes damage to crops, contamination of watercourses and damage to buildings and statues. However "ordinary" rain can also play a major part in the pollution of the surrounding area.

This occurs when the falling rain provides a means through run-off for hazardous substances to enter nearby watercourses or to seep into the ground where it not only poisons plant life in the direct vicinity but can also get into groundwater which can then result in causing damage to plant life and pollution to bodies of water far away from this source.

Water run-off is often overlooked but is in fact one of the most common forms of damage to the nearby environment through contaminated water. It is a particular issue for fire fighters who discharge large volumes of water onto structures to put out a fire, as this water can mix in with any hazardous or toxic substance present on the site which will then carry it away and into the groundwater and surrounding streams and rivers. It is for this reason that those responsible for fire safety also have environmental training as part of their overall health and safety training programme.

Along with run-off, exceptionally heavy rainfall can result in the flooding of an area. Without suitable protection to hold the water back, this flooding can cause the dangerous substances to mix with the water and provide it the means to escape into the surroundings. This can result in contamination and damage to the environment on a large scale, with the water having the capability of reaching areas of land far away.

Suitable environmental risk assessments should be performed to determine the potential consequences of rain and flooding so that suitable measures can be put into place before a situation occurs. Having workers who hold a NEBOSH Environmental Certificate or other similar health and safety qualification will also benefit an organisation with regards to having a workforce who can positively contribute to environmental safety.

Primary and Secondary Containment for Environmental Health and Safety


Protecting the environment - not to mention the health and safety of everyone on the site and all those near it, should be one of the principal concerns of any business - but especially those that could cause significant damage to the local ecosystem. Generally this will relate more to companies involved in industries such as heavy manufacturing, sewage treatment plants, oil refineries etc where any accident could cause harm to the environment on an extremely large scale.

Environmental Health and Safety Training and Risk Assessments

In such workplaces, not only is it imperative to provide environmental health and safety training to employees in the form of the NEBOSH Environmental Certificate for example along with other areas of health and safety in the workplace, but it is also necessary to conduct environmental risk assessments. By determining potential incidents, action can be taken to introduce measures with the goal of preventing them taking place and causing the likely damage to health and the environment.

Containment of Substances Hazardous to Health

One important safety feature involves primary and secondary containment of substances which are hazardous to health and the environment. Any accidental spillage or leakage of these substances could cause a lot of devastation to the environment over a wide area, as well as endangering the safety and welfare of every person in the vicinity. In some instances, it may even prove fatal to human life.

Primary Containment

A primary containment system usually describes the storage tank or container in which the hazardous substance is normally kept. This container therefore obviously needs to not only be suitable for the task, but also needs to be inspected regularly in order to locate any potential problems which may be occurring, such as a corrosion of the container wall, before it leads to a significant incident.

Secondary Containment

Whilst significant resources and attention should be devoted to the primary container, there should always be a plan and safeguards in effect should the primary tank breach.

For storage tanks, this will typically take the form of bunds which trap the liquid and prevent it from escaping into the surrounding land or watercourses where the pollution could cause death and destruction to the local environment.

Even if it has never been called into action in the past, and the focus is on the primary container to prevent that being breached, it is still the case that the secondary containment system should never be overlooked or allowed to fall into disrepair. Relying solely upon the primary container to perform flawlessly negates the entire purpose of having the bund or other form of secondary container at all. If it cannot perform effectively, it is of little use. Therefore, not only does a secondary system need to be put in place should the main one fail, but it too also needs to receive thorough maintenance, even though it is hopefully never needed, so that it can perform its intended function should it ever be called into service.

Back Up Systems and Safety Features in Other Areas

Having a secondary safety feature should not just be limited to the storage of harmful chemicals or gases either, but should be something which is adopted in as many different areas of the business as possible with regards to protecting the health and safety of everyone. Having backup safety features which can step-in should the primary control fail for whatever reason can make the difference between life and death, in additional to long-term environmental damage.

Related Course

Please see below for more information on the NEBOSH Environmental Certificate:

NEBOSH Certificate in Environmental Management

The NEBOSH Environmental Certificate, or NEBOSH National Certificate in Environmental Management to give it its full title, is an environmental health and safety course which is intended to be taken by managers, supervisors and any other employees who are responsible for managing environmental issues at their workplace.

The NEBOSH Environmental Certificate qualification focuses on UK law, so is really only suitable for those who are based and operate within the UK.

Click Here for More Information

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