Virtually all types of water pollution are harmful to the health of humans and animals. Water pollution may not damage our health immediately but can be harmful after long term exposure. Different forms of pollutants affect the health of animals in different ways:
- Heavy metals from industrial processes can accumulate in nearby lakes and rivers. These are toxic to marine life such as fish and shellfish, and subsequently to the humans who eat them. Heavy metals can slow development; result in birth defects and some are carcinogenic.
- Industrial waste often contains many toxic compounds that damage the health of aquatic animals and those who eat them. Some of the toxins in industrial waste may only have a mild effect whereas other can be fatal. They can cause immune suppression, reproductive failure or acute poisoning.
- Microbial pollutants from sewage often result in infectious diseases that infect aquatic life and terrestrial life through drinking water. Microbial water pollution is a major problem in the developing world, with diseases such as cholera and typhoid fever being the primary cause of infant mortality.
- Organic matter and nutrients causes an increase in aerobic algae and depletes oxygen from the water column. This causes the suffocation of fish and other aquatic organisms.
- Sulfate particles from acid rain can cause harm the health of marine life in the rivers and lakes it contaminates, and can result in mortality.
- Suspended particles in freshwater reduces the quality of drinking water for humans and the aquatic environment for marine life. Suspended particles can often reduce the amount of sunlight penetrating the water, disrupting the growth of photosynthetic plants and micro-organisms.