There are many factors that can cause the contamination of groundwater. First, let us define what groundwater is. By definition, it is a water situation where there is infiltration in the ground, filling up the spaces between sediments and small to large rocks. Its source of water comes from the natural occurrence of precipitation, which in return, goes to other bodies of water such as streams, rivers, and lakes to replenish the running water.
Simply put, it is water beneath the ground surface, usually accessible through various wells and boreholes. The presence of groundwater supplies in the ecosystems paves the way for more natural sources of drinking water. This is also the reason why people continue to extract groundwater as one of their drinking water sources. Not until groundwater pollution takes place and ruins it for all of us.
Recently, groundwater contaminants have become an issue in most groundwater resources. It has resulted in surface water pollution where chemical spills, toxic substances, toxic metals, and fluoride concentrations are ruining the quality of the water supply. Moreover, according to various research, there are also hazardous chemicals present in some contaminated groundwater. Needless to say, groundwater contamination can lead to serious health effects and environmental problems if not treated and resolved immediately.
Therefore, in this article, we will talk about groundwater, contaminated groundwater, and groundwater contaminants. We will also walk you through various ways to prevent contamination, as well as other biological treatment techniques to lessen the risks of polluted groundwater. Ultimately, this will help remove the potential health risks to human health brought upon by contaminated groundwater.
ALL ABOUT GROUNDWATER
WHAT IS A GROUNDWATER?
As mentioned above, groundwater is the water that has been carried down from the surface of the soil to the spaces between sediments and the cracks within rocks. Essentially, it fills up the empty spaces of an underground —this is called the saturated zone. After some time, the water reaches the impenetrable layer of rock and settles in. As such, groundwater is occupied and maintained through the collections of rocks and dregs called aquifers. There is such a thing called residence time which determines the period of time that the groundwater becomes subjected to aquifers. As such, the residence time of each groundwater varies on a case-to-case basis. The time range is incredibly varied and it could last from a few days to weeks, to thousands of years and more.
The groundwater is divided into two zones, namely; the saturated zone and the unsaturated zone. The top of the saturated zone is called the water table while resting above this water table is the unsaturated zone. The unsaturated zone is also where water and air go in to fill in the spaces between rocks and sediments. Therefore, water present in this specific zone is known as soil moisture. As a matter of fact, most groundwater foundation is known for their distinct water component like the aforementioned soil moisture.
One of the many functions of groundwaters is that they can be transported through bodies of water such as springs, lakes, waterways, streams, or synthetic wells. After the water is released, groundwater is refilled by various water sources such as precipitation and snowmelt. Water may also come from water leakage from external sources such as irrigation water and leaks from water supply systems.
However, opting for artificial processes to discharge groundwater is a different story. For one, there is a need for a well to be drilled into the groundwater aquifer. Next, you will also need to install a pump that you can use to "pump out" water upward and outward of the aquifer. There are also specific wells such as Artesian wells that are drilled into aquifers attached to an impenetrable rock layer. The Artesian well is installed above and below the water pressure, usually coming through from a "refilling" source placed just above the well. As a result, groundwater is pumped upward through the Artesian well without the need or use of water pumps.
WHY IS GROUNDWATER PUMPED OUT?
In a simple answer, groundwater is "pumped" out through wells (and other methodologies) to provide drinking water. As a matter of fact, groundwater is a major source of drinking water that satisfies the needs of over fifty percent (50%) of the population of the United States. This is possible because groundwater quality has a good drinking water quality for our day-to-day needs.
Water is a basic necessity for survival. Hence, the extraction of groundwater for the purpose of satisfying drinking water needs is understandable. However, pumping out groundwater should be taken with safety precautions. Excessive extraction can lead to groundwater scarcity, erosion, and contamination. Hence, it is recommended to extract groundwater for a limited amount of times only. Otherwise, the wells will dry up since water inputs from "refilling" sources cannot keep pace with our regular extraction of groundwater.
Essentially, groundwater is surface water that can be a permanent source of drinking water as it is present beneath a soil surface that is connected to a "refilling" water source. In fact, groundwater is able to maintain its regular transport to rivers and streams even in dry conditions. It is the one that replenishes those bodies of water, making it a good replacement for precipitation during dry seasons.
However, groundwater can only continue to provide for the people, if the people themselves take extra care in utilizing it in various means. The "extraction" period and the process should be well-maintained and properly managed, otherwise, groundwaters would not be able to suffice our needs. Even in the global sphere, groundwater is popularly used for domestic, agricultural, and industrial uses. After all, groundwater is one of Earth's abundant natural sources of freshwater, therefore, it should not be neglected —if any, it should be carefully preserved, maintained, and conserved.
THE CONTAMINATION OF GROUNDWATER
The contamination of groundwater happens when human-induced and undesirable substances are added to the groundwater, thereby polluting it. This may include man-made products such as gasoline, oil, road salts, and chemicals. As an aftermath, the groundwater quality becomes "unsafe" for human consumption, especially as drinking water.
To give you an example, dirt-contaminated land surfaces can transport the "dirt" to the groundwater. Just like how pesticides and compost can find their way into groundwater supplies after a period of time. There are also risks for mining-induced compounds, such as street salt and engine oil, to oversaturate groundwater quality. Going further, septic tanks and damaged landfills can also be a source of groundwater pollution.
Needless to say, drinking contaminated water creates serious threats to human health. For one, you can contract hepatitis and unhealthy bowel movement if you consume contaminated groundwater. Not only that but you may also be exposed to poisonous chemicals that have been filtered into the well water supplies. If consumed regularly for years, you can develop special kinds of cancer that have resulted from exposure to groundwater pollution. Apart from all these, the animals in nearby ecosystems are not marked "safe" either. Filthy groundwater resources can also harm them, and have in fact caused the deaths of many wildlife and destroyed their habitats.
POTENTIAL SOURCES OF GROUNDWATER CONTAMINATION
There are many potential sources of groundwater contamination. The few ones listed below are just some of them:
Storage tanks may contain liquids such as gasoline, oil, and other harmful chemicals. In the United States alone, there are over ten million storage tanks placed and buried above and below the ground. These tanks have a high tendency to undergo corrosion, and eventually crack which becomes the source of leakages. As a result, these newly released contaminants can freely move into the groundwater, thereby causing groundwater contamination.
Septic systems can also carry huge risks for groundwater contamination. Onsite wastewater disposal systems, like the ones used in residential homes and office buildings, are attached to a city sewer system. This is where septic systems come into play, draining away human waste beneath the ground. When septic tubes are installed and constructed the wrong way, they can leak groundwater contaminants such as bacteria, viruses, and other household chemicals. This can also happen when the septic system is poorly designed or installed at a bad and risky location.
Uncontrolled Hazardous Waste
Hazardous wastes that aren't properly controlled and regulated can increase the risks of groundwater contamination. In the United States alone, there are over tens of thousands of hazardous waste sites that were simply abandoned and uncontrolled. As a result, barrels of hazardous materials can flow down the groundwater through seepages and leakages without restrictions.
As we all know, landfills are the place to be for garbage disposals. While landfills are created to protect and prevent groundwater contaminants, they are ironically one of the potential sources of groundwater contamination. They may contaminate groundwater through seepages in cracked surfaces or the absence of protective layers in landfills. Due to this, harmful materials such as battery acid, paint, and household cleaners can reach the groundwater in one flow and contaminate it.
Chemicals and Road Salts
Since time immemorial, chemicals and road salts have always been a staple material along the streets. Sadly, they can be another source of groundwater contamination. This may include chemicals produced on lawns and farms, primarily to remove weeds and insects, as well as act as plant fertilizers. While other chemicals are used in residential homes and business establishments.
During rainy seasons, these chemicals seep down the ground and travel as far as the groundwater. On the other hand, road salts are used during the winter season to place melted ice on roads and prevent cars from sliding. Over time, the ice melts, while the salt gets carried off the road, which can slowly yet surely end up in groundwater.
Groundwater, for a fact, is part of the hydrologic cycle. Therefore, contaminants present in the said process have the potential to transport into our groundwater supplies. The contaminants may come from the atmosphere or various bodies of surface water.
THE DIFFERENT GROUNDWATER TREATMENT METHODS
There are different treatment methods and options in terms of treating groundwater pollution. Some of these methods use modern technologies to approach the problem, while other methods stick to the traditional ways of water treatment. If you're seeking a specific answer as to which treatment to get, you'd be surprised to know that there is no such thing as a "better" option than the rest. This is because each site should approach treatment procedures and methodologies differently, depending on the level of groundwater contamination present or the gravity of groundwater pollution being experienced. Needless to say, there is indeed no one-size-fits-all remediation procedure for groundwater problems.
For easy explanation, let us categorize the different groundwater treatments into biological, chemical, and physical methods:
Biological Treatment Method
Bioaugmentation is one of the natural treatment techniques that have the ability to biodegrade groundwater pollutants such as chlorinated Volatile Organic Compounds, commonly abbreviated as VOCs. Cultured microorganisms are mixed beneath the ground or below the surface, which in return facilitates the process. This method is much faster than just merely utilizing naturally occurring microbial communities to expedite the operation.
This bioaugmentation approach by and large is expected to show results in just a matter of one to five years. To compensate for the long waiting time, you can expect that this groundwater treatment can really diminish dechlorination at a cost-effective rate.
Chemical Treatment Method
There are also chemical approaches to treating groundwater contamination. For example, In Situ Synthetic Oxidation (ISCO) is a versatile chemical treatment methodology that can be used in efficient water oxidation, as well as in groundwater treatment. Through this chemical, a broad range of groundwater contaminants can be eliminated in one go.
To illustrate, during the whole ISCO procedure, chemical oxidants such as oxygen gas, ozone, and other liquid chemicals are used. They are infused or blended into groundwater to obliterate impurities upon contact. At the present time, there are high-tech discoveries that help catalyze reliable oxidation for everyone.
Physical Treatment Method
News flash! You can also treat groundwater issues with just a simple pump. As such, it does not always have to be chemical-based or make up complicated procedures. This physical treatment is executed on contaminated groundwater and "pumped" out the water to the surface. After this, the groundwater becomes subjected to biological and chemical treatments for a cleaner water supply.
As you can see, this is a more traditional treatment option as compared to the ones mentioned above. In the past decades, this treatment was historically proven to reduce the groundwater contaminant levels.
However, one of its downsides is the expensive cost of the pump and treat systems. In fact, an ever-increasing number of environmental experts are gauging its significant expense against the less expensive biological and chemical methods such as the ISCO treatment.
In conclusion, groundwater has upheld amazing spurts of advancement, not only nationally but reaching as far as the global sphere. In addition to that, it is one of the natural sources of drinking water that supplies many people all across the world. Groundwater also helps regulate the flow of rivers and streams, as well as contributes to crop irrigation and agricultural production. If you still can't fathom how important groundwater is, then read this: globally, there is an estimated number of 2.5 billion people who depend exclusively on groundwater supplies to meet their basic daily water needs.
Hence, groundwater pollution is a more serious problem than you think it is. The contamination of groundwater can produce bad aftermath, such as the following: (1) poor drinking water quality, (2) scarcity in water supply, (3) deteriorated surface water frameworks, (4) high cleanup expenses, and (5) expensive costs for alternative water supplies. Apart from all these, you will also be exposed to serious health problems such as hepatitis, dysentery, and other nervous system disorders. As a result, you may have to pay a large sum of money in paying for expensive hospital bills and medications.
Needless to say, groundwater pollution puts human health and environmental surroundings at a huge risk. Therefore, we must eliminate our toxic waste and adhere to proper groundwater rules and regulations, as mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency. On the other hand, there are also various options or treatment resolutions for our groundwater problems. Since it's a case-to-case basis, a number of factors will decide which groundwater treatment solution will best work for you —if it's biological, chemical, or physical.
Another way to eliminate risks of contaminated drinking water is to use the Berkey Water Filters. These filters are portable water purifiers that use gravity to feed water through a gamut of “Black Berkey Purification Elements.” If you wish to know more, give us a call at (888) 899-3903 and visit our website theberkey.com for more information.
To end, groundwaters are vital to water supplies for humanity. Therefore, we should make it one of our missions to protect them, and not abuse them, so we can continue to enjoy the sweet taste of this natural drinking water supply.
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