Nitrates, Heavy Metals, Microplastics … Our Water is More and More Polluted

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Nitrates, heavy metals, microplastics ... our water is more and more polluted

According to a World Bank study released Tuesday 20th August 2019, all countries are affected by this invisible crisis. It calls on states to take urgent measures.

The quality of water, polluted by nitrates, heavy metals and microplastics, has become “an invisible crisis” affecting rich countries as poor countries, the World Bank alarmed in a report published Tuesday 20th August 2019.

This poor water quality can cost up to a third of potential economic growth in the most affected regions, says the development institution.

The more prosperous the country, the more pollutants there are

President David Malpass called on governments “to take urgent action to tackle water pollution so that countries can grow faster in a more sustainable and equitable manner”.

Rich and poor countries suffer high levels of water pollution, says the report released on Tuesday, titled “Unknown Quality”: “It is clear that the status of the high-income country does not immunize against problems of quality of water. the water “.

“Not only does a decrease in pollution not go hand in hand with economic growth, but the range of pollutants tends to increase with the prosperity of a country,” notes the document.

Thus in the United States, a thousand new chemicals are released into the environment each year, three new types of products each day.

80% of wastewater discharged untreated

The World Bank calls in this report to better know how to measure the quality of water in the world and that this information is systematically disseminated to the public. “Citizens can not act if they are not informed of the situation,” says the report.

He recalls that more than 80% of wastewater in the world – 95% in some developing countries – is discharged into the environment untreated.

“Few developing countries are properly monitoring the quality of water,” the authors also deplore.

The World Bank estimates that there is “an urgent need for large investments in water treatment plants, especially in densely populated areas”.

Nitrates, microplastics and heavy metals

Among the most common and dangerous pollutants, the report cites nitrogen that is used in fertilizers for agriculture, spreading in rivers, lakes and oceans, turning into nitrates. These are responsible for the destruction of oxygen in the water (hypoxia) and the appearance of dead zones.

Oxidized nitrogen deposits can be fatal to children, says the report, as in the case of blue baby syndrome where too much nitrate ingested via drinking water causes a lack of oxygen in the blood.

A study conducted in 33 countries in Africa, India and Vietnam showed that children exposed to high levels of nitrates during their first three years grew up less.

The very harmful impact on health

“An interpretation of these findings suggests that subsidies to finance fertilizers cause damage to human health that is as great, perhaps even greater, than the benefits it brings to agriculture,” the report adds.

The salinity of water in low-lying coastal areas, irrigated land and urban areas also has adverse health impacts, especially for children and pregnant women.

The problem is particularly acute in Bangladesh where 20% of infant mortality in coastal areas is attributed to saltwater.

Pollution by microplastics is now also detected in 80% of natural sources, 81% of municipal tap water and in 93% of bottled water, still reports the World Bank. It regrets that there is still not enough information to determine the threshold at which these pollutants are of concern to health.

Particularly vulnerable for children

Hazardous pollutants also include heavy metals such as arsenic, which contaminates waters in areas where there is mining activity such as Bengal in India, northern Chile or Argentina.

Lead is one of them with “the recent and serious example of Flint in Michigan” (northern USA). In 2014, by changing its water supply from the Flint River to Lake Huron, the city used more acidic water that corroded lead pipes, exposing the population to metal poisoning. In children, lead can alter brain development.

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