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What is Groundwater Pollution?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Groundwater pollution is a type of pollution which occurs when groundwater becomes contaminated. Around the world, groundwater pollution is a very serious and costly problem, and many governments have started to take aggressive action to address it. Once contaminated, groundwater is very expensive to clean up and make usable again, and in some cases, an aquifer may be so contaminated that it has to be abandoned, which can put tremendous pressure on a community as it attempts to find a new supply of water.

There are several different types of groundwater, ranging from water which flows freely through the ground and interacts with surface water to closed aquifers, which are theoretically very hard to contaminate. Groundwater becomes polluted when materials seep through the soil and reach the water, which can happen when rainfall washes contaminants into the ground, when polluted surface water connects with groundwater, and when buried tanks or waste disposal sites start to leach.

Any number of contaminants can end up groundwater, including sewage, prescription medications, agricultural chemicals, microorganisms, road salt, landfill seepage, petroleum products, chemicals, and hazardous waste such as nuclear waste. These contaminants make the water unsafe to drink, because they can cause severe health problems. The water may also be unsafe for use in agriculture or manufacturing, and it can cause issues for local wildlife and flora exposed to the contaminated water.

People usually identify groundwater pollution when people start getting sick while drinking it, or when routine testing of water supplies reveals contamination. People with wells are at a high risk of getting sick from polluted water, because plumes of contaminants can end up in some surprising places, and people who drink municipal water are also at risk, because groundwater supplies may be one of the sources used by a municipality to supply the water needs of the populace.

Once discovered, groundwater pollution needs to be addressed, both to clean the contaminated water and to prevent its spread. Finding the source of the contamination and cleaning it up or containing it is important, as is cleaning the water to make it safe for use. In cases where the water cannot be cleaned, it will be necessary to contain it so that the contaminants cannot form a plume in the soil and reach clean water supplies. Alternative supplies of water may need to be secured to meet water needs while the pollution is dealt with.

People can help prevent groundwater pollution by disposing of hazardous materials like oil, paint, unused prescriptions, and solvents responsibly in a facility which is certified to handle such materials. They can also lobby their lawmakers for more aggressive environmental legislation which is designed to reduce groundwater pollution by setting standards and empowering government agencies to enforce them.

About Mechanics is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a About Mechanics researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By Leonidas226 — On Feb 22, 2011

Water pollution is also bad for fish species which may dwell in ponds and lakes. These animals can become an important food source, and dumping hazardous materials into water sources will eliminate or poison this food source. It is always for the greater good to ensure that all wastes are put out in one spot, far away from water and food sources, where they can cause immense damage and disease.

By BioNerd — On Feb 21, 2011

Groundwater pollution solutions usually involve replacing wells and pipes and making sure that village dump spots are always far away from these wells. When there is not a solid rule which contributes to the general well-being, people do whatever they want, and poop in the well. This is a horrible insult to the whole group, and should not be tolerated.

By dbuckley212 — On Feb 20, 2011

Air pollution can also be a harmful factor to public well-being and health. Everyone takes in water and air on a daily basis, and needs it to survive. When there is a lack of clean water and air, people are forced to settle for dirty water in order to survive. In many parts of the world, this is what people have learned to get used to, and are sadly unable to find anything better.

By FitzMaurice — On Feb 17, 2011

When urine mixes with the drinking supply of a people group, disease breaks out and the living conditions are harmed. In Africa, many clean water lines are ruined by warfare and constant societal issues. Much of this is due not only to European colonialism, but to a lack of good administration and care on the part of the outside world. The most essential key to a good life is a good drinking supply, and if we cut people off from this, the rest of life repeats a vicious cycle.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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