Eutrophication and Phosphates

Water is life for every living thing on this planet. And it is a resource we must protect from ignorant actions that may cause toxins to contaminate or eutrophication to occur.

Eutrophication is the process where algae blooms in a lake or stream to the point of depriving other life in that environment of oxygen. This deprivation can be so bad that the other life in the environment dies. This process has been linked to both nitrates and phosphates from human activity. This video can explain it in more detail.

While nitrates and phosphates are both naturally occurring, human activities such as farming and washing, may introduce so much to an environment that eutrophication happens. This usually takes place further downstream as the small amounts add to amounts already in the water from other sources until finally causing eutrophication in a lake, pond or other pooling point. Humans introduce nitrates and phosphates into the environment from fertilizers used on farms, when the rain causes run off to drain into local water supplies. Phosphates enter the wastewater from households in cities and towns as well. The source of the phosphates: detergents.

Both dishwashing and laundry detergents have contained phosphates. And while each load only drains a tiny amount of the chemical into the system the accumulation of those doses downstream can become toxic and cause eutrophication. The problem is so bad that regulators have passed laws banning phosphates from both dishwashing detergent and laundry soap.

Why were phosphates included in detergents? Phosphates are excellent degreasers, removing grease and oily stains from clothes and dishes alike. It has been proven that they are not necessary ingredients in detergents to get the same results.

Phosphates were removed from laundry detergents in the 1990s. Many people didn’t notice because most soil and stains can be removed by simple agitation in a washing machine. In the U.S., the removal of phosphates, in early summer of 2017, from dish detergents used in automatic dishwashers has been more noticeable as dishes are coming out of the dishwasher filmy, stained, and speckled. So many people are not happy with it and are perhaps more unhappy than they would otherwise be, because there was no notice that this was being done.

Some people, called bubble bandits, have gone so far as to make their own phosphate detergent. These people often justify their actions by pointing out washing their dishes twice in the machine wastes electricity and washing by hand wastes water. However, this may cause them difficulty later if they live in one of, currently, 7 states where phosphates in detergents have been legally banned. It is because of that7 state ban that detergent makers finally agreed to remove phosphates from their products It is not cost effective to maintain two formulas for sale.

There are dishwasher detergents that are phosphate free, which work as well as phosphate containing ones. Brands such as Seventh Generation and Bright Green are two of the many eco-friendly product lines committed to helping people walk the line between getting their dishes and laundry done and preserving and/or improving the environment.

It is legally optional for detergents to list their ingredients on the container. However, their customer service line can answer the question of whether their product contains phosphates. Even detergent companies keep blogs and maintain FAQs online today.

There is also the option to make your own phosphate free detergents. The cost per load may prove to be cheaper than buying detergents. Sites such as eHow and Youtube both have multiple recipes available and all ingredients are available at the local grocery in most places.

Whether you use store bought or make your own detergent use it wisely by following these tips:

·         Use a green or newly phosphate free brand.

·         Use the least amount of detergent to get the job done. (Fill to cap line)

·         Bonus tip: Use cold water formulas and wash in cold water to save electricity.



Women and Water

When we think of water pollution, first and foremost we likely think of the health of those who lack access to clean water, which is understandable since it is the most dangerous result of pollution and top priority to solve. However, we may not always stop to think about how the lack of access to clean water affects many aspects of people’s lives and disproportionately burdens certain groups of people due to cultural norms. 

In many impoverished countries where water pollution is an issue, women and children (usually girls) are responsible for gathering water for their families, often having to travel great distances to do so. UNICEF estimates that throughout the world, women and girls spend 200 million hours each day and 40 billion hours every year collecting water. In sub-Saharan Africa, a roundtrip is around 33 minutes on average in rural areas and 25 minutes in urban areas. In Asia, the lengths of the trips are 21 minutes and 19 minutes. 

For women, this means they have less time to spend with family, growing food, and earning money, making it even more difficult for them to escape poverty. For children this can prevent them from attending school altogether, and since it is mostly girls, contributes to the gender gap in education. The need for such long transportation and storage of water also increases its chances of becoming contaminated somewhere along the line, putting everyone at risk. 

Easier access to clean water nearby would not only help people’s health, but their overall wellbeing, allowing women to have more freedom to pursue other goals and young girls to continue their education. Organizations like and WaterAid are working on just that, including women and empowering them in the process of establishing their own safe water sources at home, helping to advance the causes of both clean water and gender equality.


Pollution and Chemical Effect on Fish in England

Water pollution is especially harmful to fish and the future of the fish population. Not only are they being harmed internally from chemicals, but they are dying off in large numbers. Earlier this year in the River Morda in England, thousands of fish were found dead after acidic pollution was found in the river. Unfortunately the area isn’t a stranger to pollution. However, based on previous accounts, the area showed to be resilient to such environment damage. But even still, an official with the Environment Agency noted that it would take “a few years” for the river to mend. The damage was so extreme that not only were there no signs of life in a section of the river, but other wildlife had been killed as well.

Equally as bad, with the disposal of certain chemicals in water sources, some fish are showing signs of feminizing. Professor Charles Tyler worked on a 2008 study that discovered, in 51 places along English rivers, one quarter of the male roach fish showed signs of becoming female. He is cautioning that scientists are becoming more worried about the effects of pollution in the water. One of the main culprits is the chemicals in birth control. About 200 human-used chemicals are known for feminizing fish while other types can affect different parts of the fish’s anatomy. These chemicals can enter the water by being flushed down the toilet or by passing through a person and into the sewer system. The feminizing of fish means that breeding can become compromised and without implementation of solutions, fish populations can decline. The chemicals in drugs are a notable concern that we must become aware of in addition to the industrial chemicals that are typically thought of.


“Thousands of fish die in River Morda pollution”

Water Contamination in India



Industrial processes pollute surface waters with metals like lead, arsenic, copper, cadmium, mercury and nickel. These processes include;

  • Mining
  • Discharge of industrial effluents containing metallic solutions into the water. These include effluents discharged from battery and paint manufacturing, electroplating, viscous-rayon manufacturing, copper picking and galvanizing & rubber processing industries.
  • Dumping of solid wastes which contain metal salts
  • Agricultural runoff
Exposure to these metals can cause:

  • Acute or chronic toxicity/poisoning resulting in damaged or reduced mental and central nervous functions
  • Changes in the blood composition and damage to the lungs, kidneys, liver, and other vital organs
  • Physical, muscular, and neurological degenerative processes that are similar to Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, muscular dystrophy, and multiple sclerosis
  • Cancer
  • Risk of allergies

Effects of Arsenic in drinking water. Photo credit: India Water Portal

Sustainable Water Pollution Solutions

There are several solutions to water pollution that are low-cost, effective and sustainable that have already been successfully implemented throughout the world and are making a difference. Three of them are ceramic water purifiers, the SODIS method and in-situ filtration wells.

Potters for Peace Ceramic Water Filter Project

A Ceramic Water Purifier is a bucket-shaped vessel made from local clay, combustibles such as sawdust or rice husks, and colloidal silver. The clay and combustibles are mixed together and pressed in a two-piece aluminum mold and then fired at 860 degrees celsius, which burns away the combustibles leaving a porous surface. The filtration capabilities are tested and then the unit is coated in colloidal silver, and through both the small pores in the surface and the anti-bacterial properties of the silver it is able to filter out about 99.88% of water-borne disease agents. The filter can be placed in a five-gallon receptacle and water passed through it and the full cost for this system is between $15 and $25 and only $4 to $6 for a replacement filter. A production facility with 3-4 workers can produce about 50 filters a day and Potters for Peace works with local people to set up these facilities in countries around the world.

The SODIS Method

SODIS, or solar disinfection, is a simple method of using the sun to purify water by putting it in a transparent bottle and leaving it in direct sunlight for 6 hours. The bottles must be clean and it recommended that a PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottle is used, but they can be reused as long as they remain transparent. Though this method requires low turbidity (cloudiness or haziness from suspended materials in water) and depends a bit on the weather, it is a low-cost and very sustainable method of purification.

In-Situ Filtration Wells

In-Situ Filtration Wells (ISF) are wells that combine hand constructions, low-cost hardware, minimal maintenance and the convenience and longevity of a drilled well. ISF wells contain more sand in their walls to enhance their filtration capabilities and can be made by local materials and local labor. Though the cost is a little more upfront ($400-$500 U.S. dollars) they cost 1/10th of a traditional well and are a great long term solution for providing clean water. They have been implemented successfully in Haiti and could be successful in other areas around the world.


South African Mining and Acidic Water Pollution

South Africa is one of the largest metals producers in the world, and this industry makes up a significant portion of the country's gross domestic products. In the late 19th century, the capital city of Johannesburg was founded with the discovery of gold, and today, platinum, coal, diamonds and Chrome, iron ore and manganese are also valuable resources mined in South Africa. The mining industry today directly employs close to half a million South Africans, and supports an estimated 4.5 million in total. This industry also indirectly creates an additional 1.4 millions jobs. Over the last 100 years, this industry has been important to the country and its development.

However, South Africa has not successfully addressed the environmental impact of this long mining history. Waste from the mines results in Acid mine drainage, and leave people exposed to dangerous effects and risks of serious illness. Acid mine Drainage is the result and outflow of water from mining sites after a reaction between water and rocks containing sulphur minerals. Water exposed can even develop dangerous PH levels similar to battery acid and is very harmful.

An investigation from Harvard law school discovered that South Africa was not protecting residents from this pollution. There was over 600 million rand, or $38 million, estimated as costs per for the government to address the damage. South Africa’s water ministry proposed a plan, beginning in 2020, to charge 67 percent of costs for toxic polluted water to mining companies through an environmental levy. In 2011, the government set aside 1.2 billion to address acidic water, and this was unsuccessful. Wits University Professor, Mike Muller states, it will be difficult to find mines that can pay the new promised levy with many mines simply shutting down, and that there is little accountability towards the rehabilitation funds collected by the government.

The environmental effects of mining have been devastating towards individuals, but this industry is also very important towards the economy, and providing for many South Africans. Not addressing the environmental impacts of mining sooner has allowed over a hundred years of damage, making this problem harder to address and placing an important and neglected responsibility of generations on an important industry that is struggling to continue growing.

To end on a positive note, mining conditions and technology have continually been improving. Mines of South Africa are among the safest in the world, and have become far more concerned with water and environmental impact. The company, Dow Chemicals has been working closely with mines developing new promising water-recovery technology. This technology is exciting Nanotechnology which includes reverse osmosis, nano-filtration membranes and ion-exchange resins which optimizes this process, solves the environmental and social pressures on the mining issues, and addresses the existing environmental damage.

Citations and further reading:

Jamasmie, Cecila. "South African Miners to Pay 67% of Acid Drainage Clean-up Costs." N.p., 19 May 2016. Web. 17 July 2017.

"Mine SA 2016 - Facts and Figures Pocketbook." Facts and Figures - Chamber of Mines South Africa. Chamber of Mines of South Africa, n.d. Web. 17 July 2017.

"Nanotechnology to Curb Water Pollution in Mining." Brand South Africa. N.p., 10 Feb. 2015. Web. 17 July 2017.

"South Africa's Acid Mine Water Pollution Risks Lives." Africanews. Africanews, 21 Mar. 2017. Web. 18 July 2017.

Toyana, Mfuneko. "South Africa Plans Levy on Mines to Tackle Acid Mine Water Pollution." Reuters. Ed. James Macharia and David Evans. Thomson Reuters, 19 May 2016. Web. 17 July 2017.

Image taken by Mike Hutchings

The Ganges River: Pollution and Spirituality in India’s Most Sacred River

The Ganges (known also as Ganga) river flows 2500 kilometers from the revered Gangotri Glacier high in the Himalayas of Northern India to the Bay of Bengal. According to Ganga Action Parivar, an NGO dedicated to restoring and protecting the Ganga river, more than 450 million people depend on the waters of the Ganga for every aspect of their life. From agriculture to tourism, the Ganga river is a crucial part of life and culture in India.

For Hindus, a bath in the sacred Ganga river is an important religious experience. Millions of people visit the purifying waters of the Ganga river each year. Over 100 million people flocked to the Ganga river in 2013 for Kumbh Mela, a 55-day religious festival. In Hindu culture, the Ganga is not just a river, but the embodiment of the goddess Ganga who cleanses those who bathe in her water from past sins and karma.



Along the banks of the Ganges there are countless temples, festivals, and rituals performed. One these important rituals for Hindus in India is cremation on the banks of the Ganga. It is believed that if one is cremated on the banks of the Ganga, the soul is freed from the cycle of death and rebirth. In Varanasi, the holiest of cities in India, nearly 200 bodies are cremated a day. It is a place where funeral pyres burn 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. However, the cremation is an expensive endeavor and in a country where approximately 360 million people live under the poverty line, families of the deceased often forgo the cremation process and put the body of the deceased directly into the Ganga river. More than 100 bodies washed ashore in January of 2015. This is but one of the many pollution's wreaking havoc on the Ganga river.


It is estimated that 2.9 billion liters of wastewater from sewage, domestic and industrial sources, are dumped into the Ganga river every day. Sewage waste accounts for 80% of the pollution in the Ganga river. Exposure to sewage waste kills nearly 600,000 people a year in India alone. Furthermore, new scientific evidence indicates that exposure to sewage may account for many cases of childhood malnutrition in India.

Scientists at the Sankat Mochan Foundation have found that the Ganga river has a fecal coliform count of more than 1.5 million per 100ml of water. Water regarded as safe for bathing should not contain more than 500 fecal coliform per 100ml.

Yamuna Foam

Yamuna, the second largest tributary of the Ganga river, is believed to the embodiment of the goddess Yami. Yami manifests life-giving forces and blessings and those who bathe in her waters shall not have a painful death. Sadly, it seems Yami could not spare herself from the painful death of pollution. 600 km of the Yamuna river is considered a ‘dead zone’ because the river is so chocked full of pollution that it can no longer maintain aquatic life. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) defines a dead zone as “a more common term for hypoxia, which refers to a reduced level of oxygen in the water. Less oxygen dissolved in the water is often referred to as a “dead zone” because most marine life either dies, or, if they are mobile such as fish, leave the area. Habitats that would normally be teeming with life become, essentially, biological deserts.”

According to Yale’s Climate and Energy Institute there are 5 main issues with the Yamuna river:

·         Lack of flow due to dams and heavy withdrawals for agricultural irrigation and other purposes (at Delhi, where pollution authorities say the flow should be at least 285 cubic meters per second, it drops down in summer months to as little as 5 cubic meters per second)
·         Contamination of the river with agricultural pesticides and herbicides
·         Toxic industrial wastes
·         Human wastes, with more than half the sewage in Delhi entering the river untreated
·         And in the face of global warming the uncertain future of the dwindling Himalayan glaciers that are the source of the river

 Furthermore, on the surface of the water sits a layer of toxic foam. Despite the toxic pollution, people still bathe in and drink from the toxic waters.

Photo: Yamuna River Foam

Richard Conniff wrote the article The Yamuna River; India’s Dying Goddess for the Journal of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. In this article, Conniff looks at how Yamuna river pollution has offered scientists and religious leaders alike a unique opportunity to work together. In January of 2011, TERI University in New Delhi and the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale held a conference in Vrindaban, India. The conference brought ecologists, microbiologists, chemists, and hydrologists together with spiritual leaders and local nongovernmental organizations to discuss the issues and possible solutions to the Yamuna water pollution crisis.

David Haberman, a professor of religious studies at Indiana University Bloomington, who attended the conference, stated “coming from America, we were all amazed at the comfort and readiness with which these scientists were willing to engage in discussions that included religion.” Furthermore, Conniff states that, “an inadvertent side effect was to leave some of the Americans wondering about missed opportunities back home. That is, would environmental remedies come easier if science and religion could look beyond their differences and begin to seek common ground?”

You may ask yourself, if the Ganga is so highly revered, why is it so polluted? There are two answers to that. One, while there have been environmental and industrial laws set in place to protect the waters of India, for a long time these laws were not enforced. Local corruption and governmental mismanagement have allowed industries to pollute without fear of repercussion. Luckily things are changing, as of May of 2016, over 100 tanneries (one of the main industrial contributors to pollution in the Ganga) along the Ganga have been shut down. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, committed 3.06 billion dollars towards Ganga river clean-up. The clean up efforts have hit some snags, but Modi seems committed to the restoration of the Ganga.

Secondly, many Hindus believe that not only can the Ganga purify humans of their sins and karma, but it is also able to cleanse itself. Swami Chidanand Saraswati, the spiritual head of the Parmarth Niketan Ashram, told Justin Rowlatt for BBC News, “People think Ganga can take care of my sins, can take care of anything, and they forget that while Ganga can take care of your sins it cannot take care of your waste, of your pollution.” Perhaps there was a time when the Ganga could indeed cleanse itself. As the water flows into the Bay of Bengal so too does the debris and pollution it acquires along the way. However, industry and population growth has made this practice unsustainable.

The Ganga river offers us a unique look into a space where pollution, science, and religion intersect. Protecting and restoring the Ganga river not only requires an overhaul of infrastructure and governmental mandates, but a shift in spiritual outlook as well. The leaders of the movement spearheading a change in policy and local government accountability are not those who are strictly environmentalists, but religious heads and local groups whose interest in the well-being of the Ganga extends well beyond the physical state of things. The Ganga is so important to the well-being of India that Saraswati believes that “if Ganga dies, India dies. If Ganga thrives, India thrives.”

Canada and The Great Lakes


    Map Displayed Above: The effects of PCBs in the Great Lakes (ppm). Though these toxic compounds haven’t been manufactured and imported since the 1980’s, their consequences have made a lasting effect on the lakes. Adverse side effects associated with PCB exposure include disruption of reproductive function, developmental deficits in children, effects on liver disease and diabetes, and increased cancer risks. (Found via

    We can all agree that the best way to approach the issue of water pollution would be to adhere collective decisions and cooperative actions. This would be considered vital when dealing with large bodies of water, such as the Great Lakes, which cross boundaries with the United States and Canada. According to Environment and Climate Change Canada, "the Great Lakes provide the foundation for billions of dollars in economic activity, and they are a direct source of drinking water for 10 million Canadians” (n.a., 2017). Unfortunately, these large bodies of water are being threatened by land-based pollution, invasive species, and climate change. 

    Here I would like to introduce the Great Lakes Environmental Assessment and Mapping project (GLEAM). Consisting of twenty American and Canadian researchers and environmentalists, this group evaluates multiple stressors affecting the Great Lakes. They approached the task by mapping the intensity of each stressor. These were divided into seven categories: 

Aquatic habitat alterations: Changes to aquatic habitat from diverse causes, such as shoreline hardening and erosion control structures, port and marina development, and tributary dams 
Climate change: Changes to seasonal, average, and extreme temperature, precipitation, and ice cover 
Coastal development: Land-based human development near lake margins, such as residential and commercial development and industrial activities 
Fisheries management: Changes to Great Lakes ecosystems resulting from fishing pressure, stocking activities, and aquaculture 
Invasive species: Changes to Great Lakes ecosystems from invasive and nuisance species in abundances not previously seen 
Nonpoint source pollution: Nutrients, sediments, and waterborne contaminants transported from watersheds to the Great Lakes by streams and rivers and atmospheric deposition 
Toxic chemical pollution: Chemical pollutants from industrial and agricultural sources 
     Each link will direct you to information on the individual stressor and will provide you with multiple maps for your viewing. I urge you to share these with others to understand that there are many complex combinations of stresses at play here. 

    The Great Lakes are important to their neighboring countries because of their water supply for agricultural, domestic, and industrial use. They also provide a home for many wonderful species. What can we do? Spread the word. Raising awareness to the issue of water pollution is helpful in getting individuals motivated and keeping them informed about what they can do to help. GLEAM plans to evaluate interactions among stressors that may increase their influence and improve understanding about how these interactions could repair the issue at hand. GLEAM has partnered with several nonprofit organizations, including the Healing Our Waters Coalition. This organization includes over 100 environmental organizations with different locations and missions, making it easy for you to help. For more information, visit: 

     Life is full of choices… make the right choice! I believe we can all make choices to help and improve our future and the future of others. Please visit any of the previous websites I have posted to see how you can be a part of this positive change for the future. As a team, we can make a change for the better for our country, for Canada, and for others!


Government of Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada. (2017, June
            20). Environment and Climate Change Canada - Water - Great Lakes.      
            Retrieved July 14, 2017, from