2. Water Contaminants

Learning Objectives

  • Understand types of water contaminants, their sources, and their global distribution.
  • For waterborne diseases, understand of multiple routes of transmission, involving food, water, and physical contact.         
  • Learn about natural and human generated chemical pollution.
  • Understand waterborne disease and pollution as aspects of water resilience.

Key concepts

Waterborne disease, disease transmission, sources of chemical contaminants.

1. The impacts of disease and contamination

Contamination of food and water by fecal contamination is one of the world’s leading development problems, causing death of about 800,000 children/year (about 2 million of all ages). Fecal contamination causes a variety of diarhheal diseases, including typhoid and cholera, among many others. Fecal bacteria are spread by multiple, interconnected routes – hand to food, sewage to water, and others (see slide 4). Water can also be contaminated by chemicals, including nitrate, salts, and mine drainage. This submodule examines various major types of water contaminants. Submodule 3 presents data on the global extent of safe water and adequate sanitation. Submodule 5 takes a closer look at one major type of contamination – mining – seen in case study of copper mining in Zambia by Hillary Waters.

2. Water contaminants

Key Readings

Key Readings

Discussion Questions

Discussion questions

  • During a drought, why might waterborne diseases increase?
  • Referring to slide #4 (transmission pathways), which transmission routes could be most easily blocked in your city?
  • Which transmission routes would face the greatest barriers?

Further Readings

Other related International Waters Lessons and Submodules


Next submodule: The Global Situation For Water And Sanitation

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