Water Quality MAIN Iowa Public Television
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What goes in the water must come out before we can drink it. We have the responsibility to keep sediment, pathogens, nutrients, and toxic chemicals out of the water supply. This sections explores the types of pollutants found in water.

Almost anything can be considered a pollutant if it’s in water and it’s unwanted. Here’s a list of some of the most common water pollutants and where they can come from.


Where it can come from

Why it’s a problem


tiny soil and rock particles. chemicals can attach themselves to these particles as well.

wind and water erosion on ag land, stormwater runoff, erosion from construction sites, erosion in urban areas

changes water habitat which affects what can live there. e.g. prevents sunlight from infiltrating water and reaching plants and animals. domino effect on foodchain


nitrogen and phosphorous

runoff from farm field fertilizers

runoff from residential lawns

runoff from recreational areas (golf courses)

runoff from septic systems

runoff from manure

causes explosive plant growth which uses up available oxygen in water (hypoxia) leaving areas unable to support aquatic life.

when consumed in high levels by babies, nitrates reduce the blood’s ability to carry oxygen .

Toxic chemicals:

organic or inorganic chemicals used in industry, agriculture and in the home e.g. oil, cadmium, lead, mercury, copper, zinc

chemicals can be spilled, dumped or leaked directly into waterways.

chemicals that get spilled, dumped, leaked, or are improperly stored can be moved into waterways by runoff.

if ingested, these chemicals can build up and cause serious health problems.

chemicals can negatively affect a water habitat and the wildlife living there


disease-causing agents, like fecal coliform bacteria, found in animal or human waste

improperly managed sewage, improperly managed livestock, pets

can cause serious diseases like dysentery, hepatitis, food poisoning, parasitic infections

Explore More: Water Quality
Copyright 2004, Iowa Public Television
The Explore More project is supported by funds from the
Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust
and the USDE Star Schools Program.






IPTV Market to Market Online Links

"The Waste in Our Water." This Market to Market feature looks at emerging contaminants in our water supply.

Nonpoint source pollution targeted by EPA
According to the environmental protection agency, or e-p-a, there are more than 20,000 u.s. lakes, streams and rivers that fail to meet current water quality standards, as defined by the clean water act of 1972.

States accused of not doing enough to clean up waterways
From the great lakes ... To america's major waterways ... The nation is ignoring a key provision of the clean water act.

PBS NewsHour Online Links
Correspondent Fred De Sam Lazaro of KTCA, Minneapolis-St. Paul, reports on concern over a looming epidemic of arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh where much of the drinking water is contaminated by the high arsenic content of the soil. An international group of scientists is gathering there to discuss the problem.

Rod Minnott reports on one of the deadliest environmental hazards in the United States in which underground storage tanks are leaking highly radioactive waste in Southeast Washington.