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Ground-Water pollution and its sources

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Everybody wants clean water for drinking, bathing and other domestic uses, but not everybody appreciates the fact that our own actions are often the worst enemy in achieving that goal. Ground water is one of the most misused and misunderstood resources. Because ground water and its movement, and consequently also its pollution, is hidden from view beneath the land surface, the seriousness of ground-water pollution problems has not been recognized until recently.

The sources of ground-water pollution are many and varied because in addition to natural processes practically every type of facility or structure installed by man and each and every one of his activities may eventually contribute to ground-water quality problems. The quality of ground water is most commonly affected by waste disposal. Other major sources result from agricultural activities and ground-water development. In addition to these three major categories, there are other potential sources of pollution, such as mining, spills, leakage from underground pipes and tanks, and road salting.

All of these activities can generate pollutants which eventually may enter the ground-water systems and slowly begin to move through the subsurface environment. Once under the ground, the pollutants are hidden from view and the existence of ground-water pollution becomes evident only if they reemerge on the surface or in water wells. When this occurs, it is almost too late to do anything about it. The effects of pollution may remain in the aquifers for years, decades, or centuries, because the residence time (turnover) of ground water is very slow. Ground-water pollution may even result in aquifers or parts of quifers being damaged beyond repair.

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Zaporozec, A. Ground-Water pollution and its sources. GeoJournal 5, 457–471 (1981).

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