Physical Contaminants in Water

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Water is our most precious resource. Without it, we cannot live for long. Yet we are constantly contaminating it! This lesson gives you some examples of how we physically contaminate our water.

Water Contamination

Have you ever seen toilet paper floating in a body of water you were passing by or, worse, about to swim in? Disgusting! Yet that isn't the only type of contaminants water may have. Some contaminants are chemical. Chemical contaminants you may not even see. Other contaminants are microbiological, which you typically can't see with your naked eye. But this lesson's focus is on the physical contaminants, like the toilet paper, found in water.

What Are Physical Contaminants?

When we talk about physical contaminants, we generally mean something that isn't a purely chemical substance, like salt or something purely microbiological, such as a lot of bacteria or viruses. We mean things that are physical, things we can see, touch, and hold. They may be made of chemicals, and they may have dangerous microbes on or within them, but we can see them and/or feel them.

With respect to water, physical contamination can occur in natural water sources, like lakes, or in our own glass of water. This physical contamination may change the property or appearance of our water.

Examples of Physical Contaminants in Water

Unfortunately, our most precious resource, water, is often contaminated with physical objects that change its properties and appearance. Some of the physical contamination occurs as a result of natural processes that have nothing to do with human activity.

Sediment raised by the flow of water is a physical contaminant but can be perfectly natural. Organic material that falls into the water, like leaves and even animals that have fallen into the water and died, are physical contaminants but are natural ones nonetheless. This doesn't mean they don't pose a danger just because they're natural, but they are not man-made is the point.

Sediment can be seen here near the Yucatan Peninsula.

Other physical contaminants of water are anything but natural. Sewage, including toilet paper, dumped into the water is a physical contaminant that also harbors a lot of biological contaminants, like viruses and bacteria. You better believe that sewage will change various properties and the appearance of our water, including taste, color, and odor.

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