We can all help to keep the quality of our water high if we remember to follow a few simple steps. With it being Water Quality Month this month, we thought we’d look at what we can do to make sure we’re not the ones causing pollution.
- Take unused medicines back to the pharmacy
When pharmaceuticals enter our water systems, they present a major environmental problem. The drugs have to be filtered out at the sewage plant to prevent them polluting our streams and rivers. However, this is not always successful, and so the drugs enter our biosphere with unknown long-term consequences.
Contraceptive pills, hormones and antibiotics are all entering the aquatic environment, with unknown long-term consequences. So take unwanted drugs back to the pharmacy – don’t flush them or wash them down the drain.
- Make sure that garden pesticides don’t go down the drain
Unfortunately, when we’re at leisure or pursuing our hobbies, we may also be harming water quality, even though we don’t realise it at the time.
For instance, the garden can be a big source of water contamination if we’re not careful. Think of all the products in the garden centre that are labelled as harmful to aquatic life. None of these should be washed down the drain, because the residues from them can find their way into the water courses. Garden fertilisers are just as bad for water quality – they contain phosphates which can contaminate water.
- If you have any creosote left, don’t use it – it’s extremely polluting
When it comes to painting your garden fence, creosote has been banned. The original creosote was made from coal tar. However, there are still similar products around, and old pieces of coated wood will leach creosote in certain circumstances. The chemical can find its way into both water and soil and then move through the soil to the groundwater (water that is underground). It then takes many years to break down. Old railway sleepers were often coated in creosote, and if you have these in your garden, you may be allowing creosote into the water system every time it rains.
- Don’t let garden fertilisers into the water system
Pesticides and herbicides are also a major problem. What about those slug pellets? Where do they go after heavy rain? Almost certainly, they have been washed into the drains. Think about the garden centre shelves again – there is usually an entire stand devoted to poisons for every possible type of unwanted garden visitor, from mice to snails, ants and wasps. But what kills these pests may also kill bees. And once it has entered the water system, it can have all kinds of unwanted and destructive effects. Another factor is the concentration of these poisons at certain times of the year, such as spring and summer.
- Holidays and leisure time can lead to pollution
Our leisure activities, such as camping, hiking and boating, can also inadvertently lead to water pollution. If you’re struck by a call of nature when you are miles from anywhere, be absolutely sure that you are not polluting a water source. Never put raw sewage or other human waste in a place where it could contaminate a stream or river. And don’t clean out the tanks of your boat into a river. The same goes for toilets and chemical cassettes that are used in camper vans and mobile homes – dispose of the contents at the camp site. The chemicals used in chemical toilets are not a good addition to the water supply.
- Engine oil mustn’t be poured into the rainwater drain – take it to the tip
The car too is an area we need to be careful about. Used engine oil must go to the household rubbish tip and not down the street drain – that’s illegal. The drains are meant to contain rain water, so they are not subject to the same filtration and treatment as sewage, and they will discharge to the nearest river, or to the sea.
By all means use an efficient waste water pump – in fact, the more efficient the better. Just make sure that the place you’re pumping to is not somewhere that will harm water quality.