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Air Pollution and Water

Have you heard about rivers, lakes, or streams becoming polluted? Sometimes the pollution is from trash or from dangerous things spilled into the water. However, sometimes the source of water pollution is in the air.

Air pollution can get into waterways too. Some air pollutants fall from the sky into water. Other air pollutants are carried to the ground in raindrops, snowflakes, or fog. Some of these pollutants are listed below.

Some types of air pollution can cause algae to grow very fast if they get into the water. The algae fill the waterways, leaving less space for other plants and animals. This is called an algal bloom or “Red Tide.” Because of pollution, algal blooms happen more often now than they did hundreds of years ago. Some algal blooms are toxic. When animals eat the algae they also eat the toxins.

When fossil fuels are burned, air pollution is released into the atmosphere. Some of the pollutants make the water in clouds change to be more acidic. The acidic water falls as rain, snow, or other types of precipitation. This is called “acid rain”. The acidic water gets into lakes, rivers, and other waterways making them acidic too. That is a tough environment for some fish and animals, such as frogs, to survive in. In fact, some very acid lakes have no fish at all.

People burning waste and fossil fuels such as coal release another air pollutant, called mercury, into the atmosphere. Mercury can dissolve in water. Bacteria in the water change it into a more poisonous form. Fish and shellfish absorb the poison into their bodies. When birds and people eat the fish, the poison gets into their bodies too. The United States and other countries test fish to make sure that the fish sold in stores are safe to eat.

How can people reduce air pollution’s effect on water? Reducing our use of fossil fuels can make the biggest impact. Turn off lights. Walk, ride a bike, or use public transportation. Every little bit done by each person can add up to a noticeable improvement in air pollution.

Last modified March 1, 2006 by Lisa Gardiner.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA