Water quality

9.5.8 Other water quality concerns

Groundwater pollution from oil and gas fracking activities, which use large quantities of chemicals and discharge large volumes of ‘produced water’, is problematic in the Americas (Osborn et al. 2011; Vengosh et al. 2014; Annex 9-1). Heavy metals, particulate matter, various organic chemicals, and EDCs are widely used in, or become by-products of, these oil and natural gas operations (Webb et al. 2017).

Lake acidification from atmospheric deposition of fossil fuel emissions causes problems in areas lacking soils or bedrock capable of buffering the emissions, including the north-east United States of America, south-east Canada and some Scandinavian regions. The situation is improving for affected lakes in the Adirondack Mountains region of the north-eastern United States of America, where sulphur and nitrogen oxide emissions have decreased since the 1970s (Annex 9-1; Driscoll et al. 2016).

Thermal pollution and radionuclides also represent water quality concerns. Thermal pollution, often resulting from using freshwater as a coolant in power plants and industrial manufacturing activities, can degrade water quality by changing ambient water temperature. The impacts can be multiple, including reducing the dissolved oxygen concentration while at the same time increasing the respiration rates of aquatic organisms using it. Some aquatic species populations may decrease because they cannot thrive or reproduce in waters at higher temperature, while others may increase, potentially changing the overall ecosystem dynamics of a waterbody. Radioactive contamination typically in the form of accidental releases of radionucleotides from nuclear activities have polluted inland freshwater systems in some areas, with negative implications for aquatic and other organisms, including humans, using these waterbodies (Echols, Meadows and Orazion 2009).