Protecting Our Water

picture of dirty waste water pouring into a river

Not all water pollution is dumped directly into water bodies. Almost anything we put on the land or release into the air can end up in groundwater, rivers, lakes and oceans. Activities such as gold and silver mining, manufacturing plastics, using pesticides, and burning fossil fuels, plastics, wood and peat all release persistent pollutants into the environment. These pollutants are called “persistent” because, instead of breaking down into something harmless, they remain toxic for decades. Plastic litter can also release persistent pollutants. When plastic litter enters a river, lake or ocean, sunlight and wave action break the plastic into fragments and tiny microplastics. When fish or other animals ingest plastic, it can foul up their digestive systems and may also leach toxic chemicals into their bodies. In aquatic ecosystems, persistent pollutants from plastic and other sources can travel all the way up the food chain from tiny aquatic plants to top predator fish. The longer a consumer (such as a fish) lives, the more of these pollutants it can eat and store in its body. To learn more about pollutants, visit Protecting Our Water Learning Resources.