Processing Magazine

Human activity leads to changes in water chemistry, study finds

September 9, 2013

<photocredit>Julia Freeman-Woolpert/iStockphoto/Thinkstock</photocredit>

According to a new study from the University of Maryland, human activities are altering the chemistry of the Eastern U.S. waterways, putting local ecosystems and drinking water supplies at risk.

For their study, a team of researchers examined the measurements of alkalinity in almost 100 rivers from Florida to New Hampshire. Over different periods, ranging from 25 to 60 years, as many as two in three rivers had become significantly more alkaline. This trend is a cause for concern because of the negative consequences it brings about.

Higher alkalinity levels make water and wastewater treatment more complicated and also enhance the growth of algae. Moreover, increased alkalinity can result in faster corrosion of metal pipes used in water systems across the country. Last, but not least, higher alkalinity levels can lead to ammonia toxicity, which is known to be harmful to fish in rivers and to crops irrigated using alkaline water, the University of Maryland explained.

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Geologist Sujay Kaushal, one of the leaders of the study, commented that none of the examined rivers showed any increase in levels of acidity. Quite paradoxically, higher acid levels in rain and soil, caused by human activity, can also result in increased alkalinity of water, he pointed out.

Researchers explained that they focused on rivers in the Eastern states because they were the main water sources for densely populated areas on the East coast and because records of their water quality have been compiled for many decades. In addition, this part of the country is more prone to chemical changes in water because of the porous, alkaline limestone commonly found there.