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Chemicals And PollutantsChemicals And Pollutants

The Basics

It might surprise you to learn that chemicals from products we use every day can eventually end up in our water. Just look around your home. Do you see any batteries, paint, or medicines? If you don’t get rid of these products correctly, they can cause chemicals to end up in the water supply. In fact, your water can be affected by chemicals and pollutants close by and far away from your home.

How does this happen? Runoff is water from rain or melted snow that isn’t absorbed by the ground. Instead, it runs over the ground and loose soil, picking up pollution and carrying it into ponds, lakes, streams, rivers, and coastal areas. Water can be polluted by urban, industrial, or agricultural runoff. Examples of water pollutants from runoff include:

  • Pesticides and fertilizers from our lawns and gardens
  • Oil, grease, and chemicals from our cars and trucks
  • Heavy metals and chemicals from construction sites and factories
Our drinking water can be affected by chemicals and pollution from runoff. Swimming or playing in polluted water can also make us sick.


Did you know ?

There are two types of water pollution: point source and nonpoint source. Point source pollution comes from a specific source, like a factory pipe. Point source pollution is easy to identify. Nonpoint source pollution comes from many different sources, such as melting snow and rainwater running over the ground.

Learn More

Explore the links below to learn more about chemicals and pollutants in water, including what you can do to protect your water supply.

Read About It Read About It

Bon Voyage to Bad Boating Habits (PDF, 426.72 KB)(U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) - Outlines the impact of boating on rivers, lakes, and oceans; stresses keeping waters clean by not littering and maintaining a boat’s gasoline and oil.

Improving Old MacDonald's Farm (PDF, 377.28 KB)(U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) - Information on waste pollution runoff generated by farm animals and the resulting impact on health and ecosystems.

Streams in the City (PDF, 1.04 KB)(U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) - An article about streams, different types of streams, and the ecological impact of man-made structures on the health and flow of streams.

Water Contamination (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) - Information about how water contamination and possible health risks.


Drinking Water Facts: Perfluorinated Chemicals in Drinking Water (PDF, 658.27 KB)(State of New Jersey) - PDF of facts on perfluorinated chemicals in drinking water; what they are, how they occur, and effects they can have on health.

The Effects of Urbanization on Water Quality: Pesticides (U.S. Geological Survey) - Describes how pesticides caused by urbanization may harm aquatic life and enter the drinking water supply.

Understanding Pollutants

Private Drinking Water Wells - Human Health (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) - Information on private drinking water wells that includes basic overview, FAQs, human health effects, publications, and a glossary.

Games and Activities Games and Activities

Bon Voyage to Bad Boating Habits Activity (PDF, 1.13 MB)(U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) - This activity goes along with the Bon Voyage to Bad Boating Habits article and teaches students about common boating-related threats to waterways.

Improving Old MacDonald's Farm Activity (PDF, 870.90 KB)(U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) - This activity goes along with the Improving Old MacDonald's Farm article and teaches students to determine how much fertilizer is needed to meet a plant's requirements and determine cost-effective and environmentally friendly farming practices.

Streams in the City Activity (PDF, 2.81 MB)(U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) - This activity goes along with the Streams in the City article which teaches the ecological impact of man-made structures on the health and flow of streams.

Acid Rain Student Site: Games and Activities (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) - Crosswords, word searches, connect-the-dots games and activities about acid rain.

Videos Videos

Impact of Pollutants on Snow and Ice (Exploratorium of San Francisco) - Video about research adventures studying the impact pollutants have on snow and ice.

Nutrient Pollution (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) - Video about the amount of nitrogen reaching our waterways and the health effects associated with it.

Why Care About the Water? (National Geographic) - Video from the National Geographic about water in all its forms and how one can make a difference.

For Teachers For Teachers

Arizona Water Quality Education Activities for Grades 1 - 12 (University of Arizona, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences) - Hands-on activities to teach students about water quality and effects on human health.

Educational Resources - Runoff (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) - Resource page with links to various government and non-government educational activities regarding runoff.

Give Water a Hand (University of Wisconsin) - Project to clean up the watersheds in your community.

Environmental Health Education: Lesson Plans for All Grade Levels (PDF, 2.06 MB)(State of Idaho)

Water Pollution (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences) - Information about water pollution, including health studies, the role of government agencies, and guidelines for educators.