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Point Source Water Pollution

What is Point Source Water Pollution?

“Point source water pollution is defined as emissions which enter water bodies from an easy-to-identify single source, such as a pipe from a factory or the outfall from a sewage works” (Handley 239). This type of pollution has serious effects on our environment. The discharged waste from firms can affect water bodies of any size. Pollutants can change the chemical makeup of the water. They can affect oxygen levels, acidity levels, algae and bacteria growth and even adjust water temperature.  All of these things greatly affect the aquatic life of these water bodies. 

Pollution of this kind becomes an externality and thus a market failure when there is a negative impact on humans in addition to the environment.  With fish and shellfish being a primary food source, gaming and recreational activities occurring on water bodies and with tap water providing a water source for drinking, pollution in the water can easily translate into big problems for people - a true external cost.

A great example of this was a case in Hinkley, California in 1993. Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) released a pollutant called Hexavalent Chromium into the ground at their plant in Hinkley. Hexavalent Chromium was found in well water in the town and the company covered up their knowledge of the pollution.   The community members had no idea that their medical conditions (which ranged from nose bleeds to cancer) had any correlation to the huge firm in their community. This was all documented in the movie Erin Brockovich that captured the process of informing the community that many of their medical conditions were due to the pollution created by PG&E.

Unless otherwise noted, the information in this section was summarized during a study of the following text: Hanley, Nick, and Jason F. Shogren and Ben White. Introduction to Environmental Economics. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

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