Facts and Figures

Much industrial wastewater is discharged without treatment to open watercourses, reducing the quality of larger volumes of water

  • Virtually all goods-producing activities generate pollutants as unwanted by-products.
  • The most important water contaminants created by human activities are microbial pathogens, nutrients, oxygen-consuming materials, heavy metals and persistent organic matter, as well as suspended sediments, nutrients, pesticides and oxygen-consuming substances, much of it from non-point sources.
  • Industry creates more pressure on water resources from the impacts of wastewater discharges and their pollution potential than by the quantity used in production.
  • Mercury and lead from industrial activities, commercial and artisanal mining and landfill leachates threaten human and ecosystem health in some areas, with emissions from coal-fired power plants being a major source of the mercury accumulating in the tissues of fish at the top of fish trophic levels.
  • Major nutrient sources include agricultural runoff, domestic sewage (also a source of microbial pollution), industrial effluents and atmospheric inputs from fossil fuel burning and bush fires.
  • Industries based on organic raw materials are the largest contributors of organic pollution, while oil, steel and mining industries represent the major risk for heavy metal release.
  • Much industrial wastewater is discharged without treatment to open watercourses, reducing the quality of larger volumes of water and sometimes infiltrating aquifers and contaminating groundwater resources.
  • Industrial pollution is expected to increase in emerging market economies with economic and industrial development.
  • Many industries – some of them known to be heavily polluting (such as leather and chemicals) – are moving from high-income countries to emerging market economies.
  • However there has been a steady growth in companies seeking certification through ISO 14001, the international standard for environmental management administered by the International Organization for Standardization. By the end of 2002 nearly 50,000 companies in 118 countries had received ISO 14001 certification.

Related themes:  Industry; Ecosystems

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