Point Source Pollution Essay

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Following the passage of legislation in the 1960s and 1970s aimed at cleaning the air and waters in the United States, rigorous efforts have focused on point source pollution control. The term identifies sources of pollution that emanate from a discreet and clearly identifiable point. The Environmental Protection Agency lists the following structures that fit the definition: pipes, ditches, channels, tunnels, conduits, wells, rolling stock concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO), landfill leachate collection systems, water-borne vessels from which pollutants may be discharged.

Point source is distinguished from “non-point” source pollution, such as precipitation runoff from an urban area that is not caught in a sewer system, or agricultural pollution from the seepage into the soil of fertilizers and insecticides. Discharge from a power plant smoke stack is an example of point source pollution. Other sources include discharged waste water from industrial plants and municipalities through pipelines. If the materials that are being discharged are not treated to remove pollutants, the effects on air and water can be degrading. Even treated effluents can still have a measure of pollutant material in them. It is the amount of pollutant material in treated water that demands regulation.

Reducing Water Pollution

In the case of water pollution, the Clean Water Act established the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) in 1972. This agency issues permits to regulate the amount of pollutants carried in water discharged from industries and municipalities into surface waters. Under the NPDES legislation, licenses are issued specifying the quantity and quality of pollutants that may be legally discharged. Staff members of the Environmental Protection Agency will periodically monitor the sites and collect sample of the effluent to determine if discharges are within the legal limits. Since the enactment of the NPDES, the amount of point source pollution has significantly decreased nationwide.

A case in point is the reduction in point source pollutants entering the Expansive Chesapeake Bay on the Atlantic seaboard. In the 1987 Chesapeake Bay Agreement, a document that addressed the immense value of this body of water, a goal was set to reduce the level nitrogen and phosphorous by 40 percent by 2000 from the 1985 levels. This degree of reduction of these chemicals would not only cut pollution but also increase oxygen levels in the waters and stimulate the growth and survival of aquatic life. In the 1992 amendment to the agreement, it was agreed to continue the 40 percent reduction in pollutants beyond 2000. The agreement is a complex one given that three states (Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia) and the District of Columbia each developed strategies to achieve the reduction goals.

The process involved in implementing the reduction goals is also complex. Pont sources in each municipality located on Chesapeake Bay were required to implement a Biological Nutrient Removal (BNR) program. In this process, nutrients are removed from municipal waste water in addition to solid waste. The BNR process for removing nitrogen begins with the conversion of ammonia to compounds of nitrites (nitrification), which stimulates the growth of nitrogen consuming bacteria. The next step (denitrification) transforms nitrites to nitrogen gas through the action of nitrite converting bacteria.

Similar reductions in point source pollution have occurred in Texas. Since the enactment of the NPDES, the state has seen a 70 percent reduction in the amount of pollution from municipality waste water. At the same time a number of firms in the state were issued “no discharge” permits due to the degree of pollutants contained in the effluent. In these cases, the retained waste water is evaporated or used in irrigation systems. For a number of agricultural activities in Texas (poultry, dairy and feedlot operations), “no discharge” permits have been issued. This precludes the discharge of animal waste into surface water and mandates its retention in secure ponds.


  1. T. Chapman and A. E. Shaarawi, eds., Statistical Methods for the Assessment of Point Source Pollution (Springer, 2001);
  2. Hassan Daud, Protecting the Environment from Land-Based Sources of Pollution: Towards Effective International Cooperation (Ashgate Publishing, 2006);
  3. John Smol, Pollution of Lakes and Rivers (Hodder Arnold Publications, 2002);
  4. Jeffrey Pierce, P. Arne Vesilind, and Ruth Weiner, Environmental Pollution and Control (Butterworth-Heinemann, 1997);
  5. Ian Pepper, Charles P. Gerba, and Mark Brusseau, Pollution Science (Academic Press, 1996).

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