Drinking Water Contamination
Water is something that we all take for granted. Most of us give little thought to turning on a faucet and getting a drink which we assume is reasonably safe and healthy for us. But there are a number of factors that contribute to drinking water contamination no matter where we live.
Some of these factors occur naturally in drinking water, and others are introduced by agriculture, industry, municipal water systems, and our own carelessness with chemicals for cleaning, transportation, and other common human activities. This article will briefly outline some of the more common contaminants in drinking water, how they get into our water, and the effects that they have on our health.
Microbial Sources of Water Contamination
Cryptosporidium is a parasite that causes mild to severe gastrointestinal discomfort. It enters the water supply through sewage and runoff from animal waste. Though most people only encounter mild discomfort, it can be deadly to the elderly or people with compromised immune systems.
Coliform Bacteria are very common in nature and in our own intestines and usually pose no threat. However, certain strains of E. coli bacteria can be very dangerous. E.coli gets into water through contact with human and animal feces and can cause, cramps, headaches, diarrhea, and in some circumstances, death.
Giardia lamblia is another parasite that enters water from contact with sewage and animal waste. Exposure rarely leads to serious illness but it can cause intestinal discomfort in the form of cramps, nausea, vomiting, etc.
Inorganic Sources of Water Contamination
Flouride is added to the water in many communities to foster dental health. Prolonged exposure can lead to bone conditions like pain, tenderness, or brittleness of bones as well as staining or pitting in the teeth of children.
Copper can enter water through natural deposits in rock and soil, but more often as a result of corrosion in household plumbing. In the short term, exposure leads to mild gastrointestinal distress but long-term exposure can lead to permanent liver or kidney damage.
Lead is an increasing problem in cities with older water systems. Water slowly corrodes the lead in municipal water systems and can cause a wide range of developmental difficulties for children and high blood pressure and kidney ailments in older adults.
Mercury gets into drinking water from agricultural runoff as well as seepage from landfills and some factories. Its presence in drinking water leads to kidney damage from long and short-term exposure.
Water Contamination from Disinfectants
All of these disinfectants are commonly used in municipal water systems all over the country to reduce the amount of bacteria, parasites, and viruses. Additional disinfectants over and above the usual levels are added after heavy rains as a safety precaution.
Chlorine Dioxide can cause damage to the nervous systems of newborns, fetuses, and young children. In adults, it has been known to cause anemia.
Chlorine causes a range of mild symptoms from eye and nose irritation to stomach and intestinal discomfort.
Chloramine also causes intestinal discomfort and irritation to the eyes and nose with prolonged exposure.
Water Contamination Byproducts from Disinfectants
These byproducts are caused by the reactions of natural organic materials with the disinfectants commonly added to water by municipal water systems.
Bromate may cause cancer in people that have had this in their drinking water for many years.
Chlorite can cause problems with the nervous systems of newborns, small children, and fetuses as well as anemia in adults.
Haloacetic acids can cause cancer from long-term exposure.
Trihalomethanes may cause cancer and lead to liver, kidney, and nervous system difficulties.
This brief overview of the most common drinking water contaminants gives you a general idea of what types of impurities are found in most drinking water whether we get it from bottles, private wells, city water systems, or other sources.
As we become more aware of what is commonly found in a glass of water, more and more of us are looking into different types of water filters that we can install in our homes. These filters run the gamut from pitcher water filters to whole house systems with a wide variety of different filtration methods for removing contaminants. Increasingly, through action and awareness, each of us is becoming our own water superintendent for our homes, and that may be the most reliable solution of all.