Man-made Inorganic Water Contaminants
Man-made inorganic contaminants in drinking water represent a very broad spectrum of pollutants that adversely affect the health of people and wildlife worldwide. Chemicals, radiation, and byproducts of the water purification process are commonly classified as inorganic contaminants and this article will briefly explore how these get into drinking water and the effects that they have on our health.
Man-made inorganic chemicals are metals, salts, and other compounds that do not contain carbon. Some of these occur naturally in the rock and soil, but the most dangerous and persistent inorganic chemicals are those that we add to the environment through carelessness and runoff from industrial facilities. Some of the most dangerous chemicals include:
Arsenic comes from agricultural and industrial runoff and has been linked to several different types of cancer, skin lesions, blindness, partial paralysis, and organ damage.
Asbestos contamination can come from industrial processes but most people are exposed from the use of asbestos cement water piping buried beneath almost every North American city. Asbestos has been known to cause many different types of cancer.
Cyanide is used in some herbicides, but contamination most often comes from the manufacturing of synthetic fibers such as nylon. Exposure to cyanide in drinking water can lead to muscle tremors, neurological disorders, thyroid dysfunction, and nerve damage.
Mercury is used to make fluorescent light bulbs, dry-cell batteries, electrical switches, and thermostats, and exposure often results in damage to the kidneys and nervous system.
The surface of the earth is bombarded at all times by solar radiation from the sun, but the most hazardous forms of radiation contamination result from leaking barrels of spent nuclear fuel from power plants and occasionally, the venting of radiation from a nuclear power plant accident. Exposure to radiological contaminants, also known as radionuclides, greatly increases your risk of many different cancers, especially cancers of the thyroid gland, and leukemia.
Byproducts of Water Purification
These byproducts are formed when water purification disinfectants, such as chlorine, react with natural compounds in the water. The four main disinfection byproducts are:
Trihalomethanes, the most common of which is chloroform, may increase your risk for bladder and colorectal cancers as well as heart, lung, kidney, liver, and nervous system damage.
Haloacetic acids have been known to cause liver tumors and may increase your risk for cancer.
Bromate is formed when the disinfectant ozone reacts with naturally-occurring bromide. Exposure to bromate may increase your risk for tumors of the kidney, thyroid, and other organs.
Chlorite is formed when chlorine dioxide is used to disinfect water. The health risks are inconclusive, but preliminary evidence suggests that exposure to chlorite may affect kidneys as well as the testes and perhaps cause other reproductive problems.
The health effects of man-made inorganic water contaminants vary from well known, in the case of most chemicals, to not-so-well-known, in the cases of disinfection byproducts and radiation. However, what is known is that unless we take steps now to reduce the levels of all kinds of pollutants in our air, water, and soil, we are setting ourselves up for much larger and catastrophic health problems not far down the road.