Manmade Organic Contaminants

Decades of discharge directly into the air and water from a variety of sources have polluted virtually every body of water on the planet with man-made organic contaminants. There are literally thousands of these contaminants that are added to the environment from agriculture, medical treatment, household cleaning chemicals, and industrial applications.

These manmade organic contaminants can be broken into four very broad categories. These categories are:


The primary source of hydrocarbon water contamination is a class of chemicals known as PAHs (Polynuclear Aromatic Hydrocarbons). There are at least 10,000 different PAH compounds that are present in our drinking water, and they come from a wide variety of sources including:

PAHs cause a number of health problems such as cancer, reproductive and developmental problems in fetuses, and damage to the liver, skin, kidneys, and lungs depending on the level and length of exposure.


Pesticides, especially in agricultural regions, find their way into water supplies when irrigation or rainwater washes them from fields and into the soil and waterways. Gradual buildup in the soil over time can cause environmental problems much greater than any pests they were intended to eliminate.

Symptoms of long-term exposure to pesticides include:

Medical research is still in the process of discovering the full impact of pesticides in our soil, air, and drinking water, but the evidence suggests that cancer may be another complication from long-term exposure.


Each spring, it is estimated that farmers apply 150 million pounds of herbicides to their corn and soybean fields. The top five commercially available herbicides are atrazine, cyanazine, simazine, alachlor, and metolalchlor. The scary part is that spring rains wash a substantial amount of these chemicals right off the crops and into surface water. In fact, a U.S. Geological Survey conducted in 1993 estimated that during peak spring rainfall, 18,000 pounds of these herbicides wash into the Mississippi and other rivers each day and head downstream into the Gulf of Mexico.

Laboratory studies conducted by the manufacturers of these chemicals suggest that exposure to these herbicides causes:

People that live in rural areas and get their drinking water from private wells are at a significantly higher risk for developing health problems from long-term exposure to herbicides in the air, soil, and water.

Industrial Solvents

Industrial solvents comprise a huge and varied category of contaminants that come from a staggering array of sources such as pharmaceuticals, baby shampoo, dyes, metal finishing, and paint, to name a few. Long-term exposure to these contaminants has been known to cause:

Science is still discovering new health issues that are caused by long-term exposure to industrial solvents, but these contaminants are everywhere and it�s not just humans that are adversely affected.


Public water systems use three different methods to reduce and remove manmade organic contaminants from our drinking water:

  1. Aeration occurs when contaminated water is mixed with large amounts of air to vent the contaminants out of the water and into the air.
  2. Oxidation occurs when oxygen is mixed with contaminated water to induce chemical reactions which sometimes neutralize or lower the hazardous effects.
  3. Activated carbon absorbs many of these contaminants and reduces or removes them from drinking water.


The best way to reduce or remove these contaminants from your drinking water, especially if you get your water from a private well, is to install your own water filtering equipment in your home. These filters come in a wide variety of different styles and functions from water pitcher filters to whole house systems that filter water in a number of ways.

If you want to know exactly what is in your drinking water, contact your county water commission and have them recommend a lab that will screen your water for contaminants. These tests are inexpensive and can inform your decisions on which types of water filtration will be the most effective for you.