What’s in Your Water? Common Contaminants in US Drinking Water

Hands in clear waterPure water is colorless, tasteless, and odorless. But because water becomes contaminated by every substance it comes into contact with, by the time it reaches your tap it’s no longer pure H20.

While the US has one of the safest public drinking water supplies in the world, drinking water sources are still subject to contamination. There are many sources of water contamination, including :

Chlorine and Chlorination By-Products
Chlorine is a type of disinfectant, not a contaminant, that’s added to drinking water to control microbes. In addition to the objectionable taste and odor that can be caused by chlorine, chlorination by-products, such as total trihalomethanes (TTHMs), can form in the water. TTHMs can cause anemia in infants, young children, and fetuses of pregnant women.

Heavy Metals
Heavy metals like lead and mercury can get into your water from the pipes and plumbing coming into your home. The health effects of excessive exposure to these heavy metals can be serious, especially for young children and babies. It can cause delays in physical and mental development. Also, adults may suffer kidney problems and high blood pressure when exposed to levels above the EPA maximum contaminant level for extended periods of time.

Microbial Cysts
Microbial cysts can enter the water from human or animal fecal waste. Both giardia and cryptosporidium are microbial cysts—and they are tough to disinfect. What makes them tough is the way they operate. These microbes grow a cyst wall around themselves for protection in unfavorable conditions. When giardia and cryptosporidium reach more favorable environments like your stomach, their cyst walls break down and the microbes inside them release to potentially cause gastrointestinal illness like diarrhea, nausea and stomach cramps.

Industrial Pollutants
Industrial pollutants in your drinking water can come from discharge from different kinds of factories and chemical plants-solvents, fertilizers, dry cleaning chemicals, dyes, insecticides, petroleum, and fuel additives are among the chemicals you might find in your drinking water.  Long-term exposure to excessive amounts of these chemicals can cause anemia, decrease in blood platelets, liver problems and even increased risk of cancer.

Naturally occurring chemicals and minerals
Chemicals like arsenic, radon, and uranium may occur naturally in the environment, but ingesting them in your drinking water can cause serious health concerns.

Pharmaceuticals
Trace levels of pharmaceuticals including antibiotics, mood stabilizers, hormones, and painkillers have been identified in the tap water serving over 51 million Americans. In fact, many water treatment facilities may not be able to remove all of these types of manufactured compounds or substances.

Want to know how your water quality rates? Check out this drinking water quality analysis conducted by the eco-nonprofit Environmental Working Group and see what’s in your city’s drinking water.

The good news? A simple water filter installed in your refrigerator or water line removes up to 99% of common contaminants. When changed every six months (or more often depending on your usage), your refrigerator filter protects you and your family from harmful chemicals in the public water supply. 

By Becky Powell

 

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