When it comes to chemical exposure, children aren't just miniature adults. Their developing bodies are especially vulnerable to toxic harm. Common water contaminants can cause a range of diseases in children, including cancer, learning disorders, and gastrointestinal illnesses.
Children are particularly sensitive to:
A number of harmful bacteria, viruses and parasites can enter the drinking water supply from human sewage, animal feces (from both wild and farm animals) or rivers, lakes and streams. Water-borne illnesses include hepatitis (A, B, or C), giardiasis, and Legionnaire’s disease. Pathogens can cause higher miscarriage rates among pregnant women and also affect those with lowered immune systems, such as children.
Heavy metals like such as lead, mercury, cadmium and arsenic exist in nature, but their industrial use and subsequent disposal in landfills and incinerators has increased levels in water. They can cross the placenta and cause neurological and reproductive damage to developing babies and children.
Of water-borne metal contaminants, lead (which can affect brain development) is the most serious. According to the EPA, more than 800 U.S. cities have water that exceeds the EPA’s "action level."
- Nitrates, a by-product of nitrogen fertilizers, can interfere with infants' ability to absorb oxygen and can lead to "blue-baby" syndrome (methemoglobinemia), which can result in death.
- Pesticides, solvents, and industrial products known as SOCs (Synthetic Organic Compounds) can cause cancer, damage to the central nervous system, and reproductive and genetic damage.
- Chlorine, widely used as a water disinfectant, can react with organic matter in the water to produce chemicals called THMs (trihalomethanes). THM exposure can cause rectal and bladder cancers, birth defects, and miscrriages.
About 50 million people in the U.S. may be drinking water contaminated by uranium, radium, strontium and radon. We know that even small doses of radiation can cause genetic damage. Some of the radioactive materials found in water occur naturally, while human-made radioactive substances enter the water supply from nuclear power plant leaks, weapons testing, medical waste disposal and leaks at waste sites.
The good news is that you can protect your children from water contamination with a simple water filter. Don’t be fooled into buying bottled water! Buying a water filter is the safest, most environmentally friendly, and cheapest option. (Bottled water is less regulated than tap, so there is no guarantee that it will be safer.)