What can contaminate drinking water?

Water is not all that you are drinking when you turn on the tap and fill a glass. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), up to 41% of America’s wells may be contaminated with coliform bacteria, and in excess of 1 million people per year become sick from consuming contaminated water. Some of these contaminants are not regulated or adequately controlled although their presence signals immediate health problems.

Here’s our guide to the common contaminants of drinking water.

Bacteria

Microscopic organisms so small that it takes nearly 300 together to equal the diameter of a human hair, bacteria can cause sickness and disease. There are some, however, that do not. The presence or absence of coliform bacteria determines whether or not a water system is bacteriologically safe. If there is a presence of coliform bacteria, there is a strong suggestion that the water is contaminated with disease-causing organisms also. Due to the fact that bacteria are colorless, odorless, and tasteless, you are unable to tell whether or not you are ingesting it.

Nitrates & Nitrites:

The presence of these two contaminants indicates the pollution of the water by organic matter, such as fertilizer, or human or animal waste. If found in the drinking water of infants, it can cause an often fatal poisoning of the blood, known as cyanosis, or the “blue baby” condition. If Nitrate and Nitrite are present, there is a good chance that bacteria are present also, due to the environment created by these products of fertilizer and waste.

Lead:

Even in small amounts, lead can cause serious health problems, especially in children. It can enter your water supply through lead pipes, lead solder, or brass fittings, or underground sources. The acidity of your water can determine how much lead will be absorbed into the supply. Acidic water will normally absorb more lead than neutral water.

Hardness:

Determined by the presence of calcium and magnesium in water, hardness can cause a great deal of damage to water heaters and plumbing. In addition, there are some associated health risks associated with the hardness of your water, including kidney and gallstones. It can, however, be easily solved with a water softener.

Acidity & Alkalinity:

A ph level of 7 in your home is ideal neutrality. An acid level of 6.8 or lower will lead to the corrosion of copper, and galvanized plumbing. High alkaline levels, such as ph10, can cause dry skin and objectionable taste.

Copper:

Generally copper is not a problem, as it occurs naturally in many waters. However, high levels of copper can poison red blood cells and cause jaundice, pancreatitis, and hemolytic anemia.

Iron:

Iron also occurs naturally in water, however, as levels of types of this metal increase, problems can develop with plumbing fixtures. Iron occurs in five forms, soluble ferrous iron, ferric iron, ferric hydroxite, ferric oxide, and iron bacteria. The best way to solve problems with iron is to install an iron filter.

Chlorine:

Although chlorine is a poison that is highly effective in killing most forms of bacteria, consuming chlorinated water can create long-term health risks, such as cancer. It can also produce an objectionable taste and odor, which can be removed through the use of activated carbon.

Hydrogen Sulfide:

A gas that produces a very unpleasant “rotten egg” smell, hydrogen sulfide can generally be removed by converting the gas to elemental sulfur, or by off-gasing through aeration.

mm

About John

Wilderness medicine instructor and survival expert.

View all posts by John →

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *