8 Common Contaminants in Drinking Water
While some consider American drinking water the safest in the world, others aren’t convinced.
For example, the EPA has established MCLs (maximum contamination levels) and enforceable standards for 114 potentially harmful pollutants, along with guidelines for 90 unregulated compounds. In spite of these standards, however, numerous pollutants can find their way into your drinking water, including these eight common contaminants:
- Arsenic. Some arsenic comes from natural sources as percolating water leaches it from rock and carries it into groundwater, while other sources include manufacturing, mining and industrial processes. While arsenic levels vary widely depending on the region and water treatment processes, it’s a known carcinogen, affects the heart and blood vessels, and contributes to nerve and endocrine system issues.
- Bacteria. Because almost all ground and surface water contains bacteria, water is disinfected to protect against the most dangerous forms such as E. coli. Testing standards vary based on the number of households served by the system, so in some instances water utilities may only test bacteria levels a few times a month.
- Chlorine. It’s affordable and effective, so many public water systems use chlorine to kill bacteria and make water safer. In addition to its characteristic odor and taste, chlorine has known health risks and is linked to bladder, breast and rectal cancer.
- Fluoride. While this element occurs naturally, several studies indicate excessive fluoride can cause problems such as discolored teeth, thyroid issues and bone and joint damage. Most public utilities add fluoride to the water supply in the belief it reduces cavities.
- Lead. When water leaves the treatment plant, it’s typically lead-free. Between that point and your tap, it can pick up lead from old storage tanks, lead pipes, solder or fixtures. Lead exposure can be especially harmful to children, contributing to neurological issues, reduced growth rates, learning challenges and attention disorders.
- Nitrates. While low levels of this natural compound are common in water sources, high levels are prompted by human activity in the form of septic systems, livestock animal waste and organic fertilizers. Most healthy adults can tolerate some nitrate exposure, but it can be extremely dangerous to babies.
- Pesticides. A variety of pesticides and the compounds used to make them are found in drinking water. Different ones pose different specific threats, but long-term exposure may cause cancer, heart congestion, lung problems, kidney issues and hormonal disruption.
- Pharmaceuticals. Countless trace drugs ranging from blood pressure to anti-seizure medications find their way into the water system. Classified as emerging contaminants, most are unregulated and not removed by water utilities.
Advanced in-home filtration and treatment systems can remove or significantly reduce these contaminants, including many of the most prevalent drugs and secondary chemical compounds categorized as CECs, contaminants of emerging concern.