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Common Tap Water Contaminants and Their Health Effects

Heavily Polluted Rusty Tap Water

Heavily Polluted Rusty Tap Water

O ne of the things we cannot go without is water. But drinking the right amount of water per day is not sufficient as the quality and purity of the water we ingest is just as important. Woefully, even though we live in modern times, one issue that all countries have in common is that of tap water purity.

In some areas, the situation is worse than in others, like the Flint, Michigan situation that perfectly portrayed how polluted water can alter people’s health. In this article, we will take a look at the common contaminants found in tap water and go over the effects they hold on the health of those who consume it. Moreover, we will provide you with viable solutions to this pressing issue, so stick with us if you want to solve your water quality problems.

Even if your water tastes, smells, and looks normal, it is smart to routinely test it for pH level and contaminants to make sure that there are no hidden issues that could otherwise pose a health threat if not dealt with.

Heavily Polluted Rusty Tap Water

Heavily Polluted Rusty Tap Water

Callback to Flint – How Water Pollution Can Affect People’s Lives

What is probably the biggest water contamination scandal in recent memory is the Flint situation that started back in 2013 when officials, who were shouldering a big budget deficit, decided that one of the costs they would cut on was to stop piping water from Detroit and pump it from the Flint River until a new duct from Lake Huron was built. However, officials failed to treat this new water source properly, which caused lead to leach out from the pipes into the residences of Flint inhabitants.

In April 2014, Flint citizens started complaining that their potable water was impossible to use or consume as it smelled, looked, and tasted foul. Officials initially denied all claims and declared that the water was harmless, even after protests started emerging. It was a study undertaken by researchers in the next year that gathered swatches from 252 residences from Flint and tested them that finally shed light on the gravity of the situation regarding tap water quality.

What is even more tragic is that people suffered health consequences because of this irresponsible decision, children being most affected as the incidence of high blood-lead levels doubled in 2015 as opposed to 2014. From 2014 and 2015, the city even faced the third-largest burst of Legionnaires’ disease in U.S. record.

Other issues that spanned with this switch of water source include raised levels of TTHM and fecal coliform bacteria infestation. With one disaster after another emerging from the same bad decision, Flint is a perfect example of how much water purity matters for the health and well-being of people all around the world.

Other major U.S. cities that are confronted with worrying water pollution levels include Newark, Brady, Baltimore, Milwaukee, Charleston, Newburgh, Dos Palos, and Miami.

Tap Water Contaminants and Their Effect

At times, it can be simple to detect water pollution as the scent, taste, and look of the liquid changes, indicating that there are purity-related issues. However, this is not always the case as microbial and organic contaminants are not always detected by human senses. This is why testing is recommended to make sure that everything is in check and if it isn’t, to know exactly what you are dealing with. When it comes to tap water contaminants, the list is quite long, so to make matters easier, we will list the pollutants that are most common and that you are most likely to be dealing with.

Common Tap Water Contaminants
  • Aluminum: Poses a big health threat for dialysis patients.
  • Arsenic: Harms the cardiovascular and nervous systems, can cause skin problems, acts as an endocrine disruptor, and can lead to lung, kidney, bladder, and skin cancer.
  • Cadmium: Kidney, bone, blood, and liver damage, as well as nausea, vomiting, renal failure, muscle cramps, and diarrhea.
  • Chromium: Stomach and intestinal bleedings, diarrhea, and kidney and liver damage.
  • Fluoride: Discoloration of teeth in children under the age of 9.
  • Lead: Damage to the nervous system, red blood cells, the kidneys, the brain, and bone marrow. Causes decreased growth in children, as well as reduced intelligence.
  • Mercury: Damage to the brain, kidneys, and developing fetuses.
  • Radium: Higher chances of developing cancer.
  • Barium: Muscle weakness, breathing difficulties, heart rhythm changes, brain swelling, and damage to the spleen, heart, and kidneys.
  • Chloramine: It can lead to hemolytic anemia.
  • Copper: Anemia, diarrhea, abdominal pain, muscle pain, kidney failure, and liver poisoning.
  • Nitrates/nitrites: Cause blue baby syndrome.
  • Perchlorate: Developmental and learning disabilities in children.
  • Selenium: Fatigue and damage to the peripheral nervous system.
  • Uranium: Increases risk of cancer development.

We will talk about bacteria and viruses separately a bit as waterborne illnesses mostly span from these contaminants. To treat water that is contaminated with, bacteria, viruses, and cysts, you can either:

  • Chlorinate the water (beware that it will alter the taste and smell of the water);
  • Use UV light disinfection (the water is exposed at the right UV wavelength to kill any microbes in it);
  • Use ozone for treatment (typically used commercially or by large municipalities as it is a costlier and more energy-consuming process).
Water Treatment Plant Seen from Above

Water Treatment Plant Seen from Above

Is Municipal City Water that Much Better than Well Water?

Because municipality water is treated before distributed to households in the area and reaching our taps, it is the safer of the two. However, we mention the Flint incident once again as “treatment” did not do much in that specific case. There are countless other cases where the water is treated only for specific contaminants, not all of them, which means that you still end up drinking polluted water. Moreover, the chlorine and chloramines used to treat it alter the water’s taste and scent, making it undesirable to drink, and in high doses, it leads to elevated TTHM levels.

Without a filtration means set in place, you should not trust the water that comes out of the tap, regardless if the source is the city or a private well. Machines like the Tyent UCE-11 come with all the filter media needed to tackle issues plaguing both water sources, so instead of taking chances, invest in a water purification means that guarantees you won’t hydrate with poor quality water anymore.

What Role Does pH Level Play in Water Quality?

pH indicates how acidic/basic water is, and the measurement range spans from 0 to 14, 7 indicating a neutral pH state. When the pH is under 7, it means that the water is acidic, whereas, levels over 8 indicate the water is alkaline. Our bodies tend to be acidic, but this doesn’t mean that the water we drink has to be acidic too. As a matter of fact, for hydration, it is indicated to either hydrate with neutral-pH water or high-pH water.

How can I change the pH of my drinking water?

If you want to make the water more alkaline so that hydration becomes even more beneficial for your health, you can try out some handy home recipes that are inexpensive. Lemons and baking soda make for nifty pH increasing means, and you can even use pH drops if you want to make your work even easier. If you want to learn how to make alkaline water, read this article to get all the details you need.

Want to drink high-pH water even when you are on the go? Then use alkaline water sticks as these small-size sticks fit in your bag just fine and all you have to do to make high-pH water with them is to drop the sticks in a bottle and wait a few minutes.

Under-Sink Water Purification System in Home

Under-Sink Water Purification System in Home

What You Can Do to Purify Your Water

There is only one effective solution to combat contaminated tap water, and that is filtration. Luckily, there are plenty of options to pick from when it comes to filtering the water in your home before you drink or use it, solutions that suit all budgets and possibilities.

Before you start your search, however, you should test the water first to see what type of pollution you are dealing with. Just like with air quality monitors that you use to keep an eye on air pollution indoors, so should you monitor water contamination.

Returning to the subject at hand, there are a few systems that you can install and use to benefit from clean drinking water, some of the most sought-after including:

    • Water ionizer: All machines feature filter cartridges and even pre-filters so that the water is cleared of impurities before being passed through the electrolysis process. If the water would not be clean, the ionization process would not go as smoothly and the resulting alkaline water would not be beneficial for your health.

Here are the best water ionizers that you can use to benefit from clean, contaminant-free alkaline water on demand.

    • Filter pitcher: Pour in tap water and wait for it to be filtered of impurities. Whether you opt for a classic filter that doesn’t affect the pH, or you go for an alkaline unit that raises it, what is important is that both types serve their main purpose equally effective.

Check out the best alkaline water pitchers here if you are on a budget yet you want to drink clean high-pH water.

    • Whole house filter: It is recommended if you seek clean water from all faucets and to make sure that water-using home appliances are protected. The whole-house system is costlier but completely worth it, especially if you use well water and have concerns regarding the purity of the water you wash with.
    • Under sink filter: If you want to spare the counter space, opt for a system that installs under the sink. It is the same efficiency-wise with whole-house systems, you won’t need advanced plumbing knowledge to install it, the only real problem being that it is limited to purifying the water that comes out of a single tap.

Ionized water can be produced by an under sink alkaline water machine if you want to have a system that does not occupy any counter space whatsoever.

  • Countertop filter: Either a normal system or a countertop alkaline water ionizer, both types of systems have in common two things – their ability to filter out contaminants and the fact that they sit on the counter, connecting to the water line easily. If you have free space on the counter, it is the option you should look into.
  • Reverse osmosis system: Using the process of reverse osmosis, these filtration systems are actually among the most prolific when it comes to reducing contaminants in tap water. However, there are major downsides worth mentioning. For one, the systems are quite expensive and produce a lot of water waste, which means that using them is financially wasteful as well. The second issue is that RO systems take out all the beneficial minerals from the water, which means that you won’t hydrate as healthily as you should.

Is Buying Bottled Water a Solution?

No, buying bottled water for hydration constantly is not the answer. Aside from the fact that you end up overpaying, there is the issue of plastic pollution. Plastic bottles are among the main culprits for this pressing problem that affects life on Earth as we know it. If you fancy yourself as an Eco-conscious person, you must avoid buying water from stores at all costs.

Even if the water is not in a plastic bottle but rather in a glass bottle, there is not much of a difference. The carbon footprint left by transportation, production, and all other processes leading to that bottle on a shelf in your local store, all contribute to damaging our already wounded planet. Therefore, instead of buying bottled and hurting the environment, as well as your wallet, invest in a water filter or an ionizer as it is the smarter option in the long-run.

There have been cases where bottled water was tested and proven to be just as polluted as tap water. With plastic bottles, the contamination rate is high as the material of the container can release toxins into the liquid you end up hydrating with.

Final Thoughts

An issue that cannot go unaddressed, water purity is affecting us all one way or another. Bottled water is not the solution as it is more expensive and it doesn’t do any good for the environment. On the other hand, filtration systems at home, water ionizers, filtering pitchers, these are valid options to make sure the water you consume and use for various purposes is clear of impurities and does not pose a health threat.

Want to explore more options when it comes to clean water producing systems? Then check out our section dedicated to water ionizers and articles about water quality.

Tobey Hunter
Tobey Hunter
Tobey is the editor-in-chief at P2Rx™, his experience both in the field of journalism and a keen interest in the topic of pollution, a subject he previously covered in his career in multiple pieces, making him the expert of our team. What Tobey learned from his background is that researching each topic thoroughly is the only guarantee that an article will depict a truthful picture, a policy that he strictly follows. In his off time, he indulges in reading modern literature and binging on the latest TV shows.

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