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The Hidden Dangers Lurking in Tap Water

May 29, 2019 09:45 AM EDT
Tap Water

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A little-known fact is that the list of contaminants water treatment facilities are tasked to eliminate or keep under control has not been updated since 2001. Since then, numerous new chemicals have made their way in the water we all need for hydration and other purposes, contaminants for which there are no filtration means set in place. This isn't to say that purification of the contaminants already existent on that list is optimal as, sadly, there is quite a disturbingly high number of incidents where proper filtration and water treatment aren't accomplished, numerous areas of the country succumbing to tap water contamination which inevitably leads to health deterioration among inhabitants.

While some chemicals are deliberately added during the treatment process to fix certain issues, others enter the waterways from industrial and agricultural practices, affecting the groundwater systems if proper decontamination isn't performed. Inaction from the EPA or lack of quality in their efforts is what pushes the general population to take action - some strike and made their voices heard, still hoping that a real change will be made, while others who are fed up with the inconsistency of the services provided by those who are supposed to protect them take matters into their own hands and install at home water purification systems that tend to the removal of specific contaminants which plague their tap water.

Regardless of your personal course of action, whether you opt for a whole house water filter that purifies water dispensed out of all possible sources in your home, or you continue on fighting for your cause, which is the right to clean water in your home, you first need to acknowledge what you are actually fighting against, what the hidden contaminants that threaten your health the most are.

#1 - Chloramine

  • About: Chloramines are present as a result of municipal treatment through the addition of anhydrous or aqueous ammonia before the addition of chlorine so that monochloramine is produced, which is said to be a safer decontamination means as it does not react with organic materials to form THMs as readily as chlorine.

Health effects:

Although treatment through chloramination has mostly been kept under control, if improperly used, it can pose a great risk to hemodialysis patients. Chloramines enter the bloodstream through dialysis membranes easily, causing hemolytic anemia and denaturing hemoglobin.

When accidentally used in dialysis treatment, it causes a severe reaction which requires immediate transfusion to treat the resulting anemia, or else the chance of the patient dying increase exponentially.

#2 - Lead

Health effects:

Most often, lead poisoning does not show obvious symptoms, which makes it hard for people exposed to it to figure out they are dealing with this issue. Generally, symptoms of lead poisoning include weight loss, constipation, vomiting, irritability, or stomach pain. Even though the symptoms are quite discrete, a high amount of damage is done internally as lead ingestion leads to damage to the bone marrow, brain, and kidneys, exposure in high amounts even causing death.

Fact: Children are more at risk than adults as they absorb the contaminant in considerably higher amounts, some of the effects of lead exposure in young children including impaired hearing, reduced intelligence, and decreased growth.

#3 - Arsenic

  • About: It enters groundwater through one of the aforementioned sources and can only be detected through chemical water analysis. In the U.S., western states are faced with more issues when it comes to dangerously high levels of arsenic contamination.

Health effects:

  • Fact: Ingestion of only 100 milligrams can result in severe poisoning, arsenic being one of the most highly toxic water contaminants.

When ingested in small amounts, the health effects of this contaminant appear slowly, taking even several years for poisoning to be apparent. In its most extreme form, ingestion of arsenic contaminated water leads to death. There is a high amount of health effects had by inorganic arsenic ingestions, including - cardiovascular effects, immunological effects, pulmonary effects, neurological effects, endocrine disruption effects, and it can even lead to skin, lung, bladder, nasal passages, kidney, prostate, and liver cancer.

#4 - Fluoride

  • About: Added to the public water supply with the purpose of reducing tooth decay, an optimal level of 0.7 milligrams per liter can be beneficial for consumers.

Health effects:

Small kids exposed to fluoride levels exceeding 2 milligrams per liter develop mottling. In all humans, regardless of their age, exposure to high levels of this contaminant can potentially lead to crippling skeletal fluorosis, a bone disorder which resembles osteoporosis and causes an abnormal fragility of the bones. Woefully, fluoride is a very small element of an acidic nature, which makes it hard to remove from the water, ionization proving to be the most effective method to tackle it. As the water ionizer splits the stream into acidic and alkaline, fluoride is assimilated in the acidic stream due to its nature, and as acidic water isn't used for hydration, ingestion of the contaminant is avoided.

#5 - Nitrites/nitrates

  • About: The most common inorganic contaminant which derives from man-made sources, it affects more than 1 million private well owners and presents a high threat even in households supplied with water from municipality.

Health effects:

Rarely an issue for humans older than 6 months of age, it still presents a reason of worry as it can lead to central nervous disorders. However, it is immensely dangerous when in contact with infants less than 6 months old as it causes what is known as "blue baby syndrome" or methemoglobinemia, which is oxygen deficiency in the baby's blood.

#6 - Barium

  • About: Contamination affects California, Kentucky, Tennessee, Montana, and Nevada the most.

Health effects:

Ingestion of high levels of soluble compounds leads to increased blood pressure, stomach irritation, muscle weakness, difficulties in breathing, and spleen, kidney, heart, and liver damage.

#7 - Uranium

  • About: Naturally occurring, it enters the water from processing plants release or by leaching from rocks and soil.

Health effects:

The organ most affected by uranium exposure is the kidney, its toxic effects including changes in the urine composition and inflammation of the kidneys. When it decays into other substances, it even causes cancer after a long period of ingestion and exposure.

#8 - Bacteria and viruses

Years might pass before you realize there is microbial or organic contamination in your tap water as sight, smell, and taste won't help you detect these unwanted intruders, but rather a specific testing of a water sample for this contamination issues. While it is true that small levels of microbes are naturally present in water supplies, some of them are more dangerous than others, and you have to keep an eye out for this issue to avoid serious health complications.

Health concerns:

  • Legionella - If aerosolized and inhaled, it leads to a disease known as Legionnaires disease.

  • Enteroviruses - There is a wide range of health effects had by enteroviruses, including meningitis and gastroenteritis.

  • E. coli - The short-term health effects of ingesting water contaminated with it include nausea, headaches, cramps, and diarrhea. In individuals who have weak immune systems, risks of the symptoms accentuating are increased.


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