Drinking Water Contaminants and Their Health Effects

Sadly, drinking water is typically made up of much more than just water. Even if you cannot see, smell, or taste it, it does not mean your water is necessarily free of any contaminants. The Safe Drinking Water Act put out a list of regulated contaminants commonly found water. Here is what you will likely find in your home’s tap water.

Some Common Regulated Water Contaminants

1. Aluminum

Aluminum is a metal found abundantly in the earth’s crust. It typically pollutes water through rock and soil leaching.

Health Effects

It is unclear if aluminum has an effect on the body or not. Some studies suggest consuming this element may be related to the development for Alzheimer’s disease, but other studies have said otherwise.

2. Ammonia

Ammonia commonly finds its way into water through wastes, fertilizers, and natural processes.

Health Effects

Long-term exposure to ammonia can result in corrosive damage to the mouth, throat and stomach.

3. Arsenic

Arsenic can enter water sources through leaching from natural deposits, wood preservatives, pesticides, industrial deposits, petroleum production, semiconductor manufacture, and coal power plants.

Health Effects

The consumption of even small amounts of arsenic can lead to severe poisoning and serious health issues. It can lead to cancer in your skin, bladder, lung, kidney, nasal passages, liver, and prostate. It can also cause serious skin problems and cardiovascular, pulmonary, immunological, neurological, and endocrine disruption issues.

4. Barium

Barium can enter water through mineral deposits, disposal of drilling wastes, smelting of copper, or motor vehicle parts manufacturing.

Health Effects

Some potential health risks that come from the consumption of barium are: difficulties in breathing, increased blood pressure, changes in heart rhythm, stomach irritation, brain swelling, muscle weakness, and damage to the liver, kidney, heart, and spleen.

5. Cadmium

Cadmium typically finds its way into water sources through corrosion of galvanized pipes, erosion of natural deposits, discharge from metal refineries, or runoff from waste batteries and paints.

Health Effects

Short Term – nausea, Vomiting, diarrhea, muscle cramp, sensory disturbances, liver injury, convulsions, shock and renal failure.

Long Term – kidney, liver, bone and blood damage.

6. Chloramine

Chloramine is added to drinking water to try to disinfect it and get rid of other contaminants.

Health Effects

The only serious health risk that could come from consuming chloramine is it can cause hemolytic anemia.

7. Chromium

Chromium occurs naturally and can be found in rocks, plants, and soil. Chromium-3 is completely harmless and actually necessary for human health, but Chromium-6 is extremely dangerous, and is sadly found in drinking water.

Health Effects

It is known to cause cancer in both animals and humans. Even in small amounts, it can cause skin burns, pneumonia, complications during childbirth, and stomach cancer.

8. Copper

Copper finds its way into water through industrial discharges, copper salts used for algae control in reservoirs, and copper plumbing materials due to corrosion.

Health Effects

Small amounts of copper poisoning can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, gastrointestinal illness, and abdominal and muscle pain. Severe cases of copper poisoning have led to anemia, liver poisoning, and kidney failure.

9. Fluoride

Fluoride gets put into water through water treatments, it also gets into water through natural deposits.

Health Effects

Long-term consumption can lead to skeletal fluorosis. This is a serious bone disorder resembling osteoporosis. It creates extreme density and hardness and abnormal fragility of the bones. It may also lead to discolored teeth in children.

10. Lead

Lead gets into water mostly through lead service lines, lead containing solder, and different types of brass fittings. Other ways it enters water is through industrial processes, mines, and smelting.

Health Effects

While children are the most at risk, adults can still be affected. Lead consumption can lead to reduced intelligence, hearing, and growth in children. It can also create damage to the brain, kidney, bone marrow, nervous system, and red blood cells.

11. Nitrates/Nitrites

Nitrates and nitrites are found in human sewage, livestock manure, fertilizers, and erosion of natural deposits.

Health Effects

Most potential health effects are observed in children under the age of 6 months. One of the major effects is blue baby syndrome or methemoglobinemia.

12. Mercury

Mercury is mostly brought into water through natural de-gassing of earth’s crust and combustion of fossil fuels and other industrial release.

Health Effects

Consumption of high levels of mercury can cause damage in the brain, kidneys, and developing fetus. Some effects it can have on the brain is irritability, and shyness tremors. It can also lead to changes in vision or hearing, and memory problems.

13. Radium

Radium is produced through radioactive decay of uranium and thorium in rocks and soil.

Health Effects

A major health effect radium has is an increased risk of cancer in those who consume it.

14. Selenium

Selenium is sourced from natural deposits and releases from copper smelting.

Health Effects

Some effects selenium can have on the body is hair and fingernail changes, damage to the peripheral nervous system, fatigue, and irritability.

15. Silver

Silver finds its way into water most often through its use as a bacteriostat in water treatment devices, but it is also found in soil.

Health Effects

Consuming this element can cause argyria which is discoloration of skin, hair, and various organs.

16. Uranium

Uranium is a naturally occurring mineral that gets deposited into water.

Health Effects

Some health risks include kidney toxicity and increased risk of cancer.

Full List of All Regulated Contaminants

2,4-D, 2,4,5-TP (Silvex), arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, coliform, bacteria, endrin, fluoride, gross alpha, gross beta, lead, lindane, mercury, methoxychlor, nitrate, radium-2261, radium-2281, selenium, silver, toxaphene, turbidity8, total trihalomethanes (TTHMs2), benzene, carbon tetrachloride, 1,2-dichloroethane, p-dichlorobenzene, 1,1-dichloroethylene, 1,1,1-trichloroethane, trichloroethylene, Giardia4, HPC bacteria4, Legionella4, viruses, acrylamide4, alachlor, aldicarb5, aldicarb, sulfone5, aldicarb, sulfoxide5, asbestos, atrazine, carbofuran, chlordane (mono), chlorobenzene, dibromochloropropane, o-dichlorobenzene, cis-1,2-dichloroethylene, trans-1,2-dichloroethylene, 1,2-dichloropropane, epichlorohydrin4, ethylbenzene, ethylene, dibromide, heptachlor, heptachlor epoxide, nitrite, total nitrate/nitrite, PCBs, pentachlorophenol, styrene, tetrachloroethylene, toluene, xylenes, adipate, di(2-ethylhexyl), antimony, beryllium, cyanide, dalapon, dichloromethane6, dinoseb, dioxin (2,3,7,8-TCDD), diquat, endothall, glyphosate, hexachlorobenzene, hexachlorocyclopentadiene, nickel, oxamyl (vydate), PAHs, (benzo(a) pyrene) phthalate, di(2-ethylhexyl), picloram, simazine, thallium, 1,2,4-trichlorobenzene, 1,1,2-trichloroethane, bromate, chloramine, chlorine, chlorine dioxide, chlorite, haloacetic acids (HAA5) 2

Although all these contaminants are regulated, it does not mean they are safe for consumption. There are also hundreds of contaminants that have been found in drinking water and have yet to become regulated.


Test Your Water

If you want to know if your home’s drinking water contains unsafe contaminants, you should have your water tested. Testing is the only way to confirm if contaminants are present in  your water.

Invest in a Water Filter

Water filters can remove harmful contaminants from your drinking water so you can ensure that the water you are drinking is safe and purified.