How does contaminated water affect humans? The immediate effects can include contraction of cholera, typhoid fever and dysentery while the long-term effects include serious damage to the kidney, liver, bone and brain.
Contaminated water can be classified into 2 categories according to what is causing the contamination: microbes and chemicals. Microbes (bacteria and parasites) often cause immediate effects to humans. On the other hand, chemicals (especially heavy metals such as arsenic, lead and mercury) can build up in our internal organs over time.
How microbes from drinking water harm humans?
Let’s start with microbes. Bacteria, protozoa and viruses can enter the body via consumption of contaminated water. Many of these are pathogens (disease-causing), which can send someone to a hospital within a few hours of ingestion.
Some of the harmful microbes present in contaminated water are:
Developing countries are at the most risk from microbial contamination. This is due to lack of access to clean water and widespread lack of appropriate water treatment systems. However, developed societies are also at risk from microbes especially Cryptosporidium and Giardia.
Cryptosporidium is a protozoan which acts like a parasite. It spreads through eggs laid on fecal contamination which then seeps into bodies of water and supply. It may cause severe diarrhea and dehydration.
Giardia works similarly to Cryptosporidium. This microscopic parasite can also cause diarrhea. It also spreads through fecal contamination which has contaminated the water supply.
Ecoli is another parasitic water contaminant that might also be present in contaminated water, especially when fecal contamination is present. Ecoli may be produced by humans or infected animals. This microorganism produces strong toxins that cause serious illness.
How microbes enter your water supply?
As mentioned above, pipe leaks and water runoffs may introduce microbes and parasites into our water system. Sewage leaks (wastewater spilling) or agricultural runoffs (wastes from infected animals get carried away) can be the catalyst for contaminated water. Water flowing from inland might also carry organic pathogens and other microbial contaminants if animals graze or water nearby.
Furthermore, microbes and parasites can enter our water supply or glass of water through the following:
- Microorganisms in our water pipes.
- Leaking pipes before or after our water metre.
- Lack of water disinfection or other treatment.
Chlorine is often used for water disinfection. Chlorine’s effective mechanism might be due to its disruption of the microbes’ cell membranes. The cell’s contents will then spill out and eventually lead to the death of the cell.
Aside from its effectiveness, chlorine is also affordable which is why it’s a popular choice in many water treatment facilities. Other methods for killing bacteria such as distillation may also be effective. However, the costs (equipment and energy consumption) are much higher in this case. In addition, distilled water will be needed to cool first before it’s ready for use and, as a result, re-introduction of microbes is still possible. This applies to both commercial and household distillers.
Chlorine and other chemicals that may harm our health
Due to recent advances in toxicology and analytical chemistry, chlorine and disinfection by-products are now known to cause harm to human health. Here are some of the known health effects of chlorine:
- May cause irritation to the eyes and upper respiratory tract.
- Potent irritant to lungs.
- Higher chlorine levels may cause vomiting and chest pain.
- Chlorine has strong cell kill properties, which may also affect human cells (including DNA, mutation).
In addition, a myriad of chemical reactions takes place when chlorine is present in the water. It can react with inorganic and organic substances (e.g. forming trihalomethanes). These disinfection by-products may cause cell mutation or make our bodies give a strong autoimmune response.
As a result, many individuals and families now want to make sure their water is free from chlorine. This can be effectively accomplished through the following:
- Whole house or point-of-entry filtration (filter water as it flows from your mains plumbing).
- Shower filter.
- Point-of-use filtration (e.g. undersink filters, filtering water before water comes out of the tap).
These are very effective in removing chlorine from the water before you drink or use it. In addition, the filters will also remove dirt and sediments which may contain other harmful substances such as heavy metals.
Dangers of arsenic, lead, mercury and other heavy metals
We’ve discussed above the dangers of microbes and how they harm human health. In this section we’ll now focus on heavy metals and other substances.
Let’s start with arsenic. It’s a metallic element which can be naturally found in soil and rocks. As a result, rain and water runoffs may carry the arsenic into our water supply. It may already be present in groundwater. Some of the known health effects of arsenic are:
- Inorganic arsenic is carcinogenic to humans.
- Arsenic may increase risk of cancer in liver, bladder and lungs.
- Long-term exposure may cause lowering IQ scores (especially to kids).
- Arsenic may cause fetal malformations.
- Arsenic may find its way into the breastmilk.
Runoffs and leaks may also introduce arsenic into our drinking water supply. After all, arsenic is naturally found in the ground. Agricultural and industrial processes may result in arsenic being present in our drinking water.
Thankfully, there are now low-cost options in removing arsenic from your water. In your household, you can install triple or 5-stage reverse osmosis systems to effectively remove arsenic and prevent it from harming you and your family.
Aside from arsenic, you should also watch out for lead. Next, we’ll discuss how it enters our water supply and how it can be effectively removed to keep your family safe.
Sources of lead and how it enters our water supply
Older homes (built during the 1980s or earlier) may have lead in the old pipes, fittings and other plumbing fixtures. The problem gets worse if the water has low pH levels (acidic) because it catalyses corrosion. Some of the lead particles might dissolve and get introduced into the water.
Other factors that might affect how much lead gets into the water are the following:
- Other minerals present in the water (lead may react with those minerals).
- Water temperature (higher temperatures may catalyse further dissolution).
- Presence and amount of coating present inside pipes and other plumbing fixtures.
- Eventual degradation of the pipes due to wear and tear.
Those events may significantly increase the levels of lead in your water. That’s why it’s advisable to do the following things:
- Verify if the pipes in your home are outdated (old pipes might have lead in them).
- Request for a laboratory chemical analysis of your water.
- Replace the pipes if needed (all the compromised pipes).
- Install point-of-use filtration systems.
If you’re moving into an old home or a new apartment building, it’s recommended to verify the risks of lead in your water supply. You can also install point-of-use filtration systems (e.g. undersink filters and RO systems) to ensure removal of lead.
Why remove lead and other heavy metals?
Lead may cause the following problems:
- Lower IQ.
- Slower physical development.
- Premature birth and reduced fetal growth.
- Reproductive problems in both men and women.
- Hypertension and kidney problems.
Back in the ’80s, lead was used as a material in plumbing and construction because of its relative stability and malleability. However, scientific researchers have confirmed the harmful effects of lead. It’s now banned and it’s up to you to minimise your exposure to lead and other heavy metals.
Other heavy metals that also pose health risks are the following:
These should all be removed to avoid gaining long-term negative health effects. Their successful removal can result to significant positive effects to your health. After all, you and your family drink water every day. In addition, you also use water to prepare your food and favourite hot beverage.
How to protect yourself from water contaminants
One of the most effective and affordable ways to remove microbes and chemicals from water is through filtration. Specifically, filtration systems with rigorous processes will successfully remove bacteria, protozoa, parasites, chlorine and heavy metals before the water reaches your hands or glass of water.
Here at Clean & Clear Purification Specialists, we provide and install quality water filtration systems for homes, apartments, offices and other businesses. We have twin and triple undersink filters that can fit almost under any kitchen sink. We also have a sophisticated 5-stage reverse osmosis systems that clean most contaminated water.
Contact us today and our Sydney technicians will install a water filter in your home. You can ask us about our affordable pricing, bestsellers, lifetime warranty and special offers (e.g. free installation).