The Harsh Realities of Water Contamination

Water Pollution Water Quality Inspection

Home Water Quality

June 2, 2023

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Learn how water pollution can affect your home water and health.

Most of us feel safe in believing that our drinking water is not contaminated and will do no harm to our health or our family’s.

If you are on a well, the water is not regulated or treated, and you may unknowingly have any number of contaminants in the water you drink every day, including heavy metals, microorganisms, chemicals, PFAs, and more. But, the truth is that even those on municipal water supplies may be unknowingly ingesting contaminants from their drinking water every day. Here’s what you need to know:

Taking Water for Granted

Water is something we take for granted; we assume the supply is endless, and, as a result, many of us are careless with our water use. However, the world’s water supply is not infinite: While 70 percent of the world is covered in water, only about 2.5 percent is fresh, and only about 1 percent of that is accessible.

Consider these facts about water from around the world:

  • Only a small percentage of the Earth’s water is available for its 6.8 billion people.
  • According to the United Nations, over the last 100 years, water use has grown at twice the rate of our population increase, while the amount of available water has remained constant.
  • At least 1.1 billion people worldwide do not have access to water, and 884 million do not have safe water to drink.
  • Water pollution kills around 10,000 people every day, or 3.6 million people every year.
  • Experts estimate that by 2025, half the world’s population will live in a water-stressed environment.

Many of us believe these problems happen in other places; after all, the United States has one of the safest water supplies in the world, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Unfortunately, that is not the case. The harsh reality is that nearly one-fifth of the U.S. population was exposed to potentially unsafe drinking water from 2007 to 2017, including those on municipal water supplies.

Diagram of Water Pollution Sources

How Water Gets Polluted

Water pollution occurs when chemicals, microorganisms, trash, or other manufactured materials enter a water source, whether a stream, lake, ocean, or aquifer.

Contamination can come from several places; for instance, pollutants may be dumped directly into the water or leaked from factories, agricultural operations, and human waste. As a result, the polluted water can become toxic to humans and cause many health issues.

It is estimated that 2 million tons of sewage is released into the world’s water bodies each day, and 14 billion pounds of garbage, including plastics, is dumped in the ocean. Eighty percent of ocean pollution comes from manufactured sources, including oil, pesticides, septic tanks, dirt, agriculture, and motor vehicles.

And according to the United Nations, over 80 percent of the world’s wastewater flows back into the environment without treatment.

How Contaminants Get Into Our Drinking Water

That is how our water sources get contaminated. But how do those contaminants get into our tap water and affect our health?

Our drinking water comes from surface water (lakes and rivers) or groundwater and travels to your home via pipelines or a well.

While municipal water systems treat the water, they don’t treat it for every possible contaminant. It is essential to distinguish between “safe” and “legal” regarding water quality. Even some of the contaminant levels considered “legal” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which regulates public water systems, can be harmful to your health.

An example is the Central Valley of California, where the arsenic found in the water is well below the EPA limit of 10 parts per billion (ppb).

However, while the level of arsenic is under the legal limit, that level could cause up to 600 cancer cases in every 1 million people who drink arsenic-contaminated water during their lifetimes. As a result, while the water is within legal guidelines, it still may not be safe to drink.

Environmental Working Group (EWG) also argues that municipal water is tested for one contaminant at a time. Still, the whole mix should be considered: “Tap water contains mixtures of many contaminants. People aren’t exposed to drinking water contaminants one at a time, or only once.” According to EWG, the cumulative effect of a “toxic cocktail” of chemicals may be responsible for more than 100,000 cancer cases in a lifetime.

Waste Water Treatment Facility

PFAs Are Everywhere

One type of pollutant that is believed to be in all major water supplies in the United States is per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a family of chemicals developed to manufacture stain-resistant, water-resistant, and non-stick products.

More than 20 Massachusetts towns have PFA water concerns, and in southern New Hampshire, Saint Gobain, a local plastics plant, is believed responsible for PFA contamination of local wells in Bedford, Litchfield, Londonderry, and parts of Manchester New Hampshire.

PFAs are known as “forever chemicals” because it can take thousands of years to break them down. PFAs can remain in the human body for a long time, causing ongoing health problems, including increased cholesterol, changes in liver enzymes, high blood pressure, decreases in infant birth rates, and risk of kidney or testicular cancer, according to the CDC.

Minority Groups at Highest Risk

Water treatment plant quality and effectiveness are not uniformly consistent across the country. As a result, millions of people in America drink water that does not meet federal regulations. Many of those cases happen in small and poor communities that do not have the necessary filter and treatment equipment.

One group that is disproportionately exposed to contaminated water is Latinos. According to Consumer Reports, water systems in counties that are 25 percent or more Latino “are violating drinking water contamination rules at twice the rate of those in the rest of the country.”

“Latinos are particularly at risk because they often live near industrial farms in California and the West that have polluted local water with nitrates in runoff from fertilizers and manure. They are also more likely to live in the Southwest, where arsenic violations are common.”

The EPA estimates that 5.25 million people in majority-Latino communities in California drink water that exceeds federal limits for nitrates, which can come from agricultural fertilizer runoff.

Among the symptoms found in people who have consumed high levels of nitrates or nitrites are decreased blood pressure, increased heart rate, headaches, abdominal cramps, and vomiting.

How to Ensure Safe Drinking Water in Your Home

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to ensure your home water is safe and healthy for you and your family. A multi-stage filtration system with reverse osmosis (RO), such as the Puronics® MicroMax™ series, reduces many harmful molecules from water, including chemicals, PFAs, ions and metals, protozoa, bacteria, and some viruses.

We also offer several Puronics® whole-home models that can meet your specific needs. Be sure to get your water tested if you are concerned about your water quality. Aqualite offers free residential water testing for both municipal water and well water. It is quick, costs nothing, and will help you make sure your home water is safe for your whole family. Contact us today!

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