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water treatment plants
volatile organic chemicals
nausea and vomiting
bacteria viruses
inorganic compounds
micro organisms
The Health Effects Of Water Pollution
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The Health Effects Of Water Pollution

People are becoming more concerned about the effects of water pollution in their drinking water. It’s clear that as we apply regulation to control some sources of pollution, like direct dumping of industrial wastes into lakes, streams and the air, other sources of pollutants from industrial activity continually emerge.

As these sources become more frequent, the likelihood that people are ingesting these harmful contaminates become greater. Water treatment plants do a very good job of eliminating many contaminates like dirt, silt, and biological pathogens, but cannot eliminate many toxic compounds and pharmaceuticals that are showing up our water supplies. Homes that are within the vicinity of farms, mining operations, industrial plants, waste dumps, and other sources of pollution are particularly susceptible to the effects of water pollution.

The 4 Main Categories of Contaminates

Water contaminates can be categorized into four different main groups, microbial pathogens, organic compounds, inorganic compounds, and radioactive elements.

Microbial pathogens are micro-organisms in drinking water that cause serious health risks. These include bacteria, viruses, and parasitic cysts. Consuming live pathogens in the water can cause immediate and severe health effects such as severe intestinal cramping, nausea and vomiting, lung and skin irritation, dizziness, and even death.

Organic compounds include many chemicals which are usually toxic. Only a few of these are actually regulated by the EPA. This category of pollutants include:

  • Pesticides – are highly toxic not only to the pests that they are used on, but also to every living thing. Pesticides include fungicides, insecticides, and herbicides.
  • Volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) are introduced to our water supplies by industry. They are solvents and degreasers, fuel additives, benzene and toluene, trichloroethylene (TCE), styrene, and chlorides.
  • Trihalomethanes (THM’s) are formed when chlorine that is added to water to disinfectant it, reacts with naturally-occurring organic matter in the water. These compounds have been found to cause bladder and other cancers.

Levels of organic chemicals in water are seldom high enough to cause immediate health effects, but they can be. The effects of water pollution from long term ingestion of organic chemical pollutants can, and do cause chronic diseases and ill health such as cancers, nervous system disorders, liver and kidney damage, reproductive disorders, birth defects, and can manifest in a number of other ways.

Inorganic Compounds include toxic metals like aluminum, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, and mercury. These metals usually can get into our drinking water from industrial sources or improperly disposed electronics and batteries. These compounds can lead to acute poisoning, or can slowly accumulate in the body and cause cancers and liver and kidney damage and eventual failure.

Nitrates are usually a harmless inorganic constituent of food and water. However, unnatural, ultra-high concentrations of nitrates and nitrites from agricultural fertilizers, animal wastes and sewage, does contaminate water on a widespread basis. When consumed by animals, people, or especially infants, it causes a condition called methemoglobinemia, where the oxygen-carrying component of blood, hemoglobin, absorbs the pollutant and greatly reduces its ability to carry vital oxygen. In severe cases, it causes brain and organ damage, and even death.

Radioactive Elements like radon and radium, occur naturally in the earth from the decay of uranium. In most mining operations, these are exposed to the elements, and are flushed into watersheds through runoff, or are concentrated in the separation process and disposed of where it can easily seep into groundwater.

Diseases Caused by the Effects of Water Pollution

Cancer is known to be caused by the ingestion or absorption of these contaminants: Arsenic, barium, beryllium, cadmium, chlorine, chromium, copper, fluorosilicic acid (fluoride), herbicides, lead, manganese, nickel, pesticides, radon, radium, selenium, solvents, zinc

Compounds that are known to cause kidney and liver damage and organ failure include: Arsenic, barium, beryllium, chromium, fluoride, lead, manganese, mercury, nickel, selenium, tetrachloroethylene and other solvents.

Compounds that are well known to cause central nervous system damage are: Arsenic, barium, chlorine, copper, fluoride, lead, manganese, mercury, selenium, and zinc.

Substances that can lead to tooth and bone decay and skin irritation are: heavy metals like lead and nickel, and fluoride.

Toxins that can lead to fertility problems in both women and men include: pesticides, and herbicides like atrazine, or glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup used around the home and widespread use on farm crops.


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