How Does Water Quality Affect Your Health?

What you need to know to drink healthy water and avoid pollutants

Although the United States boasts some of the safest drinking water in the world, there are many opportunities for pollutants to enter our drinking water which may affect our health. Fortunately, according to "Take Back the Tap" — a report by Food and Water Watch — tap water or public community drinking water is more regulated than bottled water; additionally, up to 40 percent of bottled water comes from the tap.

The EPA regulates the chemical contaminants found in public community water systems but also recognizes 51 additional unregulated contaminants. Water sources may be contaminated by these unregulated pollutants. To learn your water quality, contact your local utility for a water report or ask your local health department to test your community's water quality.

Water quality and health

According to the EPA, the biggest water pollutants are dirt, to which heavy metals and chemical emissions attach; bacteria from septic systems and agricultural operations; and nutrients from fertilizers and animal waste. Heavy metals leached from chemical factories, industrial dump sites, mining operations and poisonous emissions have been known to increase the risk of cancer, slow development and lead to birth defects or reproductive health problems. Toxic waste in our water also increases cancer risk and threatens fertility if consumed regularly.

Disinfectants and organic contaminants such as fecal coliform and E.Coli in water may cause stomach discomfort or liver and kidney problems, leading to sickness and disease. The US Geological Survey informs us that waterborne pathogens may cause severe problems with digestive systems.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are over 250 million worldwide cases of illnesses related to polluted groundwater annually, most in developing nations, including diagnoses such as cholera, typhoid and dysentery.

Pesticides, herbicides and insecticides polluting waterways may affect human health, causing liver damage; nervous system deterioration; and reproductive, endocrine and immune system damage, as noted in a report published by the University of New Mexico's Water Resources Program. Mercury in water is known to damage the central nervous system in adults and create neurological disorders in babies and children exposed to high levels.

Common water quality pollutants

Most consumers get their water from a public source of water or by buying bottled water. Common water pollutants may be found in both of these drinking water sources. Common water quality pollutants that affect the taste, color and odor of drinking water are chlorine, fluoride, lead, copper, aluminum and other metals. Older plumbing and septic systems can contribute to contaminants, as well as the increased use of chemical contaminants in factories and reliance on prescription drugs also pollutes our water supply.

Water quality assessment

Encourage your community to be aware of the contaminants that may be found in water, and engage local environmental or government groups to assess the water quality in your area. To ensure drinking water quality in your home, you may purchase a do-it-yourself water quality assessment kit. Water quality reports may also include measurements of color, odor, pH level, hardness, alkalinity, sodium and potassium, according to the National Sanitation Foundation.

Filtration systems

There are different filtration systems that aim at different water pollutants. Carbon filtration systems are most common in homes and may lessen chlorine, odor and metal tastes from your water, increasing the quality for drinking. There are other processes that enhance water quality, such as reverse osmosis and ionization. You may get a filter or reverse osmosis system installed at the point of use (such as your faucet) or point of entry (under your sink). There are also simple systems that filter water into pitchers. Be sure to continue changing the filters in your filtration system for best water quality, and look for recycling programs for the used product.

Water source

It is always important to learn more about where your water comes from and where it drains to when you're through -- the knowledge to protect our everyday health comes from protecting our water sources as well.

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