With the human body being more than 70 percent water, it’s important for people to stay hydrated. Tap water is available instantly in our homes, but it has to go through rigorous standards tests and multiple points of filtration before it gets piped up through the municipal infrastructure. This means that, from source to tap, drinking water has to make a long journey.

Even though great pains are taken in municipal water supplies to keep out contaminants like heavy metals, in rural areas, it can often be a different story. In larger rural properties, there can be times where a hookup to a municipal supply isn’t easy to come by. Many remote ranchers and others solve this problem by equipping a deep well system that pumps water into the home. But exposed wells can always be vulnerable.

Runoff from nearby industry like steel mills or manure processing plants, as well as erosion, can carry heavy metal contaminants that could seep into drinking water sources.

Heavy Metals in Drinking Water: The Hazards

Heavy metals are a by-product of human production. They can be exhausted into the air from burning, which produces smoke and vapor, which carry soot and ash, which eventually settles. Even if most of the exhaust settles away from a water source, it can still be carried away if there’s a heavy enough rainfall.

When heavy metals permeate drinking water, they can remain colorless, odorless, and tasteless, yet can cause many problems with health. The symptoms of heavy metal ingestion range from fatigue to nervous system damage to developmental problems, and in some cases, cancer.

Common Heavy Metals Found in Drinking Water

Different industries often produce distinct heavy metal by-products, each of which is linked to its own set of symptoms.

Lead: Until the 1950s, lead was used liberally in the building of many new American housing developments. It was mostly found in lead paint and pipes that eventually degraded. Because of the health risks involved with lead poisoning, its use in construction gradually tapered and was banned by the late 1970s.

Lead dust from paint and pipes that made its way into drinking water can cause a range of adverse health problems often affecting the nervous system. In mild cases, they can cause headaches, fever, and nausea. Prolonged and chronic exposure can lead to heart and kidney failure in adults, and major hindrances to development for children, including inhibiting motor skills and stunting I.Q.

Arsenic: This is a carcinogenic metal whose exposure can cause cancers. It was mostly used as an anti-rot sealant for wood in construction until 2002, and can still be found in some soaps, paints, dyes, glass, and in semiconductors.

Mercury: This heavy metal is found in coal smoke. It eventually settles into waterways where waterborne bacteria convert it to toxic methylmercury. When fish consume the bacteria, they pick up the methylmercury, which can get consumed when the fish are caught and eaten. Symptoms can be severe, including hearing loss, blindness, and brain damage.

Cadmium: Cadmium enters the drinking water when it gets cross-contaminated with sewage, often during a catastrophic structure failure or a flood. Cadmium can also be found in trace amounts in improperly discarded cellphone batteries. Short term cadmium exposure can often cause nausea and vomiting, but chronic exposure can damage the liver and kidneys.

Professional Drinking Water Testing

Being colorless and tasteless, heavy metals are not always easy to detect, and it’s not ideal to find out about heavy metals in your drinking water by getting ill. Routine testing with do-it-yourself kits from AquaKnow is a cost-effective means of ensuring your water stays safe from heavy metal contaminants. Click here to learn more.