Infrastructure in the developed world has certainly come a long way. Running water is readily available within about 10 feet of us at virtually all times, gushing out on command. Of course, a lot goes into making that happen, from pipework systems to damming to reservoirs, and regulation, testing, and treatment. The miracle of all this is that millions of people can satisfy their thirst or clean themselves simply by pulling up a lever or turning a knob, so it’s easy to become complacent and take for granted that the water we ingest is clean.
However, all of these components comprise a rather complicated system with many steps, and it only takes one oversight to cause a water supply to become contaminated. In the vast majority of cases, regulatory oversight keeps a keen eye on the quality of water, but in economically disadvantaged, often urban or deeply rural areas, decaying pipes and unchecked water runoff can carry harmful contaminants that may run unseen into your drinking water.
What Are Some Common Drinking Water Contaminants?
There are several common drinking water contaminants, both chemical and biological, that can be the by-product of faulty infrastructure or contact with biohazardous waste. Common chemical contaminants include:
– Arsenic: a natural metallic element whose trace amounts can be found in soil and rocks. Exposure can cause cancer, skin problems, cardiovascular and nervous problems, particularly in developing children.
– Chloramine: A product of a reaction between chlorine, used in the treatment of water, and ammonia, often found in industrial strength freezers as a refrigerant. Consumption of chloramine can lead to hemolytic anemia, causing a drop in red blood cell count.
– Mercury: A naturally occurring element that is prone to reacting with carbon to form organic bonds, which can then cause severe problems. Over time, mercury accumulation can lead to reduced kidney activity and cancer. In fetal development, mercury poisoning can cause permanent brain damage.
– E. Coli: Escherichia coli is a bacterium found in the intestinal tracts of mammals. This bacteria aids in the digestion of foods. It is prone to evolving into new strains, some of which can cause severe abdominal problems, vomiting, and bloody diarrhea. E. coli often contaminates water after flooding carries contaminants from septic tanks into water systems.
I Think I Drank Contaminated Water. What Do I Do?
Contaminants can be odorless and colorless; often you will have no idea that you drank contaminated water until you start to feel symptoms. Depending on what has contaminated the water, you may feel: