What's In My Water?

Flint, Michigan may come to mind when thinking of the cities that have the worst contaminated water supply, however according to Scientific American, “it doesn't even rank among the most dangerous lead hotspots in America.” Aging infrastructure and pollution contribute to the widespread national problem of drinking water contamination. 

What’s in drinking water depends largely on location. “Reuters found nearly 3,000 areas with recently recorded lead poisoning rates at least double those in Flint during the peak of that city’s contamination crisis. And more than 1,100 of these communities had a rate of elevated blood tests at least four times higher.”

An NRDC press release reported the top states with the most offenses:

  1. Texas
  2. Florida
  3. Pennsylvania
  4. New Jersey
  5. Georgia
  6. Washington
  7. Ohio
  8. California
  9. Arizona
  10. Kentucky
  11. Wisconsin
  12. Maryland

An NRDC analysis, “shows that in 2015 alone, there were more than 80,000 reported violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act by community water systems.”

Types of Drinking Water Contamination

The EPA lists type of drinking water contaminants as:

  • Physical
  • Chemical
  • Biological
  • Radiological

The map constructed by Reuters contains data from communities that make up approximately 61 percent of the U.S. population. An NRDC report also found these substances in drinking water: 

  • Lead
  • Atrazine
  • Pathogens
  • Chlorine treatment by-products
  • Arsenic
  • Nitrates
  • Radioactive contaminants
  • Vinyl Chloride
  • Perchlorate
  • Pharmaceuticals

“America is facing a nationwide drinking water crisis that goes well beyond lead contamination,” said Erik Olson, Health Program Director at NRDC and a report co-author. 

Health Impact of Drinking Contaminated Water

Chemical Contaminant Rule

The Chemical Contaminant Rules regulate over 65 contaminants in public drinking water systems.

Long-term exposure to these substances can cause:

  • Cancer
  • Organ damage
  • Circulatory system disorders
  • Nervous system disorders
  • Reproductive system disorders

Lead in Drinking Water

According to the EPA, low levels of lead can cause behavior problems, slow growth and affect IQ levels.

Children

  • Behavior and learning problems
  • Lower IQ and hyperactivity
  • Slowed growth
  • Hearing problems
  • Anemia

Pregnant Women

  • Reduced growth of the fetus
  • Premature birth

Adults

  • Cardiovascular effects, increased blood pressure and incidence of hypertension
  • Decreased kidney function
  • Reproductive problems

Arsenic in Drinking Water

Symptoms of exposure to arsenic in drinking water from EPA

  • Thickening and discoloration of the skin
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Numbness in hands and feet
  • Partial paralysis
  • Blindness

In addition, arsenic has also been linked to a number of cancers.

What Causes Drinking Water Contamination?

In the United States, we use groundwater and surface water (lakes and rivers) for drinking water. If the source of groundwater is contaminated, the water may remain contaminated. Groundwater becomes contaminated for a variety of reasons.  

Most examples of groundwater and surface water contamination can be linked to pollution. According to TIME, “publicly documented cases of PFC pollution coming from manufacturing plants, military airbases, civilian airports and fire training sites.”

Another common cause of drinking water contamination are the pipes that transport our water. Over time, pipes that carry water supplies will corrode over time. Many pipes are made of lead that then sneaks into drinking water once the pipe begins to corrode.

This was the cause of the water crisis in Flint and Baltimore.  One solution is to replace lead pipes entirely, like Madison, Wisconsin did in 2001. This eliminates the potential for lead contamination, but it is not an easy fix. Madison replaced the piping over 11 years and cost $15.5 million to complete the project. 

Another solution could be the addition of ozone installations to water treatment facilities. For over 100 years, ozone has been used for drinking water treatment. It is 3,000 times more effective than bleach and leaves no harmful residue behind. Additionally, ozone breaks the cell membrane resulting in 99% removal of bacteria and viruses. 

Learn more about our industrial ozone generators here

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