Water Contaminants
How Is Your Home Water Quality?
Nancy Hearn

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Health risks associated with water contaminants are real.  Some of the signs of water quality issues are perceptible—and some are not.

Either way, the acute and chronic effects of contaminants in the water we use in our homes for drinking, cooking and bathing are well documented.

Regardless of whether your water comes from a well or a municipal facility, it is important to know what is in your water if you value your health.

How To Determine Water Quality

If you have a well, get it tested regularly for common contaminants.  Groundwater contaminants can change frequently, especially if you are anywhere near farming or any industrial sites.

If you use tap water, you can start by getting a copy of your annual water quality report.  Go here to see if it is listed online.  If not, you can request a copy from your local water supplier.  At times, we can see, taste or smell contaminated water.  

What You Can See.  Water should always look clean and clear.  If it is cloudy or colored, something is wrong.  Orange, red, yellow, brown water can indicate rust, iron or other contaminants in your plumbing lines. Decaying vegetation can also give water a brown or yellow hue.

What You Can Smell and Taste.  Certain bacteria in water can lead to the presence of hydrogen sulfide in water, which smells like sulfur or rotten eggs and can cause the water to taste salty.  Metallic smells and tastes could be a sign of high levels of arsenic, lead, mercury or copper in the water.  If the water has a chemical smell or taste, it could come from any number of situations or byproducts and should be tested.

Water Quality Analysis. If you have a well or want a more detailed report than your local municipal water quality report, consider investing in a drinking water test kit. Or you can have your water analyzed by a water quality professional.

Common Water Contaminants

Unfortunately, our senses cannot detect all water contaminants. Thus, some people might experience contaminant exposure for months or years before noticing any health effects.

We’ve all seen the news reports in the U.S., where overnight some community is ravaged by the discovery of highly toxic water.  The causes of these situations are varied, including natural disasters or agricultural pesticide or fertilizer applications, or contamination from industrial plants.

Certain contaminants will cause acute symptoms of illness, whereas other contaminants have a slower effect which is cumulative over time but in many cases more deadly. 

Some of the most common contaminants include:

  • Bacteria and Viruses
  • Chlorine and Chloramine 
  • Fluoride
  • Nitrates and Nitrites
  • Heavy Metals (such as Lead, Mercury, Arsenic, Cadmium, Copper)
  • Radium and Uranium
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Chemicals from Personal Care Products (PCPs)
  • Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs)

You can read specific fact sheets on some of these common waterborne contaminants on this Water Quality Association page.

Health Effects of Contaminants

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the U.S. has set standards for over 80 common contaminants found in drinking water that are known to have health risks.  They are categorized as either acute or chronic.

Acute Effects.  Drinking water that makes one sick within hours or days of consuming is considered an acute effect.  Just about any known contaminant can create an acute effect if the levels are high enough. Microbial contaminants are more often the cause of quick onset of illness, even death in certain cases.

Chronic Effects.   Drinking water contaminants that are more likely to have chronic effects from cumulative exposure over many years include chemicals (such as chlorine, fluoride, pesticides, and solvents), heavy metals (such as arsenic, lead, mercury), radionuclides (radium).  Chronic illnesses include liver or kidney damage, cancer, autoimmunity, and infertility.


There are not many places on our planet where we could even go to and be assured that the groundwater is safe and healthy to drink.

Most people who understand the health risks associated with waterborne contaminants either invest in bottled water or some type of home water filtration system.

Since bottle water is poorly regulated and water quality studies have shown that up to 40% of bottled water is just reprocessed tap water, I wouldn’t rely on bottle water unless I lived near a natural mineral spring water that bottled the water on site.

Thus, the more reliable and ultimately the more economical solution is to invest in some type of water filtration system.

To know your options, you might want to check out our water filter reviews and recommendations.

Further reading . . .

Chlorine in Drinking Water - The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly News

Fluoride in Water - Do Not Swallow What You Have Been Told

Lead in Drinking Water - Health Effects and Solutions for Removal

Mercury In Water - Causes and Effects on Our Health and Environment

Pesticides In Water - Three Main Classes and How to Minimize Exposure

Arsenic in Drinking Water

Drugs in Drinking Water - A Growing Concern Affecting Our Health and Environment

Cancer-Causing Chromium in Drinking Water - Hexavalent Chromium (Chromium 6)

Trihalomethanes in Water - How to Remove Them in My Home

Aluminum in Water - Health Effects and How to Remove It

Hidden Hazards in Water that Affect Your Home and Health

Return from Water Contaminants to Water Benefits Health Home

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