Bacteria, Virus, and Parasites — Years ago, waterborne diseases accounted for millions of deaths. Even today in underdeveloped countries, an estimated 25,000 people will die daily from waterborne disease. Effects of waterborne microorganisms can be immediate and devastating. Therefore, microorganisms are the first and most important consideration in making water acceptable for human consumption. Generally speaking, modern municipal supplies are relatively free from harmful organisms because of routine disinfection with chlorine or chloramines and frequent sampling. This does not mean municipal water is free of all bacteria.
Those of us with private wells and small rural water systems have reason to be more concerned about the possibility of microorganism contamination from septic tanks, animal wastes, and other problems. There is a little community in California, where 4,000,000 gallons of urine hits the ground daily from dairy cows! Authorities say that at least 4000 cases of waterborne diseases are reported every year in the U.S. They also estimate that much of the temporary ills and everyday gastrointestinal disorders that go routinely unreported can be attributed to organisms found in our water supplies.
Dirt and Sediment or Turbidity — Most waters contain some suspended particles which may consist of fine sand, clay, soil, and precipitated salts. Turbidity is unpleasant to look at, can be a source of food and lodging for bacteria, and can interfere with effective disinfection. Total Dissolved Solids — These substances are dissolved rock and other compounds from the earth. The entire list of them could fill this page. The presence and amount of total dissolved solids in water represents a point of controversy among those who promote water treatment products. Here are some facts about the consequences of higher levels of TDS in water: 1. High TDS results in undesirable taste which could be salty, bitter, or metallic. 2. High TDS water is less thirst quenching.
3. Some of the individual mineral salts that make up TDS pose a variety of health hazards. The most problematic are Nitrates, Sodium, Sulphates, Barium, Copper, and Fluoride. 4. The EPA Secondary Regulations advise a maximum level of 500mg/litter (500 parts per million-ppm) for TDS. Numerous water supplies exceed this level. When TDS levels exceed 1000mg/L it is generally considered unfit for human consumption. 5. High TDS interferes with the taste of foods and beverages, and makes them less desirable to consume. 6. High TDS make ice cubes cloudy, softer, and faster melting. 7. Minerals exist in water mostly as INORGANIC salts. In contrast, minerals having passed through a living system are known as ORGANIC minerals. They are combined with proteins and sugars. According to many nutritionists minerals are much easier to assimilate when they come from foods. Can you imagine going out to your garden for a cup of dirt to eat rather than a nice carrot; or drinking a whole bathtub of water for LESS calcium than that in an 8 ounce glass of milk?
8. Water with higher TDS is considered by some health advocates to have a poorer cleansing effect in the body than water with a low level of TDS. This is because water with low dissolved solids has a greater capacity of absorption than water with higher solids. Toxic Metals or Heavy Metals — Among the greatest threats to health are the presence of high levels of toxic metals in drinking water – Arsenic, Cadmium, Lead, Mercury, and Silver. Maximum limits for each are established by the EPA Primary Drinking Water Regulations. Other metals such as Chromium and Selenium, while essential trace elements in our diets, have limits imposed upon them when in water because the form in which they exist may pose a health hazard. Toxic metals are associated with nerve damage, birth defects, mental retardation, certain cancers, and increased susceptibility to disease. Asbestos — Asbestos exists as microscopic suspended mineral fibres in water.
Its primary source is asbestos-cement pipe which was commonly used after World War II for city water supplies. It has been estimated that some 200,000 miles of this pipe is presently in use to transport our drinking water. Because these pipes are wearing, the deadly substance of asbestos is showing up with increasing frequency in drinking water. It has been linked with gastrointestinal cancer. Radioactivity — Even though trace amounts of radioactive elements can be found in almost all drinking water, levels that pose serious health hazards are fairly rare–for now. Radioactive wastes leach from mining operations into groundwater supplies. The greatest threat is posed by nuclear accidents, nuclear processing plants, and radioactive waste disposal sites. As containers containing these wastes deteriorate with time, the risk of contaminating our aquifers’ grows into a toxic time bomb.
Tastes and Odours — If your water has a disagreeable taste or odour, chances are it is due to one or more of many organic substances ranging from decaying vegetation to algae; hydrocarbons to phenols. It could also be TDS and a host of other items. Pesticides and Herbicides — The increasing use of pesticides and herbicides in agriculture shows up in the water we drink. Rain and irrigation carry these deadly chemicals down into the groundwater as well as into surface waters — There are more than 100,000,000 people in the US who depend upon groundwater for sources whole or in part of their drinking water. As our reliance upon groundwater is escalating, so is its contamination. Our own household use of herbicide and pesticide substances also contributes to actual contamination. These chemicals can cause circulatory, respiratory and nerve disorders. Toxic Organic Chemicals — The most pressing and widespread water contamination problem is a result of the organic chemicals created by industry.
The American Chemical Society lists 4,039,907 distinct chemical compounds as of late 1977! This list only is comprised of chemicals reported since 1965. The list can grow by some 6,000 chemicals per week! 70,000 chemicals may still be in production in the US. As of December, 1978, 50 chemicals were being produced in greater quantities than 1,300,000,000 pounds per year in the US. 115,000 establishments are involved in the production and distribution of chemicals, with the business being worth $113,000,000,000 per year. According to the EPA, there are 77,000,000,000 pounds of hazardous waste being generated each year in the US. 90 percent of this is not disposed of properly. This would equal 19,192 pounds of hazardous waste disposed each year on every square mile of land and water surface in the US including Alaska and Hawaii!! There are 181,000 manmade lagoons at industrial and municipal sites in the US. At least 75 percent of these are unlined.
Even the lined ones will leak according to the EPA. Some of these are within 1 mile of wells or water supplies. There is still a lack of information on the location of these sites, their condition, and containments. THIS IS A HORROR STORY OF THE MILLENNIUM. Chemicals end up in our drinking water from hundreds of different sources. There are hundreds of publications each year highlighting this problem. The effects of chronic long term exposure to these toxic organics, even in minute amounts, are extremely difficult to detect. Contaminated drinking water may look and taste perfectly normal. The users’ symptoms might include recurring headache, rash, or fatigue – all of which are hard to diagnose as being water related.
The more serious consequences of drinking tainted water are higher cancer rates, birth defects, growth abnormalities, infertility, and nerve and organ damage. Some of these disorders may go unnoticed for decades!! Just how toxic these chemicals are may be illustrated by looking at two examples: TCE is a widely used chemical which routinely shows up in water supplies. Just two glassfuls of TCE can contaminate 27,000,000 gallons of drinking water! One pound of the pesticide, Endrin can contaminate 5,000,000,000 gallons of water.
Chlorine — Trihalomethanes (THM’s) are formed when chlorine, used to disinfect water supplies, interacts with natural organic materials (e.g. by-products of decayed vegetation, algae, etc.). This creates toxic organic chemicals such as chloroform, and Bromodichloromethane. A further word about chlorine: Scientists at Colombia University found that women who drank chlorinated water ran a 44% greater risk of dying of cancer of the gastrointestinal or urinary tract than did women who drank non-chlorinated water! Chlorinated water has also been linked to high blood pressure and anaemia. Anaemia is caused by the deleterious effect of chlorine on red blood cells.