Most of us depend on public water supply for drinking water, but is it safe enough? Our location, the source of water, and the purification process employed by the water supply agency, all determine what is in our drinking water. Being the universal solvent, water from all natural sources, whether it is spring water or underground water, has varying amounts of dissolved salts in it. Any kind of precipitation, be it rain, snow, or sleet, carries some amount of contaminants present in the atmosphere. There is no such thing as pure water!
All substances found in water are not harmful. In fact, a part of our mineral requirement, such as that of calcium and magnesium, is met through some of the dissolved salts in the drinking water. But, the presence of heavy metals in drinking water is worrisome. They accumulate in the body, disrupting normal metabolic processes and causing diseases. Industrial solvents, petroleum products, pesticide and fertilizer run-off, and residues left behind by commonly used drugs also add to the chemical load in the drinking water. A few of the most common contaminants are
Being the most abundant metal in the earth’s crust, aluminum is often present in our food and drink. Most of our food is either packed in aluminum foil or cooked in aluminum vessels. Our body absorbs very little aluminum salts unless they are present in high concentrations. But once absorbed, aluminum is difficult to get rid of, so it accumulates in the body. When drinking water contains large amounts of this metal, it not only gets deposited in vital organs like the liver and the kidneys, but it also prevents the absorption of minerals like zinc and selenium essential for our the proper functioning of our immune system. Competing with calcium, it even prevents the mineralization of bones, leading to growth retardation in infants. But the worst of the toxic effect may be on the central nervous system, since increased exposure to this metal is associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Implicated in severe skin conditions to physical deformities, arsenic is a curse in several parts of the world where this toxic metal leaches into the water from rocks. It mostly affects people who depend on underground wells for water. But in city water supply, the source of arsenic may be chemical contamination from industrial and agricultural waste. Inadequate protection of natural water sources from chemical effluents could be the main cause of this problem. Since arsenic is a known carcinogen, and there’s no safe limit for this toxin.
This is another heavy metal that has a deleterious effect on our nervous system, especially during the early growing years. It can cause attention deficit and learning disabilities in children. In adults, the damage is mainly to the kidneys. Regular exposure raises the risk of high blood pressure too. Lead-based paints may be the most common source of this chemical contaminant, but lead gets into the water mostly from the water distribution system itself. Lead pipes and chrome fixtures leaches this metal into the drinking water.
Chlorine and fluoride are two highly reactive chemical contaminants in drinking water. Both have been systematically added to drinking water; chlorine as a disinfectant, and fluoride, for its purported benefit to dental health. Since fluoride can tamper with normal endocrine functions and cause fluorosis of the teeth and bones, fluoridation is being phased out across the country. Chlorine in the drinking water can cause stomach discomfort and anemia, while it can affect the nervous system of infants.
It’s a radioactive contaminant that may be present in higher levels in the water supply of some areas. Coming from natural granite rocks, it can cause lung cancer, but inhalation of the radon particles during bathing and washing with contaminated water may be more dangerous than drinking it.
This is just a small sampling of what is contained in our water supply. When water that we drink so often, and in such large quantities, contains these contaminants, its implications on our health cannot be ignored. It’s high time we took active measures to ensure safe drinking water.
Getting water tested, and insisting on higher safety standards may be a start, but it may not be adequate. Investing in home water purification systems may be the solution if you have serious concerns about the safety of the water supply in your area.
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