Unsafe to Drink: The Hidden Dangers of Contaminated Water on Human Health
Drinking water can be contaminated with all sorts of nasty stuff. These contaminants, including bacteria, viruses, parasites, and chemicals, can cause various health problems.
The sad news is that millions of Americans across the USA are exposed to unsafe or contaminated drinking water. For the unversed, 10-15 percent of Americans still depend on well water, of which 20 percent are outside the purview of EPA guidelines.
The good news is that most of these problems are preventable using common sense and following CDC guidelines on reducing your risk of exposure to contaminants in drinking water.
Table of Contents
Types of Contaminants in Drinking Water
Many types of contaminants can be found in drinking water. The most common include:
- Bacteria (such as E. coli)
- Viruses (such as hepatitis A)
- Parasites (like giardia)
- Chemicals like lead, arsenic, and other heavy metals that can harm the nervous system.
- Organic chemicals such as pesticides or herbicides, radionuclides like uranium, and pesticides used on crops may be washed into nearby rivers or streams by rainwater runoff.
One of the recent examples of exposure to contaminated water was in September 2022 when one of the housing estates in Manhattan, New York City Public Housing Authority, found out that the complex had been accessing arsenic-rich water for quite some time. Hence, residents had to rely on bottled water.
Health Effects of Contaminated Drinking Water
The most common health effects of contaminated water are gastrointestinal illness and diarrhea caused by bacteria, viruses, and parasites. These health conditions can lead to digestive troubles. A recent survey confirms that around 40% of Americans suffer from digestive troubles.
Diarrhea is a common symptom of water-borne illnesses, including cholera and typhoid fever. It’s caused by bacteria, viruses, and parasites living in contaminated water.
It can be severe and life-threatening if left untreated or if it causes dehydration. So it’s essential to know how to treat diarrhea at home if you may have been exposed to contaminated water.
Cancer is the leading cause of death in the United States, and contaminated water is a significant risk factor for cancer. The most common types of cancers associated with drinking water contamination are:
- Cervical cancer (HPV)
- Prostate cancer (PSA)
- Bladder cancer (BPH)
- Kidney cancer (Nephritis)
- Liver cancer (Hepatic cirrhosis)
- Stomach cancer
Statistics from the American Cancer Society show that stomach cancer comprises 1.5% of all types of cancers in the US annually.
One of the most popular examples where water contamination led to multiple cancers is at Camp Lejeune. It is a military training facility in North Carolina. Later, it was found that water supplied to the camp was contaminated, and it put the veterans, their family members, and other staff at Camp Lejeune at risk of multiple health conditions, including numerous cancers.
There is a mass lawsuit going against authorities due to their negligence. The Camp Lejeune Lawsuit covers anyone who lived or worked there for at least 30 days between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987. If you or a loved one resided between the dates mentioned, you could file a lawsuit to claim compensation for your problems.
There are many law firms that can help you with the process. Most law firms offer a free consultation so that people can communicate with them to know whether they have a case worth fighting for. Besides, going through reviews will also help. Like many such firms, TorHoerman Law also offers a free consultation for a Camp Lejeune lawsuit.
It has received 4.9-star ratings based on over 135 reviews. One of the testimonials reads that the client always felt that he was prioritized. Reading such reviews is crucial for researching and deciding which firm to work with.
The liver and kidneys are the two most common organs to be affected by contaminated water. Exposure to heavy metals, pesticides, and herbicides can cause damage to these organs.
Heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, and mercury are found in many paints. They can also be found in dust in buildings that use these paints or were built before the 1950s when lead was used in paint products.
Drinking contaminated water containing heavy metals will pass through your digestive tract, where some of it will get absorbed into your bloodstream before being filtered out by your kidneys or bladder. If too much is absorbed into your body, then this can cause organ damage, including kidney failure.
Different contaminants in water can affect your neurological system in different ways, for instance:
- Lead: The nervous system can be affected by lead in several ways. Lead exposure has been linked to reduced intelligence and learning disabilities, as well as problems with behavior and attention span.
- Arsenic: Arsenic is a toxic metal that can cause nerve damage if ingested over a long period. Even small amounts of arsenic can cause neurological symptoms such as numbness or tingling in the hands or feet, weakness, tremors, unsteadiness when walking, trouble speaking, hearing loss, etc. These are all signs of arsenic poisoning.
- Mercury: Mercury toxicity causes many symptoms, including memory loss/cognition problems such as difficulty concentrating on tasks, irritability, emotional instability, fatigue, insomnia, and more.
Nausea, often accompanied by vomiting and diarrhea, is a common symptom of an illness. It can also be caused by food poisoning and other factors. Nausea is often a side effect of medications such as chemotherapy drugs or antibiotics.
Nausea can be mild or severe, even debilitating if it prevents you from eating or drinking. If you’ve been experiencing nausea for more than 24 hours without any improvement in your condition, talk to your doctor about whether there’s something else going on besides dehydration.
Who Are Most Vulnerable to Contaminated Water
Infants and children are the most vulnerable to contaminated water. Infants can be exposed to harmful bacteria through their mothers’ breast milk, while young children may accidentally swallow contaminated water while playing in or around it. This is because infants and newborns are more vulnerable to contaminants or viruses.
For example, a recent study published in the Jama Network Journal shows that children born during the pandemic scored significantly less on gross motor, personal-social subdomains, and fine motor skills due to exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Pregnant women should also be aware of the dangers of drinking unsafe water during pregnancy, as they are more likely to contract illnesses such as giardiasis or toxoplasmosis from drinking contaminated water.
People with compromised immune systems, including those with HIV/AIDS or cancer, are at an increased risk for developing gastrointestinal illnesses when exposed to pathogens found in contaminated water sources. People with chronic illnesses such as diabetes or kidney disease are also more likely than healthy individuals to suffer from gastrointestinal infections.
As you can see, many types of water contamination can harm human health. The most common types are bacterial and chemical contaminants, but there are others. If you want to make sure your drinking water is safe from all these threats, then it is best to invest in a water filtration system such as reverse osmosis or distillation unit. This will help remove toxins from your water supply before it reaches your tap or faucet, so you have nothing else on your mind except how great it tastes.
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