It is almost impossible to count the many ways we use water every single day; bathing, cooking, cleaning and gardening are all good examples as to how important water is to our daily lives. Of course, the most important function that water serves (for humans anyway) is to keep us hydrated, as running low on water can quickly become a rather big health problem. The problem is that the water we drink isn’t always safe to consume; thanks largely to the four pollutants listed below, drinking water can sometimes carry hidden health risks.
While many people have heard of it, most are probably unaware that fluoride is actually a naturally occurring mineral. Fluoride forms after an element called fluorine mixes with other minerals found in soil and in rocks. These compounds eventually morph into a liquid state, and proceed to enter ground water as they move through the spaces between rocks. Depending on where you live, fluoride in drinking water may occur naturally, or it may be physically added by officials in order to promote dental health.
The amount or level of fluoride that is found in drinking water varies from community to community. There are occasional cases where there is too much fluoride in an area’s drinking water, making it unfit for human consumption. Excessive fluoride in drinking water can be removed with certain cleaning methods known as distillation or reverse osmosis. Prolonged overexposure to fluoride may negatively affect bone health in adults, leading to an increased likelihood of bone fractures. The affected bones may also become noticeably tender and prone to pain.
Excessive fluoride can also be dangerous to the dental health of children, causing their teeth to become more susceptible to damage. Specifically, children that consume unhealthy amounts of fluoride may develop cavities or holes in the enamel of their teeth. Children under the age of eight are most likely to encounter these fluoride-related problems.
Lead, a kind of toxic metal, can be very dangerous to the human body. Lead can hinder the mental and physical growth of young children; for example, afflicted children may exhibit abnormally short attention spans, and might also struggle with learning new material.
The main way lead contaminates drinking water is through contact with home plumbing. When old lead pipes begin to corrode, they release lead into the water that passes through them. The lead content of drinking water can also be influenced by other factors, such as the water’s temperature and the length of time the water sits still in the pipes.
As with fluoride, arsenic is another substance that occurs naturally in the earth’s environment. Aside from forming in water, arsenic may develop in soil, rocks, air and even animals. Industrial pollution, especially from copper smelting, coal burning and mining, is also responsible for arsenic contamination in drinking water. What makes arsenic especially dangerous is that there is no way to determine its presence without specific testing, as this semi-metal element has no taste or odor.
Arsenic contamination in drinking water should not be taken lightly. The consequences of long-term arsenic consumption include liver and kidney damage, along with a reduced ability to fight infection. Furthermore, arsenic exposure has been found to cause cancer of the lungs, skin, bladder, liver, nasal passages, kidneys and prostate.
Copper, which was first unearthed more than six thousand years ago, has been historically used for everything from coins to statues. In modern times, copper is often used for making pipes. Should the structure of these pipes start to deteriorate, copper can easily wind up in the drinking water of a house or building. Copper fixtures and faucets have also been known to contaminate water. Since it cannot be tasted and give off no smell, only certain tests can measure drinking water’s copper content.
Though it is on this list of pollutants, copper isn’t inherently bad for your health. In fact, copper is an essential nutrient for all living organisms, including humans. Despite this fact, copper still doesn’t belong in the water you drink. The health effects of unusually high levels of copper may include vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps and nausea. Long-term exposure to excessive copper can damage both the liver and kidneys.