79 Common Drinking Water Contaminants And Their Effects

Written by William Fryer - MA Oxon

A comprehensive list detailing all the common drinking water contaminants and their potential harmful effects.

Only distillation followed by activated charcoal filtration will completely remove all these contaminants. We have classified them into:


Micro-organisms - bacteria and viruses. They are killed by distillation.

Contaminant Potential Health Effects from Long-Term Exposure Sources of Contamination
Cryptosporidium

Gastrointestinal illness (eg. diarrhoea, vomiting and cramps)

Human and animal feacal waste

Giardia lamblia

Gastrointestinal illness (eg. diarrhoea, vomiting and cramps)

Human and animal feacal waste

Heterotrophic plate count (HPC)

HPC has no health effects; it is simply a way to measure the variety of bacteria that are common in water. The lower the concentration of bacteria in drinking water, the better maintained the water system is.

HPC measures a range of bacteria naturally present in the environment

Legionella

Legionnaire's Disease, a type of pneumonia

Found naturally in water; multiplies in heating systems

Total Coliforms (including feacal coliform and E. Coli)

Not a health threat in itself; but can indicate when other potentially harmful bacteria may be present

Coliforms are naturally present in the environment; as well as feaces; feacal coliforms and E. coli only come from human and animal fecal waste.

Turbidity

Turbidity is a measure of the cloudiness of water. It is used to indicate water quality and filtration effectiveness (such as whether disease-causing organisms are present). Higher turbidity levels are often associated with higher levels of disease-causing microorganisms such as viruses, parasites and some bacteria. These organisms can cause symptoms such as nausea, cramps, diarrhoea, and associated headaches.

Soil run-off

Viruses

Gastro-intestinal illness (such as diarrhoea, vomiting, and cramps)

Human and animal feacal waste

Disinfection by-products - these are products that have often been used to disinfect the water. They are removed by distillation and filtration

Contaminant Potential Health Effects from Long-Term Exposure Sources of Contamination
Bromate

Increased risk of cancer

By-product of drinking water disinfection

Chlorite

Anaemia; infants and young children: nervous system effects

By-product of drinking water disinfection

Haloacetic acids (HAA5)

Increased risk of cancer

By-product of drinking water disinfection

Total Trihalomethanes (TTHMs)

Liver, kidney or central nervous system problems; increased risk of cancer

By-product of drinking water disinfection

Disinfectants - the domestic and industrial use of disinfectants can pollute your water supply. They are removed by distillation and filtration

Contaminant Potential Health Effects from Long-Term Exposure Sources of Contaminant in Drinking Water
Chloramines (as Cl2)

Eye/nose irritation; stomach discomfort, anaemia

Water additive used to control microbes

Chlorine (as Cl2)

Eye/nose irritation; stomach discomfort

Water additive used to control microbes

Chlorine dioxide (as ClO2)

Anaemia; infants and young children: nervous system effects

Water additive used to control microbes

Inorganic Chemicals - these can come from a variety of sources, very often industrial. They are removed by distillation.

Contaminant Potential Health Effects from Long-Term Exposure Sources of Contaminant in Drinking Water
Antimony

Increase in blood cholesterol; decrease in blood sugar

Discharge from petroleum refineries; fire retardants; ceramics; electronics; solder

Arsenic

Skin damage or problems with circulatory systems, and may have increased risk of getting cancer

Erosion of natural deposits; runoff from orchards, runoff from glass and electronics production wastes

Asbestos (fiber > 10 micrometers)

Increased risk of developing benign intestinal polyps

Decay of asbestos cement in water mains; erosion of natural deposits

Barium

Increase in blood pressure

Discharge of drilling wastes; discharge from metal refineries; erosion of natural deposits

Beryllium

Intestinal lesions

Discharge from metal refineries and coal-burning factories; discharge from electrical, aerospace, and defense industries

Cadmium

Kidney damage

Corrosion of galvanised pipes; erosion of natural deposits; discharge from metal refineries; runoff from waste batteries and paints

Chromium (total)

Allergic dermatitis

Discharge from steel and pulp mills; erosion of natural deposits

Copper

Short term exposure: Gastrointestinal distress

Long term exposure: Liver or kidney damage

People with Wilson's Disease should consult their GP if the amount of copper in their water is high

Corrosion of household plumbing systems; erosion of natural deposits

Cyanide (as free cyanide)

Nerve damage or thyroid problems

Discharge from steel/metal factories; discharge from plastic and fertiliser factories

Fluoride

Bone disease (pain and tenderness of the bones); Children may get mottled teeth

Water additive which promotes strong teeth; erosion of natural deposits; discharge from fertiliser and aluminum factories

Lead

Infants and children: Delays in physical or mental development; children could show slight deficits in attention span and learning abilities

Adults: Kidney problems; high blood pressure

Corrosion of household plumbing systems; erosion of natural deposits

Mercury (inorganic)

Kidney damage

Erosion of natural deposits; discharge from refineries and factories; runoff from landfills and croplands

Nitrate (measured as Nitrogen)

Infants below the age of six months who drink water containing nitrate above safe levels could become seriously ill and, if untreated, may die. Symptoms include shortness of breath and blue-baby syndrome.

Run-off from fertilizer use; leaking from septic tanks, sewage; erosion of natural deposits

Nitrite (measured as Nitrogen)

Infants below the age of six months who drink water containing nitrite above safe levels could become seriously ill and, if untreated, may die. Symptoms include shortness of breath and blue-baby syndrome.

Run-off from fertilizer use; leaking from septic tanks, sewage; erosion of natural deposits

Selenium

Hair or fingernail loss; numbness in fingers or toes; circulatory problems

Discharge from petroleum refineries; erosion of natural deposits; discharge from mines

Thallium

Hair loss; changes in blood; kidney, intestine, or liver problems

Leaching from ore-processing sites; discharge from electronics, glass, and drug factories

Organic Chemicals - again, a variety of different sources and many have unresearched side-effects. These types of chemicals are typically removed by filtration through activated charcoal which is why the Megahome Distiller has an activated carbon filter. Many are also removed by distillation.

Contaminant Potential Health Effects from Long-Term Exposure Sources of Contamination
Acrylamide

Nervous system or blood problems; increased risk of cancer

Added to water during sewage/wastewater treatment

Alachlor

Eye, liver, kidney or spleen problems; anaemia; increased risk of cancer

Run-off from herbicide used on crops

Atrazine

Cardiovascular system or reproductive problems

Run-off from herbicide used on crops

Benzene

Anaemia; decrease in blood platelets; increased risk of cancer

Discharge from factories; leaching from gas storage tanks and landfills

Benzo(a)pyrene (PAHs)

Reproductive difficulties; increased risk of cancer

Leaching from linings of water storage tanks and distribution lines

Carbofuran

Problems with blood, nervous system, or reproductive system

Leaching of soil fumigant used on rice and alfalfa

Carbon tetrachloride

Liver problems; increased risk of cancer

Discharge from chemical plants and other industrial activities

Chlordane

Liver or nervous system problems; increased risk of cancer

Residue of banned insecticide

Chlorobenzene

Liver or kidney problems

Discharge from chemical and agricultural chemical factories

2,4-D

Kidney, liver, or adrenal gland problems

Run-off from herbicide used on row crops

Dalapon

Minor kidney changes

Run-off from herbicide used on rights of way

1,2-Dibromo-3-chloropropane (DBCP)

Reproductive difficulties; increased risk of cancer

Run-off/leaching from soil fumigant used on orchards

o-Dichlorobenzene

Liver, kidney, or circulatory system problems

Discharge from industrial chemical factories

p-Dichlorobenzene

Anemia; liver, kidney or spleen damage; changes in blood

Discharge from industrial chemical factories

1,2-Dichloroethane

Increased risk of cancer

Discharge from industrial chemical factories

1,1-Dichloroethylene

Liver problems

Discharge from industrial chemical factories

cis-1,2-Dichloroethylene

Liver problems

Discharge from industrial chemical factories

trans-1,2-Dichloroethylene

Liver problems

Discharge from industrial chemical factories

Dichloromethane

Liver problems; increased risk of cancer

Discharge from drug and chemical factories

1,2-Dichloropropane

Increased risk of cancer

Discharge from industrial chemical factories

Di(2-ethylhexyl) adipate

Weight loss, liver problems, or possible reproductive difficulties.

Discharge from chemical factories

Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate

Reproductive difficulties; liver problems; increased risk of cancer

Discharge from rubber and chemical factories

Dinoseb

Reproductive difficulties

Run-off from herbicide used on vegetables

Dioxin (2,3,7,8-TCDD)

Reproductive difficulties; increased risk of cancer

Emissions from waste incineration and other combustion; discharge from chemical factories

Diquat

Cataracts

Run-off from herbicide use

Endothall

Stomach and intestinal problems

Run-off from herbicide use

Endrin

Liver problems

Residue of banned insecticide

Epichlorohydrin

Increased cancer risk, and over a long period of time, stomach problems

Discharge from industrial chemical factories; an impurity of some water treatment chemicals

Ethylbenzene

Liver or kidneys problems

Discharge from petroleum refineries

Ethylene dibromide

Problems with liver, stomach, reproductive system, or kidneys; increased risk of cancer

Discharge from petroleum refineries

Glyphosate

Kidney problems; reproductive difficulties

Run-off from herbicide use

Heptachlor

Liver damage; increased risk of cancer

Residue of banned termiticide

Heptachlor epoxide

Liver damage; increased risk of cancer

Breakdown of heptachlor

Hexachlorobenzene

Liver or kidney problems; reproductive difficulties; increased risk of cancer

Discharge from metal refineries and agricultural chemical factories

Hexachlorocyclopentadiene

Kidney or stomach problems

Discharge from chemical factories

Lindane

Liver or kidney problems

Run-off/leaching from insecticide used on cattle, lumber, gardens

Methoxychlor

Reproductive difficulties

Run-off/leaching from insecticide used on fruits, vegetables, livestock

Oxamyl (Vydate)

Slight nervous system effects

Run-off/leaching from insecticide used on apples, potatoes, and tomatoes

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)

Skin changes; thymus gland problems; immune deficiencies; reproductive or nervous system difficulties; increased risk of cancer

Run-off from landfills; discharge of waste chemicals

Pentachlorophenol

Liver or kidney problems; increased cancer risk

Discharge from wood preserving factories

Picloram

Liver problems

Herbicide run-off

Simazine

Problems with blood

Herbicide run-off

Styrene

Liver, kidney, or circulatory system problems

Discharge from rubber and plastic factories; leaching from landfills

Tetrachloroethylene

Liver problems; increased risk of cancer

Discharge from factories and dry cleaners

Toluene

Nervous system, kidney, or liver problems

Discharge from petroleum factories

Toxaphene

Kidney, liver, or thyroid problems; increased risk of cancer

Run-off/leaching from insecticide used on cotton and cattle

2,4,5-TP (Silvex)

Liver problems

Residue of banned herbicide

1,2,4-Trichlorobenzene

Changes in adrenal glands

Discharge from textile finishing factories

1,1,1-Trichloroethane

Liver, nervous system, or circulatory problems

Discharge from metal degreasing sites and other factories