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 groups.

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

Information on the Maximum Contaminant Level Goal, the Maximum Contaminant Level or Treatment Technique, and the health effects and sources for contaminants under the Microorganisms category.
Contaminant Potential Health Effects from Long-Term Exposure Sources of Contamination
Cryptosporidium
Gastrointestinal illness (eg. diarrhoea, vomiting and cramps)
Human and animal faecal waste
Giardia lamblia
Gastrointestinal illness (eg. diarrhoea, vomiting and cramps)
Human and animal faecal 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 faecal 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 faeces; faecal 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 faecal waste

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

Information on the Maximum Contaminant Level Goal, the Maximum Contaminant Level or Treatment Technique, and the health effects and sources for contaminants under the Disinfection Byproducts category.
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. The Megahome distiller incorporates distillation and filtration.

Information on the Maximum Contaminant Level Goal, the Maximum Contaminant Level or Treatment Technique, and the health effects and sources for contaminants under the Disinfectants category.
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.

Information on the Maximum Contaminant Level Goal, the Maximum Contaminant Level or Treatment Technique, and the health effects and sources for contaminants under the Inorganic Chemicals category.
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.

Information on the Maximum Contaminant Level Goal, the Maximum Contaminant Level or Treatment Technique, and the health effects and sources for contaminants under the Organic Chemicals category.
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
Hexachloro cyclopen tadiene 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

Conclusion: A rolling boil is the most effective way to kill biological contaminants in drinking water - distillation starts with a rolling boil. Distillation removes the vast bulk of tap water contaminants but there are still some that can pass through a distiller but these are filtered out by the Megahome activated charcoal filter at the end of the distillation process.