Dirty drinking water, is it safe to drink?

health, safe, drink, water, glassMost of us take the water that comes out of our taps for granted. Sadly, in many cities and towns, as well as in private wells, drinking and bathing water could pose some serious health hazards, both in the short and long term.

The flooding that has afflicted Australia in recent years also carries the potential for contamination of both municipal and private water supplies, and those who collect rainwater for household use will also be presented with a number of sanitary problems.

Contaminants Found in Drinking Water

The number and type of pollutants found in drinking water will depend largely on where you live. Water in cities and larger towns will be treated at the municipal water treatment plant, but agricultural areas can also present a number of contaminating elements for local water supplies.

• There is no escaping the fact that chlorine is a necessary additive to prevent bacterial illnesses. Prior to the chlorination of water, thousands of people were sickened every year, and many of them succumbed to their infections. However, chlorine has been linked to a number of devastating illnesses as well, such as cancer and heart disease. Chlorine has a disagreeable taste and odour.

• Fluoride is added to city water to prevent cavities in children. Although many studies have shown that the rates of cavities in regions that do not have fluoridated water are no higher than in those that are treated, many local governments refuse to stop using it. A number of problems have been tied to fluoride, including diminished IQ, disruption of the endocrine system, and weakening of the skeletal system.

• Bacterial contamination is not a problem with chlorinated water, but wells and smaller water supply systems can include various noxious bacteria that can result, usually, in a nasty round of dysentery. Cystic parasites, such as giardia and cryptosporidium, are untouched by chlorine, as are many viruses.

• Heavy metals, such as lead, mercury, and cadmium can occur naturally in soil or be the result of industry. All of these substances have a negative impact on health, and long term consumption of heavy metals in drinking water can lead to cardiovascular disease, arthritis, and impaired mental development in children.

• Rainwater can easily become contaminated during storage. The air is actually filled with spores, pollen, and other microscopic ‘air plankton’ that can find their way into rainwater and cause it to be unfit to drink. Algal growth is one of the first signs of trouble, and some species of algae release toxins into the water.

• Thousands of tonnes of pesticides and fertilizers are used on agricultural land every year and runoff assures that some of their residues find their way into ground water and into your home.

Providing Safe Drinking Water for Yourself and Your Family

For anyone who is concerned that what they cannot see in their drinking water might cause harm, it is quite possible to provide water that is not only safe for drinking, but also for cooking and bathing. Water filters and purifiers are designed to remove both organic and inorganic pollutants from water. Some care must be taken to make sure that the filter unit will remove undesirable elements – some filters, especially pitcher filters, will only remove unpleasant taste or colour. There are a number of excellent options to provide clean, safe water.

• Countertop ceramic filters require that you simply pour water into an upper chamber and allow it to filter through the cleansing elements before dripping into the lower chamber for use.

• Faucet filters are attached directly to the faucet, and depending on the type, will remove everything from bad taste to bacteria. These are popular in the shower where chlorine is released in gaseous form.

• Whole house units generally will provide tens of thousands of gallons of purified water to every faucet in the home. These are the most expensive purification systems and generally rely upon reverse osmosis to clean the water.

One important thing to keep in mind is that most purification filters rely upon electricity to function; only countertop filters are independent of any energy source other than your arms. If power outages are a problem where you live, consider backing up an electricity-dependent purification system with a countertop filter.