Here in the U.S., it’s easy to assume that drinking water from your tap at home is perfectly good for your health.
In most areas, we have laws in place that protect the state of our water. Government agencies have mandated that tap water is regularly tested for dangerous bacteria. But even if you live in an area with relatively clean water, a number of common contaminants often slip through the cracks.
Tap water in America is pretty heavily regulated–and it’s basically safe to drink. But even if it won’t give you the stomach flu, there are things in your tap water that you can’t see or taste. They may not affect you right away, but the consequences for your health could come years down the line.
Whether it’s contamination from outside sources or chemicals added to the water in the process of making it safe to drink, regular faucet water is exposed to thousands of chemical toxins. Ingesting some of these chemicals over the long term–even if there are only small amounts in the water–could cause some major health problems.
Here are some of the most harmful chemicals that might be working their way into your tap water.
12 Most Common Harmful Chemicals in Faucet Water
After the wide publicity about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, you probably already know that water isn’t always guaranteed to be safe. Depending on where you live, water quality can vary.
But what exactly makes the water poor quality? What chemicals are in the faucet water? Do you need a water filter to block them out?
Let’s get into it.
Fluoride is often added to water in order to purify it from bacteria, pathogens, or other microbes. While this might seem like a good thing, it could have some unexpected side effects.
When fluorides are combined with certain organic matter, it can create toxic substances that might affect the development of very young children. Fluoride can also weaken your bone and tooth enamel, impact your thyroid function, and inhibit the pineal gland. If fluoride levels build in your body over time, it can affect some of your body’s processes–like digestion, hormones, and neurotransmitters.
One of the biggest contaminants present in the Flint water crisis is lead. While some contaminants are safe in very small amounts, the EPA’s maximum permitted contaminant level is zero. Lead is a toxic metal, and even the smallest exposure can be very harmful to human health.
Lead can get into your faucet water through a few different means. The most common way is through lead pipes that corrode over time, especially in highly acidic or low mineral content areas.
Although there are a number of regulations which try to reduce the amount of lead contamination, precautions aren’t always taken to keep your water safe.
And the impact of this could be pretty devastating. For children exposed to lead over a long period of time, it can lead to behavioral and learning problems, growth issues, and anemia. With higher doses, it could lead to seizures, comas, or even death.
Lead can also impact fetal development for pregnant women. Adults may also face increased blood pressure and risk of kidney failure.
You probably already know arsenic as a toxic chemical. But did you know that it’s a naturally occurring chemical that can seep into the groundwater around your home?
Although it might not hurt you right away, long-term exposure can cause severe health problems. You might notice chest pains, nausea, headaches, and fatigue. Later on, it can cause cardiovascular disease and diabetes. For young children, arsenic can increase the risk of developmental disorders.
Chlorine is often used to disinfect water as a part of the water treatment process. Although it’s safe in small quantity, drinking too much chlorinated water can impact your digestive system.
An excess of chlorine can kill the friendly bacteria in your digestive system, slowing your digestive process and making you more susceptible to illnesses. It can also increase your risk of asthma and food allergies.
Nitrates are one of the most common groundwater contaminants. Often used in the farming process as fertilizer, they can seep into the soil and get into the groundwater from various sources.
Irrigation water, water treatment plants, and septic systems can all be contaminated with nitrate–some of which could end up in your home. Although it’s a necessary fertilizer for plants, high nitrate levels in the water can harm the respiratory system in adults. It can also affect your kidney, spleen, or thyroid.
High levels of nitrate have been linked to cancer in the colon, kidney, ovaries, and bladder. Young children and toddlers are also especially vulnerable to developmental problems from nitrate exposure.
Copper is a naturally occurring contaminant that is found in almost all groundwater. The mineral is good for your health–but only in the right amount.
When it enters the groundwater through corroded pipes or in high amounts from other sources, it can be harmful. Adults have a mechanism in their bodies for regulating the amount of copper, but infants and young children don’t have this defense.
Too much copper–especially for children–can cause vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, and stomach cramps. In severe cases, it can cause kidney disease or damage to your liver.
7. Hexavalent Chromium
This is probably one you haven’t heard of before–but it’s one of the most dangerous. It’s a heavy metal which can find its way into your home’s tap water through metal pipes. This carcinogen can be very harmful to the reproductive system.
It can cause birth defects, miscarriages, and can also damage your liver and kidneys. Although these are mostly long-term effects, hexavalent chromium is dangerous enough that even being exposed to it over a short period of time can cause serious issues, like respiratory, skin, and eye irritation.
This mineral is commonly found in rocks and soil, which means that it can contaminate many sources of groundwater. It’s relatively harmless at lower doses, but if it goes over the legal guidelines, it can have serious health effects.
Barium can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and weaken the muscles. It’s also been linked to a higher risk of cancer. It’s especially harmful to young children, but adults can be affected as well.
Dioxane has been found in the drinking water for over 90 million Americans in 45 different states. The contamination typically comes from hazardous waste sites, industrial spills, or other discharge from waste plants.
Although it doesn’t always have an immediate effect, it can be lethal in the long term. It’s been linked to cancer in the liver, gallbladder, and respiratory system.
This metal can contaminate your water either through the pipes or groundwater. When consumed over a long period of time, a buildup of strontium can affect your bone and cardiovascular health.
Not only can it weaken your bones and cause heart disease, but it’s been linked to various bone cancers and leukemia. Although the radioactive form of strontium is much rarer, it should be avoided entirely, as it can cause severe cancer much more rapidly.
Although the risk of waterborne vanadium is pretty low, it can still cause a wide range of health problems. Vanadium is a metal often used in steel, titanium, and aluminum alloys.
An increase in vanadium in the water supply can cause an increase in blood pressure and other symptoms of illness like stomach cramps, nausea, and vomiting. Long-term exposure to vanadium is much riskier–these symptoms can develop into disorders and it’s been linked to certain types of cancer.
12. Industrial Waste
Even beyond the contaminants that sneak in through the water purification process, other impurities can get into your faucet water. Common waste products include fertilizers, pesticides, oil, and other chemical solvents. Depending on the area, this kind of industrial waste could seep into the groundwater.
These contaminants often lead to various water borne illnesses, including cholera, hepatitis, cholera, jaundice, and the stomach flu.
The Bottom Line
It’s not always safe to assume that the water coming out of your tap is completely fine to drink.
Faucet water is usually safe–but you never know what kind of invisible chemicals could be lurking in there. Either through your pipes or other forms of contamination, these chemicals can lead to severe health problems when consumed over a long period of time.
It’s important that you know the dangers–so you can take the necessary steps to keep your household safe.
Looking for more tips and tricks to keep your drinking water clean? Check out our blog for more information!