The Flint water crisis showed the risks that come with drinking tap water, even in America in the 21st century.
But Flint isn’t the only city in the United States where these risks exist. Recent research shows that water tested positive for lead in almost 70% of homes in Chicago.
This is a problem that requires vigilance and monitoring on the part of the citizens to hold our national and local governments accountable.
But what should private citizens do about their water in the meantime? What dangerous chemicals might be lurking in those literal waters, and how can you neutralize the threats they pose?
What follows is an exhaustive list of the toxins that can exist in faucet water. Familiarize yourself with these chemicals, and read to the end to find out what you can do about them.
Toxins That Can Make Drinking Tap Water Hazardous
There are many toxins that may be present in tap water, from harsh chemicals to dangerous but naturally occurring bacteria. You may recognize some of these, and others may be obscure. They are all important to watch out for.
Farmers have been using this pesticide for more than half a century. They spray millions of pounds of it on crops like corn every year.
Atrazine can run off into natural water supplies like lakes and rivers, and it is part of a class of chemicals that may cause cancer in humans.
In the United States, the acceptable level of Atrazine in water is three parts per billion.
2. Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs)
These chemicals are found in many consumer products. Almost all human beings have detectable levels of them in their blood, but large amounts can cause significant damage.
There are links between these chemicals and health conditions in humans such as reduced female fertility, sperm quality, reduced birth weight in infants, birth defects, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and increased uric acid levels, which are correlated with heart disease.
These microscopic parasites enter drinking water through contamination by human or animal feces. This happens when sewage systems are not working properly.
When humans consume giardia, they can develop a condition called giardiasis, which causes diarrhea and can last for months.
Ditto everything that applies to giardia for cryptosporidium.
A parasite? Check.
Passed through feces? Check.
Can cause diarrhea in humans? Check.
This chemical can affect the nervous and endocrine systems, which can lead to birth defects, malignant tumors, and disruptions in human development.
We may have mostly ourselves to blame for the fluoride in our water. Cities began adding it to their water supplies back in the middle of the 20th century because of its ability to reduce tooth decay.
Fortunately, we can take responsibility for ridding ourselves of it. Some cities in the United States have begun to reject the fluoridation process.
You wouldn’t drink water from a swimming pool, at least not intentionally. But that may be effectively what you’re doing, depending on where you live.
Chlorine is a cleaning product. It is used for its disinfectant properties, not just in pools but also in sewage and industrial waste systems. And it gets added to faucet water during some purification processes.
Chlorine can wreak havoc on the respiratory system and bond with water molecules in your body to create hydrochloric acid, which is poisonous. Over the long haul, chlorine can impair your balance and cause memory loss.
When you think of dangerous chemicals in your water, lead probably tops the list. It’s the chemical that is responsible for a majority of Flint’s water crisis.
Lead gets into water when corroded pipes break down and release it. It’s an incredibly toxic chemical, causing all sorts of health problems. These are not limited to toxicity in nearly every organ of the body, developmental and behavioral issues in children, deafness, brain damage, autism, prostate cancer, and reproductive problems.
Like lead, mercury appears on the natural end of the periodic table, but it is still toxic in high doses.
The negative health effects of mercury include muscle atrophy, memory loss, rashes, impaired motor functions, headaches, general weakness, blindness, nerve and brain damage, cognitive disability, and mood swings.
Mercury can get into water supplies as a byproduct of mining and industrial systems. The vapor can travel to distant reaches of the country and the planet.
9. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
Here is another class of toxic chemicals that are used in industrial applications. The products PCBs appear in include paints, adhesives, electronics, oils, machinery, insulation, and fluorescent lights.
PCBs were banned from use in 1979. What makes them scary today is their presence in landfills. As they break down slowly, they can run off into snow and sea water thousands of miles from where they started.
We know PCBs are harmful because of tests on animals that resulted in cancer and negative consequences or the immune, nervous, reproductive, and endocrine systems.
Arsenic might as well appear as a synonym for “poison” in the thesaurus. But the chemical is used in, once again, industrial applications.
Arsenic can contaminate the environment as a result of people disposing of their waste improperly or digging wells that tap into natural sources of arsenic.
Arsenic poisoning is serious and can be deadly. Other short-term side effects include vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Long-term side effects include skin cancer, bladder cancer, and lung cancer.
These chemicals appear as essential ingredients in explosives. They seep into water sources from military and industrial sites that use such devices.
Almost all people have some amount of perchlorates in their bodies, which makes it hard to test for and measure their effects. However, these toxins do have negative effects on the human thyroid.
If you’re noticing the appearance of the word “industry” a lot on this list, you’ve caught on to the pattern. Dioxins are no exception to it.
These chemicals come from industrial sources like burning fuel. They also appear in cigarette smoke, forest fires, and other sources of combustion.
Dioxins have been declared carcinogens, and they can lead to birth defects in developing fetuses or stillbirth.
13. Dichloro-Diphenyl-Trichloroethane (DDT)
DDT is, like fluoride, another remnant of the mid-20th century, when it was used as an insecticide to combat diseases like typhus and malaria.
DDT has been banned in the U.S. since 1972, but the chemical is still used in other parts of the world. This is a problem because of the distances DDT molecules can travel.
14. Hexachlorobenzene (HCB)
Here we have another banned pesticide. HCB is primarily a threat to populations outside of the United States, but since large doses can lead to death, it’s important to stay woke to nonetheless.
15. Dacthal (aka dimethyl tetrachloroterephthalate, DCPA)
Dacthal is another herbicide, but unlike many of the others on this list, it is still in use today.
Dacthal can seep into soil and water, and animal testing shows its harmful effects on the liver, kidneys, and spleen.
16. Methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MtBE)
MtBE differs from other toxins on this list in that it is not used in water purification nor agriculture. It’s a gasoline additive. In 1996, MtBE contamination from oil companies rendered the water supply in Santa Monica, CA undrinkable.
MtBE is one of the lesser understood toxins on this list, but there have been links between the chemical and seizures, fetal development problems, and kidney damage in animals.
What Can You Do to Stay Safe?
Despite the dire picture we’ve painted so far, the truth is that not all tap water is bad for you.
You can investigate the water supply in your area by plugging your zip code into the Environmental Working Group’s Tap Water Database. There, you can find information about the contaminants that may be in your water, including many that are not on this list.
Once you’ve done that, the next step is to use a high-quality water filter in your home. Activated carbon filters are especially effective in reducing the number of toxins in your water
Whatever you do, don’t just switch to bottled water and call it a day. Many bottled waters are dressed up tap water anyway. Those that aren’t may be contaminated by chemicals that come from the plastic in the bottles.
The Bigger Picture: Inhabiting Our Roles As Caretakers of the Earth
While it’s important to keep yourself safe from the toxins in your water, it’s just as important to protect our water supply for future generations.
The only way you can do this is to take an active role in advocating for increased protection and infrastructure upgrades for the water in your area. Elect officials who are equipped to address local water problems. Let your voice be heard on the issues that are important to you.
It may be impossible to completely remove the risks inherent in drinking tap water, but you can help reduce them.
You can find water filters to help you do this on our site.