Lakes, rivers, streams, wetlands and groundwater are valuable public resources. They provide drinking water, recreation and tourism opportunities, wildlife habitat, water for agriculture and industry, and more. Protecting our water resources will also protect human health, ecosystems and the economic environment.
That’s why water quality is such an important topic of discussion. Water is essential to life. We all know this and have probably heard this statement more times than we can count. But how many times have you stopped while drinking a glass of water to wonder if the water you’re drinking is safe to drink? It shouldn’t be many! The truth is that while we shouldn’t have to think about it often, water quality is something we should all be thinking about on a regular basis.
Why? Because poor water quality can have a negative impact on our overall health. Have you ever been sick and had no indication of what was causing your illness? Contaminated water can lead to serious health problems, which in turn can lead to serious illness. The chances of getting sick from contaminated water are very high. That’s why you should be concerned about the quality of your drinking water and take the necessary steps to ensure that your water is safe.
Let’s take a look at the most common water quality problems and how you can prevent illness, improve the quality of your drinking water and ensure that your entire home is protected from harmful water contamination.
How does water quality affect our health?
Water is the most abundant substance on Earth. The Earth is made up of more water than land, and our bodies work in the same way. Not only do we need water to survive, but as humans, we are primarily made up of water. It is no surprise, therefore, that the quality of our water can greatly affect our overall health.
The impact of poor water quality on humans continues to rise as more and more sources of fresh water are damaged and destroyed by water pollution. So, what is causing our water to become contaminated? And, how can we help make positive changes to our water supply to prevent illness, disease and even death?
There are several sources of contamination that can affect your water quality. They are:
- Pesticides. These are the most common contaminants that affect our water supply. Pesticides are everywhere to keep our grass growing and green, and to harvest many plants. Think of all the beautiful green lawns you pass every day. Residential lawns, golf courses and farms are common sources of pesticides. When these pesticides are lost from rainfall, they can leach into the soil and contaminate groundwater. They sometimes even run directly into surface water sources. Depending on the type of chemical used, pesticides can have a significant impact on your health. From rashes and allergic reactions to digestive problems, cardiac arrest and even death, pesticides are dangerous when they come in contact with our water.
- Nutrients. While you may think nutrients can improve your health, certain types of nutrients can be dangerous when consumed in large amounts. Agriculture, fertilizers and pesticides can lead to dangerous nutrient overloads. Their effects can range from upset stomachs to death. And because young children are still developing, they are at greater risk for nutritional contamination.
- Sewage and septic systems. It may come as no surprise, but a major source of poor water quality is pollution from sewage and septic systems. If human excrement leaches into nearby soil, it can lead to groundwater contamination. This can lead to serious diseases such as hepatitis and dysentery. As a result of this type of contamination, bacteria such as E. coli may be present in your water. Water contaminated by this type of pollution can be deadly, especially for the elderly or children and infants.
- Arsenic. This well-known water contaminant is widely known as a toxicant. Even in small amounts, ingesting arsenic can be fatal. Because arsenic is naturally present in groundwater, it often leaches into well water and affects the quality of that water source. Moderate amounts of arsenic can cause problems with the digestive system. Large amounts of arsenic can be toxic and lead to organ failure and death. It can also cause scarring and damage when it comes in contact with the skin.
- Lead. Lead poisoning should not be a new topic in your knowledge base. You may have heard about the negative effects of lead poisoning from lead paint or lead pencils. When lead is present in water, it can cause many health problems. Lead enters the water supply from products such as lead paint, lead pipes and lead fittings that were used years ago, but the negative effects have not yet been seen. Drinking water that contains lead can lead to lead poisoning. While lead poisoning is more common in children than adults, continued exposure can also affect adults. Common symptoms of lead in water are headaches, nausea, memory problems, confusion, anemia, kidney problems, and even death in severe cases.
- Fluoride. Water supplies often contain some fluoride. In some municipal water systems, fluoride is added because it is good for your teeth and bones. However, too much fluoride consumption can be harmful, even fatal. Fluoride levels in your water supply should be monitored because of the potential dangers it poses to water quality. Excess fluoride can cause bone damage, joint inflammation, kidney damage, and even neurological problems in children.
- Bacteria. Some bacteria may be present in even the most strictly monitored water supplies. While some bacteria won’t have a big impact on your water quality, the presence of the wrong type of bacteria can be a major problem. Bacteria can come from anywhere. If the water is stagnant and kept at a certain temperature, the water itself can harbor bacteria. However, when debris is present in the water supply, the chances of bacteria are doubled. The effects of bacteria-filled water can range from a simple cold to serious illness and death.
- Nitrates. Nitrates are natural wastes from humans and animals. Natural fertilizers and compost are two examples of nitrate use that can cause runoff to contaminate water. While nitrates can be harmful to humans, they are especially harmful to young children. Infants exposed to too much nitrate may develop a condition called blue baby syndrome, which prevents oxygen from flowing freely in the blood. This condition can lead to death and serious permanent damage to your child.
- Salt. It sounds like a crazy example of a possible negative impact on water quality, but too much salt can be dangerous. One of the most common causes of excess salt in our water systems is salt used in the winter to keep roads from becoming too slippery. Runoff from such products can lead to groundwater contamination. While too much salt in the water supply is not fatal, it can lead to health problems such as high cholesterol, diabetes and other diseases.
Many industries depend on clean and abundant water resources, including agriculture, tourism, food processing facilities, power plants, water mills, and pulp and paper mills. Poor water quality can even affect the real estate values of those who own waterfront property.
Cost to taxpayers
Government entities often bear the cost of trying to improve water quality. Municipal wastewater and drinking water plants must ensure that residents have access to clean drinking water and that wastewater is thoroughly treated before it is discharged into a lake or stream. Soil and water conservation districts and other local partners implement conservation and water quality improvement practices. If water quality declines, additional resources are needed to restore it to acceptable conditions.
Water Safety Tips
Now that you understand how contaminants affect water quality and impact your health, here are some great tips to make sure your water is safe.
- Check your local consumer confidence report. This provides information about the public water supply in your area. This report is open to the public, so if you use a public water source, you can gain insight into potential problems found in your water supply.
- If you do not use city water, call a professional water specialist to discuss your water test. Annual water quality testing is the best way to find the smallest amount of contaminants in your water.
- If your water is giving off strange tastes, odors or colors, contact someone immediately. If you are on city water, call your local water company and report the problem. If you are a well water customer, call your water professional for a test run.
- Carefully follow any boil water recommendations issued in your area.
- If you think you are sick from contaminated water, contact your health care provider immediately. If symptoms are severe, go to an emergency room or call an emergency number immediately. In some cases, you will need prescription medication to treat the potential effects of contaminated water on your body.
- If you are not showing symptoms of illness but think you have been drinking contaminated water, contact your doctor as soon as possible. Even if you show no signs, your doctor may be able to prevent a potential health condition from becoming a major problem.
Your water quality should be the best it can be! Now that you understand all the potential health problems associated with drinking contaminated water, you have the knowledge you need to ensure that you are always drinking the highest quality water. Because water is vital to life, and the people you love are your life, make sure your water supply provides the quality of water your entire family deserves. Check out this article for common types of water quality sensors.
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