All sources of water have some level of contaminants in it—whether your water is from a well or the city. These contaminants range from natural, artificial, and chemical. It’s important to know which ones can be found in your water so you can take the right steps to remove them and keep your family safe. There are several methods you can use to remove impurities from your water, but first, let’s look at the some of the most common types of contaminants.
Common Contaminants in Drinking Water
There are numerous contaminants that might be found in drinking water. Here are some of the most common:
- Bacteria and Viruses – All water, to some degree, has bacteria and protozoans in it. Most of what is found in water is harmless, but some, like E. Coli, Giardia Lamblia, and Legionella Pneumophilia, can be quite unsafe. In fact, these diseases and microorganisms can make some people very sick – especially the very young and the elderly, for whom these contaminants might lead to death. Water suppliers are required to test for these types of contaminants and to improve treatments if any of them are found.
- Arsenic – Arsenic is a naturally occurring (in small quantities) metallic substance that can make its way into drinking water in a couple of ways. In some areas, like Illinois, there are mineral deposits that may contain a tiny amount of arsenic. More frequently, water sources can be contaminated by arsenic when manufacturing industries improperly dispose of hazardous waste and it comes into contact with the water. Arsenic can cause various health problems like digestive issues, numbness in the limbs, skin problems, and even some types of skin cancer.
- Fluoride – Fluoride is found in the earth’s soil. It’s naturally occurring and for decades it’s been considered a water additive that is helpful in fighting tooth decay. However, studies are beginning to report that fluoride may actually be harmful. In high levels, fluoride can cause teeth to become stained and spotted, and it can also become concentrated in the bone, leading to a weakened skeletal system.
- Nitrates – Nitrate is a chemical that is found in manure, many fertilizers, and liquid wastes that are discharged from septic tanks. It can be carried by irrigation or rainwater into groundwater through the soil. The most common way that nitrates in water affect people is from wells that are improperly constructed or located. Nitrates can be harmful for pregnant women and babies.
- Organics and Inorganics – There are numerous organics and inorganics that can make their way into water sources. Organic contaminants include pesticides, oil, solvents, gasoline, degreasers, and Trihalomethanes (these are the byproducts that are formed when chlorine in treated drinking water mixes with certain types of organic matter). Inorganic contaminants include toxic metals like mercury, lead, barium, and chromium.
- Metals – Metals that humans require very small amounts of, like iron and copper, can be toxic in large amounts.
- Hard Water Minerals – Hard water minerals, also called scale, containing magnesium and calcium often build up on appliances and pipes resulting in lime deposits.
Ways to Remove Contaminants from Water
You can see by the above list, there can potentially be toxic contaminants that make it into drinking water. Fortunately, there are various ways that these impurities can be removed.
Whole House Water Filters
Whole house water filtration systems allow you to receive clean water from all water sources in your home. It works by removing the impurities in your water through a filter that is installed in your water line. All the water that comes into your home will pass through the filter before it goes through faucets, appliances, and toilets for your use.
There are various types of filtration systems that can be installed into your home, including:
- Reverse Osmosis systems – RO systems remove impurities from water by forcing it through a semi-permeable filter (membrane). It removes impurities like fluoride, chlorine, mercury, and iron, and is considered by many to be the best way to filter drinking water.
- Ultrafiltration systems – This filtration system also pushes water through a semi-permeable filter to remove contaminants. However, ultrafiltration filters out bacteria, viruses, and parasites while leaving helpful minerals in the water.
These systems heat water to boiling and then collect the water vapor that results as it condenses. This results in many impurities being left behind. Distillation is an effective way to remove bacteria and viruses and other contaminants like lead, arsenic, sodium, cadmium, barium, chromium, sulfate, nitrate, and many organic chemicals.
Water softeners reduce the hardness in water using ion exchange technology for ion or chemical removal. They do not remove bacteria, protozoa, or viruses, but are effective in removing nitrate, arsenic, chromium, selenium, sulfate, and some heavy metals.
Boiling and Chlorination
When there is no access to filtration systems (in emergencies, while camping, etc.) you can use more manual methods, like boiling and chlorination.
- Boiling – Boiling water for one to three minutes is a safe and inexpensive way to remove germs and parasites from the water.
- Chlorination – Adding chlorine (tablets or liquid) to water is a method that kills parasites and germs that are found in tap or ground water.
While there are many contaminants to be aware of, you don’t have to worry. Simply have your water tested to determine the impurities present in your water supply then choose a filtration option that best suits your needs. Be sure to do research on the different filtration types to get thorough information.
Mark Ligon is the Marketing Manager at HouseWaterFilters, a provider of whole house water filtration systems and supplies. His favorite part of the job is sharing information and advice on healthy drinking water habits. When he’s not thinking about water filters, he’s spending time with his family and friends and completing DIY projects around the home.