FAQ about Water Contaminants

You cannot see, smell, or taste most contaminants, but if they exist in your water, the potential danger to your health is staggering.


Bacteria are the most likely source of acute water-borne disease. E. coli Bacteria and other potentially dangerous microbes are commonly found in our environment, but they should not be present in our drinking water. Thousands of cases of bacterial illness occur every year, many of them fatal. Most strains of bacteria are not toxic to humans, but some can cause very serious illness. Even mild cases can result in diarrhea, vomiting, cramps, and other gastrointestinal symptoms. Young children and people with weakened immune systems are more likely to be affected.

Since contaminated water may not taste or smell "bad", most cases of water-borne disease are not likely to be identified as such. The presence of bacteria in drinking water indicates that treatment methods are not working properly and are not adequately removing all viable microbes. When water treatment fails, drinking water may become potentially toxic. Community water systems take steps to disinfect drinking water, but they may not become aware of problems until it's too late.


Toxic lead can leach from pipes and fixtures and contaminate the water used for cooking, washing and drinking in your household. Many homes and buildings have pipes and plumbing fixtures that contain lead. Lead can leach from pipes into household water, making this plumbing a major source of water contamination and a potential source of lead poisoning. Lead is so toxic that even very low levels can be dangerous. Lead consumption and poisoning has been linked to many serious illnesses, especially in young children. Lead can harm mental and physical development and may cause brain abnormalities, kidney damage and hypertension.

As with other water contaminants, the risks of lead damage are much greater for children than for adults -- families should be particularly concerned about the health of the water supply. Consumers should test lead levels at each faucet in the home, especially if the plumbing fixtures could be from the 1980's or older.


Pesticides are all-too commonly found in drinking water. Pesticides are deadly chemicals used to eliminate weeds, insects and other harmful elements in crops. Their pervasive use, however, has produced its own harm. Thanks to the rampant, unchecked use of pesticides by large industries for decades, it is now very common to find deadly pesticides contaminating our drinking water. Atrazine and Simazine are two of the pesticides most commonly found contaminating water sources.

More than 60 million pounds of these chemicals are introduced into the environment each year as herbicides and left to leak into the soil, groundwater, lakes and rivers that provide the water we drink. They are so toxic that the EPA-mandated maximum level is equivalent to less than one drop in a swimming pool. Certain laws regulate testing of community water supplies, but they are, in practice, rarely abided and community water sources go largely ignored and untested for years. Watersafe brings laboratory-level accuracy within your reach and puts water-quality assurance back in your hands.

Nitrates and Nitrites

These chemicals are a common yet incredibly harmful pollutant especially to children and pets. When animal and human wastes or field fertilizers come into contact with water, they show up as nitrates and nitrites. Both are serious contaminants because they affect the very core of human life - birth and the development of young life. In 1992, when the survey was released, some 22,500 infants drinking domestic well water were estimated to be exposed to levels of nitrates exceeding the EPA safe drinking water limits; for community systems, the number was estimated to be 43,500 infants.


While drinking chlorine in small amounts may not hurt, some chlorine by-products can.The consumption of chlorine in very small amounts most likely will not cause you serious harm. What may be harmful, however, are by-products such as chloroform, a dangerous toxin formed when chlorine mixes with organic matter.


When you have hard water, you may need twice as much soap to do a load of laundry. Water hardness is primarily caused by calcium and magnesium compounds. These chemicals are not easily detected, but the numerous negative effects can be unpleasant and costly. When you have hard water it can take twice as much soap to do your laundry.


Knowing the pH level of your water can help you counteract the effects of high acidity. If the acidity of your water is too high, corrosion can cause lead to leach out from pipes and plumbing, contaminating your drinking water and damaging your water supply system and water heater.

Copper (well water)

Copper is a reddish metal that occurs naturally in rock, soil, water, sediment, and air. Copper also occurs naturally in plants and animals and is an essential element for all known living organisms, including humans. Copper in our diet is necessary for good health. You eat and drink about 1,000 micrograms (1,000 ug) of copper per day. Drinking water normally contributes approximately 150 ug/day. However, because copper compounds are used as an agricultural pesticide, and to control algae in lakes and reservoirs, well water can be easily contaminated with high copper levels. Very large single or long-term intakes of copper may harm your health.

Immediate effects from drinking water which contains elevated levels of copper include vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps and nausea. The seriousness of these effects can be expected to increase with increased copper levels or length of exposure. Children under one year of age are more sensitive to copper than adults. Long-term exposure (more than 14 days) to copper in drinking water which is much higher than 1,000 ug/I has been found to cause kidney and liver damage in infants. Other persons who are highly susceptible to copper toxicity include people with liver damage or Wilson's disease.

Iron (well water)

Iron is one of the most troublesome elements in water supplies. Rainwater as it infiltrates the soil and underlying geologic formations dissolves iron, causing it to seep into aquifers that serve as sources of groundwater for wells. As little as 0.3 mg/l can cause water to turn a reddish brown color. Dissolved ferrous iron gives water a disagreeable taste. When the iron combines with tea, coffee and other beverages, it produces an inky, black appearance and a harsh, unacceptable taste. Vegetables cooked in water containing excessive iron turn dark and look unappealing. Concentrations of iron as low as 0.3 mg/l will leave reddish brown stains on fixtures, tableware and laundry that are very hard to remove. When these deposits break loose from water piping, rusty water will flow through the faucet. When iron exists along with certain kinds of bacteria, problems can become even worse. To survive, the bacteria utilize the iron, leaving behind a reddish brown or yellow slime that can clog plumbing and cause an offensive odor. This slime or sludge is noticeable in the toilet tank when the lid is removed.

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