A-Z of water contaminants
Lookup common water contaminants to find more information and water filter replacement cartridges.
Overgrowths of Algae in water, known as algal blooms, can be blue, red or brown and can be both toxic and nontoxic. Harmful algal blooms can produce extremely dangerous toxins that can cause illnesses and even death in people.
Aluminium is Earth’s most abundant metallic element, found in over 8% of Earth’s crust and has many practical usages for example in the automobile, construction and aircraft industries to produce metal alloys. Aluminium is a naturally occurring water contaminant, however, it has not been proven to have any long term negative health related effects, but short and high term exposure can cause short-lived symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, mouth ulcers, skin ulcers and skin rashes. There are also concerns that aluminium can contribute to senile dementia, but this has not been clarified.
Antibiotics are useful for preventing and treating bacterial infections in human beings. Molecules with antibiotic properties have been attacking bacteria naturally long before human beings discovered the effectiveness of antibiotics. Man-made antibiotics can enter drinking water as a byproduct of the production of pharmaceutical ingredients or by the unsafe disposal of medicines by consumers. Although antibiotics are used to treat or prevent illnesses, and under ideal circumstances, they help to destroy bacteria in drinking water, more persistent antibiotics have been found in drinking water, namely trimethoprim and sulfonamide, macrolide, quinolone, and tetracycline. While there’s little evidence to suggest that antibiotics being ingested by human beings is directly harmful, indirectly they promote resistance development in human pathogens and therefore make stronger and more harmful bacteria in the environment.
-  Department of Infectious Diseases, Institute for Biomedicine, The Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg. (May 2014). Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4034546/. [Accessed 21st of July 2018].
Arsenic naturally occurs in rocks and soil, because of this, small amounts can dissolve into groundwater that can become drinking water. Drinking water with Arsenic over prolonged periods of time can cause illnesses such as cancers of the bladder, lungs, liver and other organs. Additionally, Arsenic can be associated with diabetics.
Asbestos is a general term for fibrous silicate minerals containing iron, magnesium, calcium or sodium. There are two main groups of fibrous silicate minerals, namely, serpentine (e.g chrysotile) and amphibole (e.g. amosite, crocidolite, and tremolite). Asbestos, when inhaled, is widely accepted to cause respiratory and other illnesses such as asbestosis, bronchial carcinoma, malignant mesothelioma of the pleura and peritoneum, and possibly cancers of the gastrointestinal tract and larynx . However, while Asbestos can become airbourne if present in drinking water, it’s not thought to be harmful whether inhaled or ingested this way.
The herbicide known as Atrazine, is most commonly used to control broadleaf and grassy weeds among row crops such as corn, sorghum and sugarcane. Atrazine enters groundwater after being used for agricultural purposes. Consumption of Atrazine may cause human health problems, such as a cause of cancer and reproductive problems.
Bacteria are a major water quality concern throughout the world. Bacteria are naturally present in water and can cause waterborne diseases such as diarrhoea and gastrointestinal illnesses.
-  Department of Population Health and Reproduction, Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering & Zachry Department of Civil Engineering. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4077002/. [Accessed 21st of July 2018].
Bentazone is a herbicide that is used to control broadleaf weeds and sedge weeds for food crops such as soybean and corn. It enters the environment when it is applied to control weeds among crops. Short exposures to Bentazone can cause fetal death, while longer exposure is associated with anaemia and other blood system complications.
Benzene is a colourless liquid that has a characteristic odour. The primary use for Benzene is in the chemical industry, it is used to produce styrene/ethylbenzene, cumene/phenol and cyclohexane. Benzene contaminates water by atmospheric deposition, spills of petrol and other petroleum-based products, and chemical plant effluents. A small exposure of Benzene in high concentrations affects the central nervous system and can even cause death. It is thought that considerable amounts of exposure to benzene can cause Leukaemia, preceded by pancytopenia, or aplastic anaemia.
Bromodichloromethane is a colourless, heavy, nonburnable liquid that is usually found evaporated in the air or dissolved in water that does not usually exist as a liquid in the environment. However, since Bromodichloromethane is a byproduct of adding chlorine to drinking water to kill any disease-causing organisms, it can enter the environment this way. It is not currently known what harm human exposure to Bromodichloromethane there is, but studies of animals have shown liver and kidney damage and impaired fetal development.
Bromoform is used in geological tests as a fluid to test for mineral ore separation, additionally, it is used as a laboratory reagent and in the electronics industry for Quality Assurance. Traditionally, Bromoform was used as a solvent for wax, grease, oils and additionally in fire-resistant chemicals and in fluid gauges. Drinking water disinfected with chlorine, bromine or bromine compounds can be a route to human exposure. The short-term exposure to high levels of Bromoform can affect the nervous system and slow down brain functions, it can also injure the kidneys and liver. Long-term exposure to high levels of Bromoform have not been fully studied, however, animal studies suggest that it can affect the liver, kidneys and central nervous system. Other incomplete studies suggest a positive correlation between levels of Bromoform in drinking water and the incidence of several tumour types, but this research is inconclusive.
Cadmium occurs naturally in the Earth’s crust and soil, it has many practical uses such as in batteries, paints, pigments, coatings and some types of inexpensive jewellery. Low-level exposure to cadmium can decrease bone density, especially in growing bones in children. Cadmium also tends to build up in the kidney and is not filtered out of the body, and lifetime exposure can cause kidney disease.
Calcium is an alkaline metal that is essential for living organisms to survive, it is derived from nearly all rock with the greatest concentrations being in limestone and gypsum. Almost all (99%) of calcium within a human body is stored within bones and teeth, while the remaining 1% serves as a signal for vital physiological processes in human metabolism. Calcium makes hard water and is often filtered out of drinking water to prevent limescale. Calcium is not usually harmful to humans but too much can cause stomach pain and diarrhoea.
-  World Health Organisation. Available at: http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/43836/9789241563550_eng.pdf;jsessionid=EDEF7A7D9CDFF936E0CE0A1EE428D133?sequence=1. [Accessed 21st of July 2018].
-  Aqua Pure Filters. Available at: https://www.aquapurefilters.com/contaminants/115/calcium.html. [Accessed 21st of July 2018].
-  National Health Service. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/calcium/. [Accessed 21st of July 2018].
Carbofuran is a white crystalline solid that is used worldwide as an insecticide, acaricide and nematicide. It’s rarely found in water. There has been no research into the effects of ingestion by humans via drinking water, but a report of three female farm workers that suffered from vomiting, lassitude, nausea and hypersalivation suggest it can become toxic to human beings if ingested.
Chlorine is a pale green reactive gas which was used as a chemical warfare agent during World War 1, but it now used to disinfect water in the developed world and therefore enters drinking water via the disinfection process. While usually safe, Chlorinated water has been associated with an increased risk of bladder cancer over long periods of time.
-  World Health Organization. (2003). Available at: http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/dwq/chlorine.pdf?ua=1.
-  Public Health England. (October 2016). Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/561045/chlorine_general_information.pdf. [Accessed 21st of July 2018].
Chloroform, also known as trichloromethane, is a chemical that is used to make other chemicals and a byproduct of chlorinating water. It can be found in groundwater, surface water and drinking water. Since Chloroform is used to treat water and reduce the risk of illness from bacteria and viruses, most people are exposed to it in their drinking water. Long-term exposure to chloroform can damage the liver and kidneys.
Chromium is an odourless and tasteless metallic element found naturally in rocks, plants, soil, volcanic dust and animals. Chromium-6 is a hexavalent chromium, which is a term used in chemistry to describe the property of an element that determines the number of other atoms which an atom of the element can combine. Chromium-6 is found in the environment naturally due to the erosion of natural chromium deposits, but it can also be man-made as part of industrial processes. Other ways Chromium-6 can enter the environment is by leakage, poor store or inadequate industrial waste disposal practices. Long-term exposure to Chromium-6 can result in allergic dermatitis.
-  United States Environmental Protection Agency. Available at: https://www.epa.gov/dwstandardsregulations/chromium-drinking-water. [Accessed 21st of July 2018].
-  Encyclopaedia Britannica. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/science/valence-chemistry. [Accessed 21st of July 2018].
Copper is a naturally occurring, used to make many products including plumbing systems, therefore, it can enter drinking water through household plumbing systems. Consuming copper long periods of time can cause a variety of illnesses, such as vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach cramps, nausea, liver damage and kidney disease.
Cryptosporidium is an intestinal parasite, a protozoan, which is a slightly more complex type of organism than a bacterium or a virus. Cryptosporidium is responsible for the illness called Cryptosporidiosis, which is the infection of the intestine where the organism emerges from its shell, called the oocyst. Cryptosporidium is commonplace in rivers and lakes, especially in waters contaminated by animal waste. The main symptoms of Cryptosporidiosis are diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal cramping. In people with weaker and more vulnerable immune systems, Cryptosporidiosis can become a cause of death.
Detergents are artificially created cleaning products that are regularly used to wash clothes worldwide, and they’re usually used in their powder or liquid forms. Detergents can enter drinking water due to how frequently they are used by human beings. However, in water contaminated by powdered detergents, there is a significant increase in levels of certain chemicals such as chloride, sulphate, carbonate and bicarbonate, while liquid detergents similarly contaminate water, it is a nominal increase. Preliminary reports suggest that cancer-causing chemicals such as NDMA and other nitrosamines can be created during the disinfection process.
-  Geetu Goel and Surinderjit Kaur. (2012). Available at: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/d6ed/5f8d194318452758fb7a54fb4da436749185.pdf. [Accessed 30/03/2019].
-  ScienceDaily. (08/04/2010). Available at: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100407110819.htm. [Accessed 30/03/2019].
Dibromochloromethane (DCFM) is an industrial chemical used as a propellant, refrigerant, fire extinguisher and solvent and is a colourless liquid or gas with a sweet odour. DCFM is thought to contribute to the depletion of Earth’s Ozone layer and is under an international agreement to be phased out by 2030. DCFM most commonly contaminants water draining from landfills and at hazardous waste sites. There have been no studies on the health effects of DCFM in drinking water but it is thought to be less toxic than Chloroform.
Dinoseb is a pesticide that was used among crops such as soybeans, and corn to control weeds, fungus and insects. It is no longer legal to use in agriculture due to the risk of birth defects and male reproductive problems. The risk of contaminated drinking water is thought to be unlikely.
Endrin is an insecticide used against agricultural pests and is particularly effective against butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera). It is mostly used on cotton but has additional uses amongst rice, sugar-cane, maize and other crops. Additionally, it can be used as a rodenticide. Endrin is rarely found in water used for human consumption, however, exposure to a toxic dose of Endrin can cause signs and symptoms of intoxication as excitability but also convulsions. If the appropriate treatment is not given to a person that has been intoxicated by Endrin then death may follow.
-  Geosyntec Consultants, Inc. Wright Water Engineers, Inc. . (May 2011 ). Available at: http://www.bmpdatabase.org/Docs/BMP%20Database%20Solids%20Paper%20May%202011%20FINAL.PDF. [Accessed May 2019].
-  US EPA. (2012). Available at: https://archive.epa.gov/water/archive/web/html/vms58.html. [Accessed May 2019].
Giardia is a microscopic parasite that lives in the intestine and causes Giardiasis which is a diarrhoea illness. Brace yourself though… millions of Giardia can be released by the bowel movements of an infected human or animal and this waste can enter water wells during periods of flooding.
Heptachlor is a white crystalline solid that is used to control insect pests and it is applied to soil, seeds and foliage. Acute exposure to Heptachlor can cause nervous system effects such as irritability, salivation, laboured respiration and more, however, it is not thought to be carcinogenic.
Iodine is a non-metallic element and naturally occurs as iodide in water, but becomes iodine once oxidised by water treatment processes. While higher dosages of iodine can cause symptoms such as irritation to the lungs, gastrointestinal tract and eyes, angio-oedema, iodism, pulmonary oedema and other illnesses or death, the chronic consumption of normal levels of iodinated drinking water are not thought to be harmful to human beings.
Iron is the fourth most abundant mineral that is found in the Earth’s crust, soil and rocks. Iron is beneficial to the human body, it gives the haemoglobin of blood its red colour and allows blood to carry oxygen. Since Iron is needed to transport oxygen in the blood, it does not usually present a health problem, however, some pathogenic (harmful) organisms require iron to grow, and the presence of iron particles makes the elimination of such organisms more difficult.
-  World Health Organization. (2004). Available at: https://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/water-quality/guidelines/chemicals/lindane.pdf. [Accessed 31/03/2019].
-  World Health Organization. Available at: https://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/dwq/chemicals/lindanesum.pdf. [Accessed May 2019].
Mercury is an element that naturally occurs in rocks, soil, water, air and living beings. Short-term exposure can cause skin rashes, diarrhoea and respiratory distress. Long-term exposure can cause muscle tremors, irritability, personality changes and rashes. Mercury can also cause nerve damage and may cause a loss of sensitivity in the hands and feet, difficulty walking or slurred speech. Mercury consumption can also cause paralysis or death in rare cases.
Nitrate ions occur naturally as part of the nitrogen cycle and are used as inorganic fertilisers. Nitrates can also be used in the production of explosives and glass making. Nitrogen can infiltrate both surface and groundwater due to agricultural use. When high levels of nitrates have reduced to nitrites, the nitrites may cause illnesses such as methaemoglobinaemia, congenital malformations, goitre, cancer and more.
-  US EPA. (September 2004). Available at: https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-09/documents/oxamyl-dwreport.pdf. [Accessed May 2019].
-  Michigan State University. (September 2002). Available at: http://www.envirotools.msu.edu/factsheets/contaminants/oxamyl.pdf. [Accessed May 2019].
-  Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. (2011). Available at: https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/substances/toxsubstance.asp?toxid=70. [Accessed May 2019].
-  Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. (2011). Available at: https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp51.pdf. [Accessed May 2019].
-  Aksha Sharma, Preeti Sharma, Ajay Sharma, Richa Tyagi and Aparna Dixit. (September 2017). Available at: https://juniperpublishers.com/rapsci/pdf/RAPSCI.MS.ID.555607.pdf. [Accessed May 2019].
-  WHO. (1994). Available at: https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/39958/9241510889-eng.pdf?sequence=1. [Accessed May 2019].
-  Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Available at: https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp115-c1.pdf. [Accessed May 2019].
-  E. Vetrimurugan, K. Brindha, L. Elango, Osman Muzi Ndwandwe. (March 2016). [Accessed May 2019].
-  Claudia Traidl-Hoffmanna, Anna Kaschea, Annette Menzelb, Thilo Jakoba, Martina Thiela, Johannes Ringa, Heidrun Behrendta. (2003). Available at: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/97dd/3b1aab296b5c92b318098dc896c8906dec16.pdf. [Accessed May 2019].
-  Dicionary.com. Available at: https://www.dictionary.com/browse/pollen. [Accessed May 2019].
Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)
-  ATSDR. (December 1990). Available at: https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp144.pdf. [Accessed May 2019].
-  ATSDR. (2011). Available at: https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/substances/toxsubstance.asp?toxid=154. [Accessed May 2019].
-  ATSDR. (May 2011). Available at: https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/substances/toxsubstance.asp?toxid=97. [Accessed May 2019].
-  ATSDR. (December 1990). Available at: https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp146.pdf. [Accessed May 2019].
-  ATSDR. (May 2011). Available at: https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/substances/toxsubstance.asp?toxid=74. [Accessed May 2019].
-  ATSDR. (September 2011). Available at: https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxguides/toxguide-53.pdf. [Accessed May 2019].
-  ATSDR. (May 2011). Available at: https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/substances/toxsubstance.asp?toxid=29. [Accessed May 2019].
-  ATSDR. (June 2017). Available at: https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxguides/toxguide-56.pdf. [Accessed May 2019].
-  ATSDR. (2011). Available at: https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/substances/toxsubstance.asp?toxid=77. [Accessed May 2019].
-  ATSDR. (2013). Available at: https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp150.pdf. [Accessed May 2019].
kidneys. Effect on the nervous system is manifested through headaches, lack of muscle coordination, dizziness, confusion, and changes in one’s sense of balance.
-  ATSDR. (2011). Available at: https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/substances/toxsubstance.asp?toxid=53. [Accessed May 2019].
-  ATSDR. (2011). Available at: https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp71.pdf. [Accessed May 2019].
-  ATSDR. (2011). Available at: https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/substances/toxsubstance.asp?toxid=54. [Accessed May 2019].
-  ATSDR. (August 2005). Available at: https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxguides/toxguide-60.pdf. [Accessed May 2019].