Drinking water is essential for everyday life. No one wants to drink water that is contaminated. And yet, avoiding water contamination can be difficult.
A contaminant is any substance in the water that is biological, chemical, physical, or radiological. In other words, according to the Safe Drinking Water Act, a contaminant is anything in the water that isn’t water itself.
Not all contaminants are dangerous, and as we said, it’s very difficult to remove all traces of contaminants from your water.
With that being said, we want to educate you about the different types of water contaminants out there and the threat they may or may not pose to your health.
Defining the Four Types of Contaminants
As mentioned above, there are four types of contaminants as defined by law:
Physical – These substances affect the physical properties of water, including its appearance. Soil and organic matter are the most common types of physical contaminants. If you’ve ever seen brown water in a river or pond, you’ve seen water contaminated by soil. Algae is another example. Clearing this type of contaminant is often easier than other types.
Chemical – Chemical substances include anything from pesticides and nitrogen from farms to bleach, metals, toxins, and other various chemicals that are often natural, but very frequently man-made in origin. The main contaminant in the Flint water crisis – a good example of chemical contamination – was lead, which made the water unsafe for consumption.
Biological – These substances are living organisms. We’re not really talking about fish here. We’re talking about parasites, bacteria, viruses, and protozoans. Drinking water that has been contaminated with these substances can make you sick and introduce waterborne illnesses (which are a really big deal in underdeveloped countries, but also happen in the U.S.) If you’ve been to a foreign country and been told to not drink the water, it’s usually because of biological contamination of some sort.
Radiological – These substances can be dangerous. They emit radiation of some kind. Examples include uranium, cesium, and radium. According to one study, approximately 170 million Americans are drinking water that contains radioactive elements.
Should You Be Worried?
We should all be very vigilant about what we put into our bodies, and that includes the water we drink. Unfortunately, we can’t do anything about municipal water; that’s what the government is supposed to protect. But we can choose drinking water that we bring into our homes and offices.
To protect against water contamination, go with trusted sources of drinking water. Your water should be clean spring water or some kind of purified water that goes through rigorous screening processes.
When traveling overseas, be very careful about what you drink and check to see if the drinking water in that country is safe for travelers. If it isn’t, follow precautions and only drink bottled water.