Water Contaminants Index
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Water Contaminants Index

Drinking water, including most bottled, reverse osmosis, and distilled water may reasonably be expected to contain some contaminants
Water Contaminants Index

Drinking water, including most bottled, reverse osmosis, and distilled water may reasonably be expected to contain some contaminants. U.S. EPA sets standards for approximately 90 contaminants in drinking water.

The following listed components are common contaminants found in public water, their potential health effects, and the type of water filters that are capable of removing them:

2,4,5TP: This is an herbicide that is used on crops and right-of-way areas. It can cause liver and kidney damage. The maximum contaminant level is 0.05mg/L. A water filter that removes Volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) will remove this compound. NSF standard 53.

2,4-D: This is an herbicide used on wheat, corn, range lands and lawns. The maximum amount allowed in public water is 0.07mg/L. Like the above herbicide it causes liver and kidney damage. A charcoal/carbon filter (Standard 53) that removes VOCs will remove this contaminant.

Alachor: This is an herbicide used on corn, soybeans, and other crops. The maximum amount allowed in public water is 0.002 mg/L. It is a carcinogen (i.e. it causes cancer). A carbon/charcoal filter Standard 53, that removes VOCs will remove this contaminant.

Arsenic: This is a heavy metal. It comes from smelters, glass and electronic wastes as well as from orchards and natural deposits. The maximum contaminant level for arsenic is 0.010 mg/L. Its potential health hazards include skin and nervous system toxicity. Arsenic is found in water in two different forms: pentavalent (also known as Arsenic 5 or arsenate) and Trivalent (Arsenic 3 or Arsenite). Chlorine converts trivalent to pentavalent arsenic. Carbon/charcoal, reverse osmosis filters as well as distillation will remove this contaminant.

Distillation will remove trivalent and pentavalent arsenic, while reverse osmosis will remove pentavalent only. Look for Standards 53, 58, or 62.

Asbestos: This contaminant comes from natural deposits and asbestos cement used in water systems. The maximum contaminant level is 7 million fibers per liter. It is a serious carcinogen. Carbon/charcoal and reverse osmosis remove this contaminant.

Atrazine: This is an herbicide used on corn and on non crop land. It can cause mammary gland tumors. Its maximum contaminant level is 0.003 mg/L. Carbon/charcoal standard 53 filters will remove this contaminant. It is part of the VOC category.

Bacteria: Bacteria are not supposed to be found in our public waters. But occasionally they may contaminate the water we drink. Sources are naturally occurring or from human or animal wastes. Most of them cause gastrointestinal disorders. Ultraviolet treatment is usually necessary for removal of these contaminants, or look for NSF standard 55 filters. Class A inactivates or removes micro-forms from contaminated water (not raw sewage) and Class B disinfection systems remove naturally occurring organisms found in public waters that are deemed non-pathogenic.

Barium: This is a found in natural deposits, epoxy sealants, pigments and spent coal. Its maximum contaminant level is 2 mg/L. It can potentially affect the circulatory system. Cation exchange softeners, reverse osmosis and distillation will remove barium. Look for standards 44, 58 and 62.

Cadmium: This is found in galvanized pipe corrosion, natural deposits, batteries and paints. It primarily effects the kidneys. Its maximum contaminant level is 0.005 mg/L.  Reverse osmosis, distillation remove it. Standards 58 and 62.

Carbufuran: This is a soil fumigant used on corn and cotton. It effects the nervous reproductive systems. Its maximum contaminant level is 0.04 mg/L. Carbon/charcoal standard 53 remove this. It is part of the VOC category.

Chloramine: The effects of this contaminant are unknown. It is used as a disinfectant. The maximum recommended usage level is 4 mg/L. Carbon/charcoal filters, standard 42 remove this contaminant. Systems certified for reduction of chlorine will not necessarily be effective against chloramines.

Chlordane: This is used for treating termites. Maximum contaminant level is 0.002. It can cause cancerous conditions. Carbon/charcoal filters, Standard 53 will remove this contaminant.Chlorides: Cause water to taste salty. Maximum contaminant level is 250 mg/L. These come from natural deposits. Reverse osmosis and distillation may remove these.

Chlorine: This is used for disinfection of drinking water. The chlorination by-products (trihalomethanes) have potential health effects. Carbon/charcoal standard 42 filters will remove chlorine. Contact your local water utility to determine if chlorine or chloramines are used to disinfect your water.

Chlorination by-Products (trihalomethanes): These are by-products of chlorination in drinking water and they are carcinogenic. The maximum contaminant level is 0.08 mg/L. Carbon/charcoal standard 53 filters are effective at reducing these contaminants.

Chromium: This is a by-product of mining, electroplating, pigments and from natural deposits. It can be present in water in forms: hexavalent (chromium 6) and trivalent (chromium 3). It can cause liver, kidney and circulatory disorders. Reverse osmosis and distillation Standards 53,58 and 62 remove chromium.

Copper: From natural and industrial deposits, wood preservatives, and plumbing. It may leach from residential plumbing. The maximum contaminant level is 1.3 mg/L. It can cause gastrointestinal irritation. Charcoal/carbon, reverse osmosis, and distillation, Standards 42, 58 and 62 remove this contaminant.

Crytosporidium: This is a parasite that is found in food or water contaminated with human or animal waste. It can cause gastrointestinal illness. Although public water should not have any cryptosporidium in it, it is not uncommon to see people in the Portland area test positive on stool test for it. Standard 53, 58 and 55 water filters should remove it. Look for a filter capable of removing spores < 1 micron.

Dichlorobenzene: part of the VOC category. From paints, engine cleaning compounds, dyes, chemical wastes. Causes liver, kidney and blood cell damage. Carbon block standard 53 removes

Graphene, Graphene Oxide and Graphene Hydroxide.

Hepatochlor Epoxide: A degradation product of heptachlor which is used in insecticides, particularly for termite eradication. It is a carcinogen. Allowable amount is 0.0002 mg/L. Carbon block, standard 53 removes this. This contaminant is part of the VOC category.

Hydrogen sulfide: causes the rotten egg odor in water. It is a naturally occurring chemical in water. Carbon block, standard 42 filters remove it.Iron: Maximum allowable amount is 0.3mg/L. It can stain laundry, plumbing and appliances. It is from natural deposits in the water. Carbon/charcoal filter, standard 42 will remove it.

MTBE: From gasoline spills, underground gas tank leakages. The potential health effects include cancer, developmental toxicity, gastrointestinal or liver toxicity, kidney toxicity, neurotoxicity, and skin sensitivity. Carbon block, standard 53 will remove it.Nitrite: Can cause methemoglobulinemia (blue baby syndrome). From animal waste, fertilizer, natural deposits, septic tanks, sewage. Maximum allowable level is 1 mg/L. It rapidly converts to nitrate. Reverse osmosis, standard 53, 58, 62 remove this contaminant.

PCBs: from the coolants used in electrical transformers and plasticizers. PCBs are known carcinogens. Maximum allowable amount is 0.0005 mg/L. Carbon block filters, standard 53 remove this contaminant.

Radium: This is a naturally occurring carcinogen. It can cause cancerous bones. Filters that remove it are reverse osmosis and cation exchange softeners, standard 44 and 58.Radon: Another naturally occurring contaminant, it is also a carcinogen and is a risk factor for cancerous lung. Carbon/charcoal and aeration devices remove it. Look for a standard 53.

Selenium: maximum contaminant level is 0.05 mg/L. It is from natural deposits, mining, smelting, coal/oil combustion. Too much selenium can cause liver damage. Standard 58, 62 reverse osmosis filters will reduce selenium.Sulfates: can cause gastrointestinal irritation. They are naturally occurring. Reverse osmosis or distillation may be effective at removing.

Sulfuric acid and nitric acid: acid rain occurs when sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides are emitted into the atmosphere, undergo chemical transformations. Reverse osmosis, distillation, carbon/charcoal filters will not remove them - the water needs to be ionized.

Styrene: Maximum allowable amount 0.10 mg/L. Styrene is from plastic, rubber, resin and drug industries. It also can leach from landfills into the ground water. It causes liver and nervous system damage.Taste and odor: From natural sources and additives. Carbon/charcoal standard 42.

Total dissolved solids: Come from the erosion of naturally occurring mineral deposits. TDS's antagonizes the assimilation of other minerals and causes secondary mineral deficiencies. They can also cause gastrointestinal irritation in some people. Maximum level should not exceed 500 mg/L. Standard 42, 58, 62 distillation, reverse osmosis remove these.

Toxaphene: A carcinogenic insecticide that was used on cattle, cotton, and soybeans. Standard 53, carbon/charcoal filter to remove it.

Trichloroethylene: A carcinogen found in textile, metal and adhesive degreasers. Carbon/charcoal standard 53 removes it. This is part of the VOC category.

Turbidity: from soil run off, it can interfere with disinfection and filtration. Charcoal/carbon; reverse osmosis standards 53, 58 can remove.

Uranium: Causes kidney problems, cancer. Maximum allowable amount is 0.03 mg/L. Filtration systems are not currently certified to remove uranium although reverse osmosis, distillation or anion exchange resins may.

Bacterial Micro-forms

Coliform bacteria are common in the environment and are generally not harmful. However, the presence of these bacteria in drinking water is usually a result of a problem with the treatment system or the pipes which distribute water, and indicates that the water may be contaminated with germs that can cause disease.

Fecal Coliform and E coli are bacteria whose presence indicates that the water may be contaminated with human or animal wastes.  Micro-forms in these wastes can cause short-term effects, such as diarrhea, cramps, nausea, headaches, or other symptoms.

Turbidity has no health effects. However, turbidity can interfere with disinfection and provide a medium for biological transformation.  Turbidity may indicate the presence of dis-ease causing organisms. These organisms include bacteria, yeast, mold and parasites that can cause symptoms such as nausea, cramps, diarrhea, and associated headaches.

Cryptosporidium is a parasite/fungus that enters lakes and rivers through sewage and animal waste. It causes cryptosporidiosis, a mild gastrointestinal disease. However, the dis-ease can be severe or fatal for people with severely weakened immune systems. EPA and CDC have prepared advice for those with severely compromised immune systems.

Giardia lamblia is a parasite that enters lakes and rivers through sewage and animal waste. It causes gastrointestinal illness (e.g. diarrhea, vomiting, cramps).

Radionuclides - Alpha emitters

Certain minerals are radioactive and may emit a form of radiation known as alpha radiation. Some people who drink water containing alpha emitters in excess of EPA's standard over many years may have an increased risk of increased acidity leading to cancerous tissue and tumor formation.

Beta/photon emitters. Certain minerals are radioactive and may emit forms of radiation known as photons and beta radiation. Some people who drink water containing beta and photon emitters in excess of EPA's standard over many years may have an increased risk of cellular transformation, increased acidity leading to cancerous tissue.

Combined Radium 226/228. Some people who drink water containing radium 226 or 228 in excess of EPA's standard over many years may have an increased risk of cellular transformation and increased acidity leading to cancerous states.

Radon gas can dissolve and accumulate in underground water sources, such as wells, and in the air in your home. Breathing radon can cause the fermentation of lung tissue and cancerous lungs. Drinking water containing radon presents a risk of developing cancer. Radon in air is more dangerous than radon in water.

Few more inorganic contaminants: Antimony, Beryllium, Cyanide, and Thallium

Arsenic

Some people who drink water containing arsenic in excess of EPA's standard over many years could experience skin damage or problems with their circulatory system, and may have an increased risk of cellular fermentation and cancerous states. Read more here.

Lead typically leaches into water from plumbing in older buildings. Lead pipes and plumbing fittings have been banned since August 1998. Children and pregnant women are most susceptible to lead health risks. For advice on avoiding lead, see the how to remove lead in your drinking water fact sheet prepared by EPA.

Volatile Organic Contaminants (VOCs) include benzene, carbon tetrachloride, chlorobenzene, o-Dichlorobenzene, p-Dichlorobenzene, 1,1-Dichloroethylene, cis-1,2-Dichloroethylene, trans-1,2-Dicholoroethylene, Dichloromethane, 1,2-Dichloroethane, 1,2-Dichloropropane, Ethylbenzene, Styrene, Tetrachloroethylene, 1,2,4-Trichlorobenzene, 1,1,1,-Trichloroethane, 1,1,2-Trichloroethane, Trichloroethylene, Toluene, Vinyl Chloride, and Xylenes.

Chlorine: Some people who use drinking water containing chlorine well in excess of EPA's standard could experience irritating effects to their eyes and nose. Some people who drink water containing chlorine well in excess of EPA's standard could experience stomach discomfort.

Chloramine: Some people who use drinking water containing chloramines well in excess of EPA's standard could experience irritating effects to their eyes and nose. Some people who drink water containing chloramines well in excess of EPA's standard could experience stomach discomfort or anemia.

Total Trihalomethanes: Some people who drink water containing trihalomethanes in excess of EPA's standard over many years may experience problems with their liver, kidneys, or central nervous systems, and may have an increased risk of cancerous tissue.

Haloacetic Acids: Some people who drink water containing haloacetic acids in excess of EPA's standard over many years may have an increased risk of cancerous tissue.

Bromate: Some people who drink water containing bromate in excess of EPA's standard. Bromate is a disinfection by-product of ozonization. Potential health impacts associated with Bromate include cancerous tissue and kidney toxicity.

An Environmental Working Group analysis of Bromate tests reported by 73 public water suppliers in 16 states shows that between 1998 and 2003, 3.9 million people in 2 communities drank water contaminated with Bromate. In 11 of these communities, tap water was contaminated at levels above health-based thresholds. Water suppliers reporting tests for Bromate (1998-2003):73 of 39,751.

MTBE is a fuel additive, commonly used in the United States to reduce carbon monoxide and ozone levels caused by auto emissions. Due to its widespread use, reports of MTBE detections in the nation's ground and surface water supplies are increasing. The Office of Water and other EPA offices are working with a panel of leading experts to focus on issues posed by the continued use of MTBE and other oxygenates in gasoline. EPA is currently studying the implications of setting a drinking water standard for MTBE.

Potential health impacts associated with MTBE include cancerous conditions, developmental toxicity, gastrointestinal or liver toxicity, kidney toxicity, neurotoxicity, and skin sensitivity.

An Environmental Working Group analysis of MTBE tests reported by 16,866 public water suppliers in 30 states shows that between 1998 and 2003, 32.7 million people in 632 communities drank water contaminated with MTBE. MTBE remains unregulated in tap water, without a maximum legal limit.  Water suppliers reporting tests for MTBE (1998-2003):16,866 of 39,751.To learn more about creating healthy purified functionally structured alkaline water watch the following video:

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