The Effects of Water Impurities on Human Health

Clean water is essential for healthy living, whether that is for drinking, cooking or keeping clean. This is an accepted formality in most parts of the world, but tragically not all. Water will never be 100% pure, regardless of what you are using it for and how isolated it is from sources of contamination. The characteristics and composition of water can be altered by naturally occurring minerals and gases, before we even start on the many ways that human intervention can pollute or introduce impurities into water systems.

Impurities In Natural Water

Natural water sources that are contaminated can cause a long list of water-borne diseases, and these are typically the result of microorganisms in the water, such as viruses, parasites, germs and bacteria. These can cause diseases such as cholera, dysentery and diarrhoea if exposure or ingestion is sufficient. Some storage methods are a breeding ground for such living organisms and they can also multiply in stagnant surface water.

There are three different types of water-borne diseases, and natural water sources that are contaminated can cause:

  1. Bacterial infection – such as typhoid, cholera, paratyphoid fever or bacillary dysentery
  2. Viral infections – such as infectious hepatitis (also known as jaundice) and poliomyelitis
  3. Protozoal infections – such as amoebic dysentery

Impurities In Drinking Water

Tap water accounts for a huge percentage of our daily water use, but don’t panic, the water quality levels are extremely good, particularly in the UK. It is rare to find any significant levels of impurities, but it is still possible, and certainly in other areas of the world it is sadly more common. A safe use of water purification techniques is advised if you are not 100% convinced by safe drinking water levels, but statistically the UK has one of the best water quality systems in the world.

Impurities do find their way into domestic water systems, however:

Heavy metals – these are materials such as lead or copper which can be present in water through the corrosion of plumbing systems. Lead exposure in water is quite common but of course in very low levels, and can affect the nervous system, muscle growth and bone health. High levels can also be life threatening.

Chemicals – chlorine is of course a long established chemical found in our water systems, having been used as a disinfectant since the 19th century. This can cause mild sickness or an unpleasant taste to drinking water if/when variations are found, but this is quite rare. Pesticides and insecticides can find their way into tap water from rivers in agricultural areas and this would result in poisoning. Again, such exposure is very rare, but depending on the level of ingestion the effects could range from a mild stomach complaint to prolonged sickness and even death. Fluoride is also present in drinking water, as an additive to protect teeth and maintain bone structure. In some areas of the world levels can be quite high in drinking water, which could lead to yellowing of teeth and damage to the spinal cord. In some Asian regions it is also quite common to find traces of Arsenic in groundwater sources, this is a naturally occurring chemical and the water systems are not robust enough to control it.

Impurities in industrial water

It is possible to find microorganisms in industrial water systems if cleaning or maintenance programmes are not of a good standard, but one very common threat to clean water in an industrial setting is the legionella bacteria. This can lead to Legionnaires’ disease, which is a type of pneumonia. It can be found in cooling towers, hot and cold water systems, showers and whirlpools. The bacteria typically thrives in conditions between 20-45?C, so it is possible to eradicate through temperature control, but also through routine cleaning and chemical treatment, usually managed by a third party contractor.

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