First, a little bit of good news: Most people in the U.S. have access to cheap, clean drinking water directly from their tap. Now for the bad news: we’re rapidly polluting our water supplies at the source, making truly clean water ever more difficult to come by. Furthermore, millions of Americans are being served by utilities that are delivering polluted or contaminated water, either because the water itself is loaded with toxins or the systems used to purify and deliver it are riddled with problems. In 2009 the American Society of Civil Engineers gave America’s water infrastructure a grade of D-, so there’s plenty of room for improvement. In older water systems, such as those in the District of Columbia, some of the water infrastructure predates the Civil War; a time when lead pipes and asbestos were standard.

Around the world, water contamination is one of the most neglected public health problems, and the situation is rapidly getting worse. There is a limited supply of freshwater in the world, and we’re using these sources for our toilet as well as our tap – dumping chemicals into our lakes and rivers and even pumping fracking fluids into underground acquirers. In some parts of the world the situation is so bad that people are forced to use heavily polluted water that poses an immediate risk to their health and safety. Parents give their kids a sponge bath only to have their child break out in skin lesions from the toxic water.

The Health Effects From Polluted or Contaminated Water

There are many adverse health consequences from drinking contaminated water, which vary depending on the type of contaminants in the water. Children exposed to the toxic water in Flint, Michigan, had their hair fall out, developed anemia, suffered an increase in seizures or broke out in splotches, and complained their skin burned. You needn’t drink such toxic water in order to be at risk; simply swimming or taking a shower in it will do the trick.

Children typically drink more water per pound of body weight than adults do, which puts them more at risk. Babies especially consume up to 7-times more water per pound of body weight than adults do during the first 6 months of life, especially if they are drinking formula. (Landigran et al., 1999) Another estimate put the average at 3 to 4 times as much. (Heyworth, 2011)

A study by marine biologist Carol Reinisch discovered that 3 common water pollutants, when administered in combination, interfered with fetal nerve cell growth in clam embryos in a way that could translate into human neurological problems such as autism or ADHD. (Reinisch, 2005) So the problems associated with polluted water are far reaching. (For further information on the health effects of polluted water, refer to the sections on individual contaminates within this book.)

More information on dirty or contaminated water

This section of our book will look at the problem of water contamination from several different angles. First, we explore the overall problem of water pollution and look at the chemicals being dumped in our rivers, lakes, oceans and streams. Next we take a look at how this relates to the quality of water coming out of your tap, and discuss common problems with drinking water. Finally, we’ll provide tips that will help your family monitor the quality of water and ensure your tap water is safe to use.

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Additional information contained in our e-book:

  • Swimming in raw sewage
  • Toxic beaches
  • Safe drinking water legislation
  • Misleading claims made by bottled water companies
  • Information on water purification systems
  • Managing private wells