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article imageOp-Ed: Water supply — Health considerations for drinking clean water

By Donald Quinn     Oct 24, 2012 in Health
Water is a vital component of our needs. Fears of water contamination are not common in the United States, where by and large we have an excellent clean water supply. Contamination can creep in however, and it pays to be aware of the dangers.
When we thing about health care, one of the last things we ever stop to consider in America is the possibility that we have contaminated water. If we do consider the potential that there are places where water supply may not be the cleanest, in America, we certainly do not associate it with our neighborhoods or suburbs. Contaminated water happens to other people, usually somewhere else.
The truth however, is that it is not just rural communities, or countries far away with little development that have to worry about contaminated water supplies and the potential problems that come with drinking from a source that is contaminated. It is an ongoing problem in every part of the country, with little regard to demographics or locations. The challenge is to understand just how water gets contaminated, what the causes are of this contamination, and most importantly what steps can be taken by the average household to prevent drinking water that is unhealthy.
In school most of us learned about the difference between hard and soft water. Hard water, for those of us who weren't paying attention in chemistry class, has a high mineral content with an especially high amount of calcium and magnesium. Both of these chemicals are required for human consumption, and make up a normal part of our diet. They do need to be consumed in appropriate quantities though which means that exceptionally hard water is not good for our systems, though there have been very few comprehensive studies that have shown more than a weak link between hard water consumption and human diseases. Soft water is water that has been treated or naturally occurs with lesser levels of minerals. Each of these types of water have their own unique challenges and generate their own health concerns when consumed by humans.
Hard water has been connected to cardiovascular disease in men and hard water with up to 170 milligrams of calcium carbonate per liter. Other studies have shown there to be a relationship between hard water consumption in domestic settings, namely in the home, and the increase in eczema in children. These studies show a weak, but present, relationship between hard water and health challenges. It should be noted though that the World Health Organization has found the evidence in these studies to be inconclusive and is not convinced that there is a direct correlation between hard water consumption.
Soft water has challenges that are even more severe, because it is primarily created by softening hardened water using artificial means. Softened water has a higher than normal amount of sodium content, which is hard on the heart and well above the recommended sodium intake by the American Heart Association for people who require a sodium low diet. Perhaps a more alarming concern with soft water is the fact that soft water tends to leach metals from the pipes of your home, including lead. Homes with soft water will often have a much higher content of metal, especially lead, in their water supply which is then used to cook, as drinking water, and even to make baby bottle formula. Faucets tend to be made of brass and are usually chrome plated, giving them a higher lead content. When soft water flows through these faucets, the initial flow of water (usually cold) has a much higher possibility of containing dangerous levels of lead.
Soft and hard water are only the start of the challenges with drinking water. Water can get contaminated in multiple places. It can get contaminated at the source, which is not usually a challenge for public water supplies which are regularly tested. Water can get contaminated during treatment for hard or soft water, or even while attempting to provide a cleaner water supply. Water can also be contaminated in the home due to rusty pipes or during distribution within the home.
Microbial pathogens can also get into the water supply when pipes are not properly sealed or constructed. Usually found in well based communities due to the construction standards of wells, pathogens come from water being contaminated by leaky sewage or animal waste. Water coming into the home, travels underground to its source, where we draw it from, and can become contaminated due to septic systems, leaks from landfills, or the careless disposal of household products. Microbial pathogens can cause acute health conditions like vomiting, irritation in the lungs, dizziness, gastrointestinal problems, jaundice, and other serious health concerns. Luckily for us this is not a major challenge in most of the United States.
Inorganic contaminants are a far more likely scenario for the average American household. Contaminated water can have chemicals and metals introduced into them from the plumbing systems in our home, and can include toxic metals like arsenic, barium, lead, mercury, chromium, and silver. All of these are slow acting and build up gradually in the human body leading to a plethora of challenges which can include, but are not limited to, acute poisoning and cancer. Because of our constant use of hot water heaters we expose ourselves to higher than normal levels of contaminants that can enter our water supply through the hot water heater.
According to Bob Oates Sewer & Rooter, a family own plumbing company in Seattle WA, “Each year thousands of gallons of cold water enters your hot water heater - carrying tiny amounts of sand, rust and dissolved minerals (sediment)”
It is these dissolved metals and sediment that can cause serious health concerns if the level of metals in the water system gets too high.
Drinking contaminated water of any kind will probably make a person sick within a short or long period of time. Unclean water, when extremely unclean due to contamination, can cause people to vomit and have diarrhea, develop a skin or other kind of rash, get cancer (leukemia and other kinds of cancers can be caused by extended exposure to bad water), have reproductive problems, and even cause developmental problems in children. While all of these seem like they are doomsday scenarios, we under estimate the power of clean or dirty water to influence our health and take for granted that our water supplies are not, in any way, contaminated.
The simple truth is that dirty water, water that is too hard or too soft, contaminated water, all are causes for concern with regard to the health and well being of our families and it behooves us to be aware that no home, no community, and certainly no country is immune to the potential health risks of drinking water that is unsafe.
In a land where we use water excessively, have hot water heaters is in virtually every home, have pipes that could be getting old and rusty, get water through faucets that contain high amounts of lead, and have septic systems in a large percentage of our homes there is definitely a need to keep a watchful eye on the quality of the water being used in our homes. Testing is not expensive and relatively easy to do, and highly recommended to ensure that we are not drinking water that is unsafe.
Fixing problems like rusty pipes or corroded and damaged water heaters call for experienced plumbing services but are definitely worth considering if they are responsible for health risks by contaminating the drinking water supply in the home.
Water, the lifeblood of humanity and today considered almost as precious as oil. Let’s make sure our supply isn’t making us sick?
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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