Unknown Impact of Trace Pharmaceutical Chemicals in Drinking Water

The Unknown Impact
What risk does chronic exposure to trace concentrations of pharmaceuticals pose to humans or wildlife? Some scientists believe pharmaceuticals do not pose problems to humans since they occur at low concentrations in water. Other scientists say long-term and synergistic effects of pharmaceuticals and similar chemicals on humans are not known and advise caution. They are concerned that many of these drugs have the potential of interfering with hormone production. Chemicals with this effect are called endocrine disrupters and are attracting the attention of water quality experts. To some scientists the release of antibiotics into waterways is particularly worrisome. They fear the release may result in disease-causing bacteria to become immune to treatment and that drug resistant diseases will develop.

Plumbing Pipes
Older homes may have lead pipe for water delivery. Newer homes until 1986 may have lead solder for the water lines. Even today lead can legally leach up to 11 part per million from faucets yet meet the federal standard.

Radon and Radium
Approximately 5% of a home’s radon level is linked to the water supply. Naturally occurring radioactive elements enter the water and are either inhaled or ingested causing an increased risk of cancer. More information can be sought onĀ commercial water filtration systems.

Road Salt
Every winter millions of tons of road salt are spread across the highways of the United States to melt ice. These salts are very soluble in water and move easily into groundwater. This scenario causes public and private drinking water supplies to exceed federal and state limits.

Primarily an aesthetic concern, sediments are solid particles in water and can be derived from a variety of substances.

Septic Systems and Cesspools
The effluent from septic systems and cesspools can contain bacteria, viruses, nitrates, heavy metals, detergents and a variety of household hazardous chemicals that are poured down the drain.

Taste, Odor and Color
Water can have objectionable tastes and odours which may make it undesirable to drink. The cause may be chemicals added to the water such as chlorine used in the disinfection process, a high mineral concentration, hydrogen sulphide gas that produces the “rotten egg” odour or the presence of organic matter. Discoloration can be caused by microscopic suspended particles, humeric acids or excessive iron.

Toxic Waste Dumps and Landfills
A liquid called leachate is developed at the bottom of landfills as the solid waste decomposes. Leachate can contain organic and inorganic contaminants. This liquid continues to be produced for many years after the landfill is abandoned.

Turbidity is cloudy water caused by the abundance of very tiny solid or dissolved particles in the water. The composition of the particles may be inorganic minerals or organic matter. This problem is most common with water derived from lakes, streams or ponds. Although turbidity may not be a health risk by itself, high levels may interfere with proper disinfection, provide a medium for microbial growth and indicate the presence of microbes.

Underground Fuel Storage Tanks
Fuel oil, diesel fuel and many chemicals are stored in underground tanks. These tanks deteriorate and develop leaks. Minute quantities in the order of one part per million may be enough to cause contamination and unsafe drinking water.

Volatile Organic Chemicals (V.O.C’s)
These are a class of chemicals that are very pervasive in our society through the use of solvents, gasoline, petrochemicals and cleaners as well as numerous manufacturing processes and leaking storage tanks. Over 2,000 organic chemicals have been identified in drinking water. Ingestion of these contaminants can increase cancer risk and produce anemia, nervous system and circulatory problems and organ damage


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