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A Look at Common Water Contaminants Found in Untreated Drinking Water

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A Look at Common Water Contaminants Found in Untreated Drinking Water

We're always being encouraged to drink more water for good health. But how clean is the drinking water in our homes? Unfortunately, untreated tap water in our homes and offices contains many types of contaminants. The Safe Drinking Water Act defines the term 'contaminant' as anything other than water molecules. So, while some of these common water contaminants may be harmless, others may be harmful if consumed at certain levels.

The A to Z of Common Water Contaminants

Most of us would be put off drinking water if it had a cloudy appearance, a bad smell or an unpleasant taste. But water contamination cannot always be detected by human senses. Here are some of the most common contaminants that might be lurking in your untreated drinking water:


Aluminum is not a necessary substance for our bodies. Although low-level exposure is not thought to harm your health, too much may be harmful.


Antimony is a known potential drinking water human carcinogen. Above the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) limit of 0.006 mg/l), antimony may cause diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.


Arsenic, a known human carcinogen, enters the water supply an industrial by-product or through its natural presence in bedrock. Low-level, long-term exposure to arsenic through drinking water is thought to increase occurrences of cancer and other health problems.


Symptoms of barium poisoning include muscle weakness, increased blood pressure, and stomach irritation.


The federal limit of cadmium in the water supply is 0.005 mg/l. Symptoms of cadmium poisoning include nausea, vomiting, cramps, and diarrhea. Long-term low-level exposure leads to lung damage, kidney disease, and fragile bones.


Calcium is present in our water supply as an important contributor to water hardness. There is no federal limit for the quantity of calcium in our drinking water.


While municipalities use chlorine to disinfect the water supply, the taste and smell are unappealing and can also dry out your skin and hair.


Water containing levels of chromium above the EPA limit of 0.1 mg/l can cause skin irritation and ulceration. Long-term exposure to chromium can cause damage to the nerve tissues, liver, and kidneys.


Presence of copper in your water supply gives a bitter taste and can cause stomach irritation and vomiting.


While the federal limit for the presence of fluoride in the water supply is 4.0 mg/l, the Oregon limit is set at 2.0 mg/l. Long-term effects of exposure to fluoride include the destruction of tooth enamel, permanent tooth staining, brittle bones and stiff joints.


Lead seeps into the water supply via the lead pipes and fixtures used all across the US. The federal limit for lead in the water supply is 0.015 mg/l. But, there is no safe level of lead exposure, especially for children who can experience harmful effects ranging from stomach cramps to brain damage.


Magnesium is a mineral which enters the water when rain soaks into the ground, running through sand, soil, and rock. Like calcium, magnesium is an essential contributor to water hardness. When water is heated, magnesium breaks down and forms scale in your appliances and pipes. There is no federal limit for magnesium in water, but concentrations above 125 mg/l may have a laxative effect.


Nitrates are essential for flowers, food, and greener lawns, making them a key ingredient in most fertilizers. Although nitrates occur naturally in soil, overuse of fertilizer is the biggest cause of contamination. Nitrates in the water supply present potential health risks for everyone, but especially for pregnant women and infants under the age of six months. For fetuses and young infants, nitrates reduce the blood's ability to transport oxygen and can cause death or permanent brain damage as a result.

Pesticides and Herbicides

Pesticides and herbicides enter ground and surface water and can remain in sediment for years. The EPA regulates thousands of chemicals present in pesticides and herbicides, all of which have various harmful effects on humans.


Although selenium is an essential nutrient at low levels, levels above 0.05 ppm can cause damage to the nervous system, fatigue, and irritability. And, long-term over-exposure to selenium may cause liver and kidney damage, and hair and fingernail loss.


In high doses, silver is fatal to humans. Signs of silver poisoning include a blue-grey discoloration of the skin and eyes.

Sodium Chloride

While there is no federal limit for the levels of sodium in our drinking water, chloride levels are set at 250 mg/l. If the sodium and chloride levels are near 100 mg/l, you may notice a salty taste to the water, and plant growth can also be affected.


Sulfate may be found in water in the form of hydrogen sulfide, commonly identified by the smell of rotten eggs that it gives off. Ingesting high levels of sulfate can cause diarrhea.


Above the EPA limit, thallium can cause nerve damage and gastrointestinal irritation. Long-term exposure may cause hair loss, liver and kidney damage, and damage to testicular tissues.


This naturally-occurring substance is mildly radioactive, and exposure to high levels of uranium can cause kidney disease.


There is no federal limit in place controlling the amount of vanadium in the water supply. Vanadium is sometimes used for arsenic removal in drinking water treatment systems. Although the health effect of vanadium in humans has not been established, studies using pregnant animals showed minor birth defects. Long-term ingestion of vanadium also showed minor kidney and liver changes.


When consumed in high levels, zinc can cause cramps, nausea, and vomiting. Long-term effects include anemia and pancreas damage.

The Solution to Improve Your Drinking Water

Whether it's for convenience or to avoid consuming these common water contaminants, Americans spend $16 billion a year on bottled water. But spending a fortune on bottled water, while also contributing to further to a worldwide plastic crisis, is no solution. Especially when you can receive the same, or better quality, water straight from your faucet with an at-home water filtration system. In fact, experts recommend bottled water based on reverse osmosis for its purity, thanks to the filtering process the water undergoes. To get the best quality water for a fraction of the price, choose from countertop filtration systems, under-the-sink water filters, or a whole home filter. Whatever your preference, we have the solution for you! And, for more information on water contamination and filtration systems, feel free to contact us with any questions or queries.

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