Home Water Experts

Common Water Contaminants and Their Treatment

Water purification isn't simply about safe drinking water; it is also about safe bathing water. Something to keep in mind at all times is this simple fact: you absorb several times the concentration of many hazardous chemicals through a shower than by drinking water. The human skin is the largest organ in the body. It is even responsible for 2% of your respiration (breathing). Anything that comes in contact with your skin is absorbed into you blood stream. Some chemicals absorb more readily than others.

Contaminants List and Treatment Options

These are some of the most common contaminants in water. This is by no means a complete list, and is meant only as an educational aid and to encourage further research. For more detailed information on each specific contaminant, click the EPA link to the right. 

Contaminant

Health Risk

Source

Treatment

EPA Link

Lead

Health risk for children and pregnant women

Water main, and  old plumbing

GAC, RO

EPA

Arsenic

Increased risk of bladder, lung, skin, kidney, and liver cancer

Naturally occurring

RO

EPA

Nitrate/Nitrite

Major threat to infant health. “Blue baby syndrome”

Fertilizers, septic systems

RO, IE

EPA

Mercury

Danger to pregnant women and young children. Kidney damage.

Landfills, industrial waste, naturally occurring.

GAC, RO

EPA

PCB’s

Reproductive problems, cancer, skin changes, thymus gland problems, immune deficiencies.

Landfills, industrial waste.

WE, XX

EPA

Sodium

Taste issues, other health issues.

Seawater ground intrusion, water softeners.

RO

None

Iron

Nuisance: metallic taste, rusty color, red stained clothes.

Naturally occurring.

IM, OX, AS

EPA

Manganese

Nuisance: metallic taste, rusty color,  black stained clothes.

Naturally occurring.

IM, OX, AS

EPA

Hardness

Nuisance: poor lather, cosmetic issues.

Limestone aquifers, naturally occurring.

WS

None

Microbes (Bacteria)

Diarrhea, cramps, nausea, headaches.

Cracked water pipes, treatment failure, storms.

GAC, OX, UV, DI, RO

EPA

MTBE

Cancer

Gasoline additive, absorbed through air and leached into ground by cracked gas storage tanks.

GAC

EPA

Radon/ Uranium

Cancer

Naturally occurring in underground ore and rock deposits.

XX

EPA

Chlorine

Bladder cancer, dry skin and hair.

Used as a disinfectant and oxidizer.

GAC, RO

EPA

THM’s

Cancer, liver and kidney problems.

A by-product of chlorine disinfection.

GAC, RO

EPA

Asbestos

Digestive tract problems, stomach and lung cancer.

Used in water main piping in some communities.

GAC, RO, DI

EPA

Chromium

Damage to liver, kidneys, nervous system, and skin.

Naturally occurring, industrial use.

GAC, RO, IE

EPA

Perchlorate

Reproductive cancers, dangerous to developing fetus, and thyroid cancer.

Rocket propellant, industrial waste.

IE, XX

None

pH

Corrosive to piping. Increased lead leaching into water.

Naturally occurring deviations, improper treatment.

PH

None

Benzene (VOC)

Cancer, genetic defects, anemia.

Leakage from gas storage tanks.

GAC

EPA

Vinyl chloride (PVC)

Cancer

Leaching from home piping.

GAC

EPA

Xylenes

Nervous system damage

Discharge from petroleum and chemical factories.

GAC

EPA

Toluene

Tremors, impairment of speech, hearing, vision, memory, coordination; liver and kidney damage.

Chemical factory discharge.

GAC

EPA

Cadmium

Kidney, liver, bone and blood damage.

Naturally occurring, industrial metal plating.

GAC, RO

EPA

Cyanide

Thyroid damage, weightloss, nerve damage.

Road salt, wastewater treatment by-product, metal finishing plants.

RO, OX

EPA

Aluminum

Alzheimer’s

disease

Flocculent used in drinking water treatment

GAC, RO

EPA

Acrylamide

Nervous system or blood problems, paralysis, and cancer.

Used in sewage and wastewater treatment.

XX

EPA

Benzo(a)pyrene

Reproductive difficulties, and cancer.

Found in water distribution systems and tanks. Incomplete combustion of hydrocarbons.

GAC

EPA

Dioxin

Cancer

Landfills, chemical waste, chlorinated chemical waste.

GAC

EPA

Hydrogen Sulfide

Toxic inhalation hazard

Decomposition of septic systems. Sewer contamination. Natural byproduct of organic decay.

IM, AS, OX

EPA

Treatment Index Key

GAC- Filtration

IE- Special Ion Exchange Resin

UV- Ultra Violet Disinfection

PH- Acid Neutralizer

RO- Reverse Osmosis

DI- Distillation

WS- Water Softener

WE- Contact Us For Treatment Options

IM- Iron/ Manganese System

OX- Oxidizer (Ex. Chlorine, Bromine)

AS- Aeration/ Air Stripping

XX- Serious Risk. Contact Local Gov’t

Links

EPA Drinking Water Home Page

Drinking Water Contaminant MCL’s (Max. Contamination Limits) *PDF Format

Drinking Water Contaminants MCL’s (Max. Contaminant Limits) *Non PDF

Water Contaminant Fact Sheet

Your Local Drinking Water Information