As a consequence of human activity or natural occurrences, water contamination is still a concern nowadays. Despite strict regulations being in place and drinking water undergoing regular testing, contaminants such as microorganisms or chemicals occasionally find their way into community water systems, which may tremendously endanger the health of residents.
According to EPA, there are four types of drinking water contaminants
The term contaminant refers to any substance or matter which is hazardous to human health. Water contamination usually affects entire communities and may occur anywhere across the country, from small towns to metropolises. It is worthy of note that the level of harm a water contaminant can cause to the body after ingestion varies greatly. Therefore, while the presence of some contaminants is acceptable in drinking water as long as it remains beyond a certain limit, others are completely forbidden. It is also important to note that contamination does not have the same meaning as pollution. The latter always has a negative connotation, whereas the former does not necessarily pertain to a menacing situation. For instance, when non-toxic minerals such as salt are found in water, contamination is still considered to take place. Consequently, the crux of the matter is what specific contaminant has infiltrated the community water system, as not all of them are dangerous.
According to EPA, there are four types of contaminants which may lurk in drinking water:
- physical, such as organic material or sediments
- chemical, which may be natural or artificial, such as heavy metals, pesticides, detergents, or perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)
- biological, also known as pathogens or microbes, such as Salmonella, parasitic worms, or Giardia lamblia
- radiological, such as plutonium or uranium
One of the most obvious signs that you are drinking contaminated water is turbidity, which occurs when excessive amounts of a foreign substance or matter taints it. Thus, water loses the transparency it naturally has and appears cloudy or smoky (turbid). However, numerous contaminants cannot be seen with the naked eye in water, which is why periodical testing is vital to ensure safety.
The health issues consuming tainted water can result in range from minor, such as nausea and vomiting, to very severe, such as neurological disorders and cancer. Similarly, the period of time during which symptoms or a disease arise varies considerably. Depending on the nature of the contaminant, a person may fall ill within a few days to several years. Asbestos, the naturally occurring mineral notorious for causing mesothelioma, can also contaminate drinking water. Below you can find the most common health effects of each type of water contaminant.
If you consume water from a source containing sediment or sewage which carries pathogens, you may come to experience the symptoms of infection with biological contaminants such as bacteria, viruses, or parasites. However, oftentimes, physical water contaminants are harmless.
From organic chemicals such as benzene and toluene to inorganic chemicals such as lead and arsenic, this category of water contaminants is known to cause the most harrowing health issues. The problems that exposure to these hazardous substances cause vary to a great extent, some of the most widespread being:
- high blood pressure
- intestinal polyps
- kidney damage
- liver damage
- thyroid problems
- delays in physical or mental development
- hair loss
- nervous system problems
- cardiovascular disease
- various types of cancer
- adrenal glands problems
- spleen damage
- reproductive problems
The majority of biological water contaminants will result in gastrointestinal illness. Infection with a microorganism such as E. coli or Salmonella is associated with the following symptoms:
- stomach cramps
- nausea and vomiting
- loss of appetite
- blood in your stools
Prolonged exposure to radioactive elements, such as uranium, and radionuclides, such as alpha particles or photon emitters, has been found to cause serious health issues, including:
- kidney toxicity
- bone cancer
Which water contaminants are subject to legal recourse?
Since there are certain water contaminants which entail a health threat, you can only take legal action if your case involves a hazardous substance known to cause the disease you came to suffer from. In other words, as long as there is a causal relationship between the agent you were exposed to and your diagnosis, you or – if there are multiple people in your situation – your community can file a lawsuit. However, when excess of harmless contaminants such as fluoride are found in your drinking water, you can rest assured they will have no negative effect on your health. Most physical water contaminants are safe and you should not worry in the event one is detected in your community water system.
On the other hand, if there is a chemical or biological contaminant in your drinking water, it might be a serious cause for concern. The risk of contacting a pathogen or developing a disease increases considerably if you ingest this kind of tainted water. If you find out your community water system contains a biological or chemical contaminant, you should stop drinking from it immediately and seek a temporary alternative water source instead.
While the actual number of biological and chemical water contaminants for which you can take legal action if they caused you severe injury is in the hundreds, the most common include:
Biological Water Contaminants
- E. coli
- Giardia lamblia
- H. pylori
- hepatitis A virus
- Mycobacterium avium
- Legionella pneumophila
Chemical Water Contaminants
- perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)
- alachlor oxanilic acid
Over recent decades, numerous vermont residents were exposed to high levels of PFOA
Exposure to PFOA, a dangerous chemical widely used for the manufacturing of fire-resistant and non-stick products such as cookware and clothing, occurs primarily via drinking contaminated water. Tragically, the health consequences of exposure to PFOA have been experienced first hand by thousands of Vermont residents lately, who came to develop harrowing diseases after drinking tainted water. The culprit, Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, had been contaminating the public water systems of Bennington and North Bennington with PFOA for decades, but it was only in 2016 that state officials found out about the issue.
Outrageously, the concentration of PFOA in water was over 140 times higher than the recommended level. Despite part of the problem having been dealt with, many Vermont residents are still striving to recover the compensation they deserve from the liable party, who had been operating two chemical plants in the area – one in Bennington and another in North Bennington. Formerly known as Chemfab, the company had been employing PFOA for over 20 years and due to their negligence, significant amounts had leaked into the local water system ever since the beginning.
However, it is important to note that Bennington and North Bennington residents are not the only people at risk. As PFOA can easily infiltrate water systems, the chemical has unfortunately contaminated other areas of the state as well. Therefore, if you live or lived anywhere in Vermont, we advise you to pay close attention to your health and seek medical attention immediately in the event you notice worrisome symptoms.
What is PFOA and where can it be found?
Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is a synthetic chemical which has been in use since 1947, mostly for the manufacturing of fluoropolymers coatings and products resistant to water, grease, heat, and sticking. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, PFOA is possibly carcinogenic to humans and the primary route of exposure is drinking contaminated water. While EPA has not assessed the carcinogenic potential of this chemical yet, it began requiring public water systems to monitor the levels of PFOA in 2012 and also published water health advisories in 2016. The agency suggests the level of PFOA in drinking water remains under 70 parts per trillion.
It is worthy of note that once PFOA is released in the environment, the chemical persists, as it is highly resistant and cannot naturally degrade. There are numerous chemical facilities manufacturing PFOA, as well as plenty of companies using it, throughout the U.S. However, as long as PFOA does not reach the inside of your body, it is a relatively safe chemical. Some of the most common products which contain PFOA are:
- water-repellent clothes
- ski wax
- paper and cardboard packaging
- stain-resistant carpets
- household cleaners
- furniture treatments
- sprays for leather and shoes
What health issues can drinking water contaminated with PFOA cause?
Although more research is necessary to establish how dangerous PFOA really is, medical studies have already found reliable evidence of toxicity and carcinogenicity. Nevertheless, exposure to PFOA is a serious cause for concern. According to the studies we have access to at the moment, drinking water contaminated with this chemical, particularly over a long time, can lead to the following health issues:
- liver damage
- kidney cancer
- ulcerative colitis
- testicular cancer
- immunity system problems
- developmental disorders
- thyroid disease
- changes in cholesterol levels
- peripheral artery disease