The 4 Types of Contaminants in Water

An important thing for people to understand about water contamination is that there are different types of contaminants that may be in your water. This is important because we often here comments like, “Well, maybe I’ll build up a resistance to what’s in my water,” or “the quantities are so small that it can’t really affect me.” But water contamination is not that simple.

1) INORGANIC MINERALS. This group of contaminants includes the minerals and toxic metals. Some of these contaminants, like calcium and magnesium are naturally occurring. Others like copper and lead usually get into the water from pipes. Some of these contaminants such as lead and arsenic can be quite dangerous.

2) RADIOACTIVE MINERALS. This group is really a subset of the first group and can include uranium, plutonium and radium. The dangers of these contaminants are obvious.

3) ORGANIC CONTAMINANTS. It sounds weird to use the word “organic” to refer to some of the most toxic contaminants our world has ever seen, but it’s true. The term organic in this sense means that they are carbon-based, which usually means that they are derived from petroleum. Since they are carbon-based though, they can easily bind with human tissue which can make them extremely toxic in very tiny quantities. To put this in perspective, inorganic contaminants are usually measured in parts per million or parts per billion, but Dioxin and PCBs for example are dangerous in parts per quintillion!

4) BIOLOGICAL. Bacteria and parasitic microorganisms are what most people think of when they talk about water contamination. If the right municipal treatment process isn’t in place there can be very dangerous outbreaks.

4 Responses

    Another helpful way to explain the types of water contamination in non-scientific terms is to refer to the source… or the cause… or even the motive. Before I go into the 4-types, I tell people there are THREE types of water contamination: Natural, Accidental, and Intentional… then I give examples if necessary. It’s a real eye opener for most to see this in proper perspective. Anything that is not water is a contaminant. Not all intentional contamination is harmful. Not all natural contamination is beneficial. Not all accidental contamination is reported. But when we distill our own water, we don’t have to worry about it.

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