Water Pollution: Causes, Effects, and Solutions

When did humans start polluting the Earth?

Pollution is perceived as a result of our modern lifestyle, a by-product of increasing urbanization and industrialization. However, pollution has been a problem throughout history. Archeologists have discovered signs of pollution from the Paleolithic era, mostly caused by wood burning fire. Lead pollution from Roman smelters affected the whole of Europe. Pollution significantly increased after World War II, when synthetic chemicals such as plastics, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and inorganic pesticides started to gain popularity.1 Recent studies reveal serious health hazards related to plastics, including lung and heart diseases, headaches, dizziness, birth defects, reproductive dysfunctions, digestive issues, and various cancers. Plastics and other synthetic chemicals are not only toxic to humans but also accumulate in the environment.2

Why is the water polluted and what are the most common water contaminants?

Water is essential for life. We need water to survive, however, this water has to be clean. Water pollution is a serious threat to human health. It is reported that up to 80% of water pollution is caused by domestic sewage, mostly untreated, which drains into rivers. Domestic sewage contains a variety of chemicals including plastics, toxic compounds, and microorganisms.

Industrialization also has a negative impact on water quality, as many harmful substances are discharged from industrial facilities both in the water and on the land. Rapid population growth translates into an increased amount of waste products, further contributing to increased water pollution. Polythene bags and plastic waste are also a major source of pollution. Pesticides, fertilizers and trace amounts of pharmaceuticals further contaminate and pollute the water.

There are different types of water contaminants. The physical contaminants have an impact on the physical appearance or physical properties of the water. Example of physical contaminants include sediments and organic materials found in water.

Chemical contaminants can be naturally occurring or man-made and include nitrogen, bleach, salts, pesticides, or prescription drugs.

Biological contaminants are microorganisms that can cause infections in humans. The most common microorganisms responsible for water-borne infections include bacteria like Campylobacter jejuni, Shigella, Salmonella, and Vibrio cholerae, viruses (i.e. hepatitis), and parasites like Giardia or Cryptosporidium.

Radiological contaminants in water are radioactive substances such as cesium, plutonium, and uranium.3

About Water Chlorination: Pros and Cons

Waterborne infections were a leading cause of mortality up until very recently. Water chlorination is considered one of the greatest public health achievements of the 20th century for a very good reason: it saved millions of lives. Chlorine is responsible for the virtual elimination of typhoid fever in North America. This infection affected roughly 100 in every 100,000 Americans in 1900, about 34 in every 100,000 in 1920 and less than 0.1 cases per 100,000 people in 2006.

While chlorination of the water helps prevent numerous water-borne infections, it is not free from side effects. More and more studies are now linking chlorination with various health issues. A recent study conducted by Belgian researchers found a correlation between swimming in chlorinated water and the development of asthma and allergies.4

Chlorine and other disinfectants create by-product chemicals such as chlorate, chlorite, trihalomethanes, and halo acetic acids. They are harmful to human health, affecting the thyroid gland and being associated with neuro behavior issues as well as liver, colorectal and kidney cancers, according to a review of studies conducted by Canadian scientists.5

The safest, most effective solution to clean water: point source water filtration

There are two types of home water filtration: point-of-entry (POE) and point-of-use (POU) water filters.

Point-of-entry systems, also known as whole house water filters, are typically installed at the main water line, right where water first enters the home. The entry point is placed in the garage, and the actual point-of-entry system is in front of the water heater. This way, every tap in the house (i.e. sinks, dishwashers, washing machines) will deliver clean, purified water.

Point-of-entry systems are designed to treat large amounts of water, several thousands of gallons daily. Different filter cartridges help remove different types of water contaminants. These systems create high-quality general purpose water, but are not the best for drinking and are very expensive.

For drinking purposes, point-of-use (POU) filters are the best. Unlike point-of-entry systems, point-of-use systems filter water from a single connection (i.e. like a water pitcher, or filter for a single tap). They are smaller, and they filter smaller amounts – typically just what you intend to drink or cook with. Point-of-use filters can be installed quickly and easily and are also less expensive than whole house systems.

Examples of point-of-use filters include countertop water filters, reverse osmosis filters or the common water pitcher.

When filtering it is important to keep the pH of water and the mineral content in mind. Although reverse osmosis removes all contaminants it essentially produces “dead water”, or water that is devoid of any mineral content and is quite acidic. Santevia water filters focus on removing contaminants while also adding beneficial minerals back to your drinking water. Whether you are thinking about your health or the environment, it is worth considering an investment in a point-of-use filtration system.6

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