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What are the health effects of contaminants in drinking water?

what contaminants may be found in drinking water?where does drinking water come from?how is drinking water treated?what if i have special health needs?what are the health effects of drinking water contaminants?who is responsible for drinking water quality?what is a violation of a drinking water standard?how can i help protect drinking water?

Bottled water, city tap water, well water, rain water... people are trying to find the cleanest source of drinking water.  By what are the possible contaminants and what are the health effects of drinking them? The EPA has set standards for more than 80 contaminants that may occur in drinking water and pose a risk to human health. The EPA sets these standards to protect the health of everybody, including vulnerable groups like children. The contaminants fall into two groups according to the health effects that they cause. Your local tap water supplier must alert you through the media, mail, or other means if there is a potential acute or chronic health effect from compounds in the drinking water. You may want to contact the supplier for additional information specific to your area.

Acute effects occur within hours or days of the time that a person consumes a contaminant. People can suffer acute health effects from almost any contaminant if they are exposed to extraordinarily high levels (as in the case of a spill). In drinking water, microbes, such as bacteria and viruses, are the contaminants with the greatest chance of reaching levels high enough to cause acute health effects. Most people's bodies can fight off these microbial contaminants the way they fight off germs, and these acute contaminants typically don't have permanent effects. Nonetheless, when high enough levels occur, they can make people ill, and can be dangerous or deadly for a person whose immune system is already weak due to HIV/AIDS, chemotherapy, steroid use, or another reason.

Chronic effects occur after people consume a contaminant at levels over the EPA's safety standards for many years. The drinking water contaminants that can have chronic effects are chemicals (such as disinfection by-products, solvents, and pesticides), radionuclides (such as radium), and minerals (such as arsenic). Examples of the chronic effects of drinking water contaminants are cancer, liver or kidney problems, or reproductive difficulties.

For more information  

bulletBottled vs. Tap Water?
bulletFrequently asked questions - check here!
bulletHow to choose bottled water
bulletComplete listing and Summary of NRDC's test results for- Bottled Water Contaminants Found
bulletConsumer Report's review of bottled water (free)
bulletDescriptions of the contaminants that are most commonly found in drinking water (both bottled and tap waters).
bulletIs your tap water safe?
bulletCheck YOUR local water supply
bulletWhat do you need to know ?
bulletWhat do you do if there is a problem?
bulletFor information on the drinking water contaminants that the EPA regulates, see the Contaminant Fact Sheets:      bulletInorganic contaminants (metals and minerals)
bulletVolatile organic chemicals (mostly industrial chemicals and solvents)
bulletSynthetic organic chemicals (mostly pesticides)
bulletalso our Lead in Your Drinking Water web sit
bulletThe EPA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have prepared Guidance for People with Severely Weakened Immune Systems ( also available in Spanish )
bulletCDC also has a fact sheet on  Cryptosporidiosis a disease caused by drinking water contaminated by the parasite cryptosporidium
bulletto learn how the EPA sets limits on drinking water contaminants, read Setting Standards for Safe Drinking Water
bulletWhat are kid's sensitivities when it comes to drinking water? How are the EPA and its many partners working to protect them? Read Children and Drinking Water Standards
bulletThe EPA is studying a large group of contaminants and will decide in the next few years whether these contaminants present enough of a health risk that the EPA needs to set health standards for them.  The EPA published the contaminant candidate list in March 1998.   Some of the well-known contaminants that the EPA is studying are:  bulletRadon  
bulletMethyl Tert-Butyl Ether (MTBE)  
bulletThe EPA has Health Advisories for some contaminants for which it has not set drinking water health standards.  These health advisory levels help public health officials and consumers to know when there is a potential health risk (for example, in the event of a chemical spill), but they do not have any legal significance.  View a chart of all the Drinking Water Regulations and Health Advisories . bulletThere are several other highly technical resources on the potential health effects of toxic substances, including contaminants that are sometimes found in drinking water.  Among these are the EPA's  Integrated Risk Information System , the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry's  ToxFAQs  and the National Library of Medicine's  TOXNET .


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