Heavy Metal Pollution in the Water Supply
Shopping carts aren’t the only metal lurking in your water supply. Image via Brian Smithson (Flickr)
Heavy Metal Pollution in the Water Supply
Heavy metal means different things to different people. There are heavy metal elements, heavy metal music, heavy metal artillery, and heavy metal auto, truck, or radio-controlled-whatever competitions. What does heavy metal mean to me? Well, I do like a hard-rocking song now and again, but heavy metal means water pollution to me. Heavy metal elements contribute to heavy metal pollution in our water supplies, and as with any type of water pollution, we need to be concerned about it!
Heavy Metals Found in Water
The types of heavy metals most commonly found in our water supplies are arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, mercury, selenium, and zinc. You probably recognize that some of these metals are bad, such as arsenic and lead, and others are included in your daily multivitamin, such as copper and zinc. Too much exposure to any of them is not healthy, but I’ll explain more about that below. Right now, let me give you a brief rundown of each metal so you know what you’re dealing with:
- Arsenic is a naturally occurring element in numerous minerals. Arsenic is used in electronic conductors and pesticides, among other things. Arsenic is poisonous to humans and animals.
- Cadmium is found in zinc ore. Cadmium is used in electroplating, batteries, and nuclear fission. Cadmium is also found in cigarettes. Cadmium is toxic to humans and the environment.
- Chromium is a hard metal with a high melting point. Some chromium uses include synthetic gem manufacturing and preserving wood. Chromium is toxic and carcinogenic.
- Copper is a soft metal used to conduct heat and electricity. Copper is naturally found in all living organisms. Too much copper, however, is toxic and damages DNA.
- Lead is a soft metal used in the construction industry, in lead batteries, in ammunition, and in fusible alloys. Lead is poisonous to humans and animals when ingested.
- Mercury is known as “quicksilver.” Mercury is the silver line you read in your thermometer, and it’s used in fluorescent lamps. Excessive mercury is toxic to humans and animals.
- Selenium is refined out of other ores. Glassmakers use selenium, and there is probably selenium in your surge protector. Selenium occurs naturally in living organisms, but too much of it is toxic.
- Zinc is an element that is important to our health, but too much of it can cause neurological disorders, lethargy, and copper deficiency. Zinc is combined with copper to make brass.
As you can see, even the metals naturally occurring within us are toxic in excessive amounts. You wouldn’t drink a glassful of arsenic, but you shouldn’t drink a class full of copper, selenium, or zinc either, and this is why heavy metal pollution in water is becoming such a hot-button issue. In extreme cases, heavy metal water pollution can be deadly!
Dangers of Heavy Metals in Our Water
The dangers of heavy metal pollution in water supplies are real and have been studied by reputable organizations such as the World Health Organization and the EPA. I could write pages and pages on the side effects and dangers of heavy metal pollution in water, but I don’t want to bore you! Briefly, however, the major health concerns of heavy metal consumption are:
- Birth defects
- Blood disorders
- Cardiopulmonary and respiratory disorders
- Cardiovascular disease
- Irreversible renal (kidney) damage and failure
- Neurological disorders
- Psychological disorders
- Reproductive disorders
- Skeletal disorders
- Skin disorders
If this scary list doesn’t make you think about heavy metal water pollution, nothing will – and I want you to think about it, because I don’t want any of you to experience anything even remotely close to what I’ve listed above! So how do heavy metals get into our water supply in the first place? Keep reading.
Causes of Metal Pollution
If you’ve been following my blog, you’ve noticed that there is a regular set of culprits behind most water pollution. Those culprits are generally agricultural runoff, fracking, manufacturing, pesticides, pharmaceutical disposal, and sewage. Many of these also contribute to the heavy metals currently polluting our water. In addition to these, however, Fairfax County, Virginia, offers an additional explanation: transportation.
Recent studies have confirmed that road runoff accounts for 90 percent of the heavy metals released by transportation. In other words, as you’re driving along, your vehicle is releasing zinc, copper, and lead through its braking system, exhaust system, and motor oil. And guess what? Cadmium is also found in the road runoff that washes into our water supplies. Yikes! We already knew that transportation is a major contributor to air pollution, but it appears to be a contributor to water pollution as well!
What You Can Do
So what can you do? Well, I doubt very seriously that any of us would be willing to go back to transporting ourselves via horse and buggy, but you can take some steps to protect you and your family from the dangers of heavy metal pollution. Utilize public transportation whenever you can to keep your vehicle off the road as much as possible. This not only saves you gas money, but it also helps the environment – both air and water!
You can also make certain that your household isn’t contributing to heavy metal water pollution. Do you live in an older home with lead paint and/or pipes? If so, it’s time to have the paint stripped and your plumbing replaced by professionals experienced in environmental lead control. You also need to ensure that you are disposing of items such as batteries, electronics, and old thermometers properly to ensure that heavy metals are not seeping into landfills.
Finally, properly filter all of the water coming into your home; this includes your bathing water. Your skin absorbs heavy metal pollution in water as much as your internal organs do when you drink. Make certain all of the water flowing into your home is filtered through a qualified filtering system designed to remove heavy metals and other pollutants from your tap water. Your family’s health is definitely worth it.
Written By: Lynn Taylor