5 Common Water Contaminants: How to Avoid Contamination

published Aug 16, 2021
3 min read

Avoiding water contamination

Water is one of the most important aspects of life. We need it to survive and live healthy lives. It’s also a significant component in many industrial processes, such as pharmaceutical production. Yet, water can be contaminated with harmful substances that threaten our health and safety. 

Iron, for example, is a major water contaminant that can cause iron chlorosis and other problems. Iron enters the water through many sources, including iron pipes and iron-rich soil in contact with groundwater. The iron eventually oxidizes or rusts into ferric oxide. This buildup of iron causes discoloration or staining on sinks, tubs, toilet bowls, washing machines, and clothes when washed in this contaminated water.

There are several ways to avoid this problem: install an iron water filter; use household bleach containing sodium hypochlorite to disinfect the water supply; test for high levels of iron before using it for laundry so you know what type of treatment—if any—is needed beforehand; flush toilets less often because the iron in the water can cause stains and deposits if iron is present for an extended period of time. 

Try a different laundry pre-treatment method, like washing clothes with vinegar or iron-free detergent.

Common Water Contaminants

Nearly anything can harm your water supply, but some of the most common ones include bacteria, viruses, parasites, and nitrates from fertilizers or runoff from animal farms. These contaminants create a greater risk for illness than those found in air pollution because they’re ingested when we drink the contaminated water—our bodies absorb them into our tissues more easily than inhaled particles do. Here are some common water contaminants that are harmful to you and simple tips on how to avoid them: 

Heavy Metals

  • Including the iron mentioned above, heavy metals are just a few of the types of contaminants found in drinking water. They include mercury, lead, arsenic, and nickel. Heavy metals may be found in the soil, or they may have been deposited by smoke particles from factories, coal-burning plants, and also through mining activities and industrial pollution. If your water supply is contaminated with heavy metals, you may experience stomach problems, neurological damage, cancer—heavy metals may have an impact on your overall health.
  • There are ways to protect yourself against heavy metal poisoning: drinking filtered water, cooking food in only clean cookware, and using eco-friendly cleaning products.


  • Asbestos is a dangerous substance that can be found in the drinking water of individuals in many communities across the country. It is usually found in more rural areas because it is more difficult to detect than other substances like lead or arsenic. The most considerable risk with asbestos-contaminated drinking water is lung cancer, which can happen even if a person does not smoke or have asbestos fibers lodged in the lungs. Asbestos-related diseases cause symptoms such as shortness of breath, coughing, and chest pains.
  • People know how harmful asbestos can be, but it is still hard to detect. This makes diagnosing the illness expensive and difficult for those unlucky enough to get it from drinking contaminated water but cannot afford state or private aid. Since asbestos is a harmful yet undetectable contaminant, the only way to avoid it is by not drinking water or using products that contain it.

Pesticides & Herbicides

  • Pesticides and herbicides are both used to improve farm production. When a farmer sprays a field with these chemicals, it can contaminate the groundwater and the soil, which in turn could contaminate water sources. To avoid this, farmers should take steps to protect nearby water sources by following basic instructions on keeping the water clean.

Household Chemicals

  • One of the most common water contaminants is household chemicals. People may not know this because people don’t always see them in their water, but they’re in there and can harm people. One way to avoid water contamination is by never using cleaning products that contain ammonia or chlorine near a sink where you are washing dishes, the kitchen counter, or your hands. These chemicals are harmful if they come into contact with your skin. They can also harm your health and the environment when they get into lakes, rivers, or other water sources.


  • Arsenic is a chemical element known to contaminate water sources. It can cause certain diseases, cancers, as well as reproductive complications. According to the WHO(World Health Organization): Contaminated water used for drinking, food preparation, and irrigation of food crops poses the greatest threat to public health from arsenic.
  • Arsenic contamination in water sources like wells is usually due to the presence of arsenic-containing minerals. Drinking arsenic-contaminated water regularly can considerably increase risks for various health problems. There are certain ways to reduce the chances of arsenic-contaminated water, such as using groundwater pumps instead of hand pumps or digging deep wells (>200 ft).
  • Arsenic water contamination can be avoided by not ingesting any contaminated materials or coming into contact with it for an extended period. For example, this will include not washing one’s hands or clothing in the contaminated water and keeping food and drinks away from the area.

The easiest way to protect our water sources is by making sure your drain has no harmful chemicals or bacteria. If you’re dumping any contaminated material down a storm drain, river, pond, lake, or ocean, it could be impacting drinking water for all of us—which everyone should care about.

Water can serve many purposes to remain healthy like a natural resource, but it’s also one of the most common sources of contamination because so few people are taking proper precautions.

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