W.H. Auden, a British poet, once quoted, “Thousands can live without love but, not one without water!”
Water is crucial to life. We cannot live on air alone; our body needs food and water to survive. Our body can go for some weeks without food but, water is a different story.
About 70% of our body is made up of water.
So, it becomes imperative to have safe drinking water.
But, do we have pure drinking water sources? The answer is ‘NO!’
For the past few years, there has been an increase in the level of heavy metals in water. Heavy Metal pollution puts both the life and the environment on peril.
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In this post, we shall cover some of the most dangerous heavy metals that may be found in your tap water.
We will discuss the harmful effects of heavy metals in drinking water as well as some steps to solve the problem.
What Are Heavy Metals?
Heavy metals are defined as those metals which have high density and atomic weight or atomic number.
Some of the examples of heavy metals are Lead, Arsenic, Chromium, Mercury, etc.
Where Do the Heavy Metals Come From?
These metals are naturally present in the Earth’s crust. But various human activities alter their geochemical cycle and balance.
Toxic heavy metals can enter the environment by:
- Industrial, Municipal and Urban Runoff
- Acid Rain
- Household Plumbing and Old House Paints
- Air Emissions from Smelters, Coal-burning Plants, etc.
- Natural Causes like a Volcanic Eruption
- Lead-Acid Batteries
- Ageing Water Supply Systems
- Mining Activities, etc.
- Groundwater Pollution.
How Does Heavy Metal Get Into the Water?
Heavy metals get into a water supply by industrial wastes, municipal wastes, acid rain (which get absorbed in the soil), consumer wastes (plastic, chemicals, e-waste), etc.
Even the pipes in our homes can add heavy metals to our drinking water.
How Do Heavy Metal in Drinking Water Affects Our Health?
Heavy metals do not change the molecular formula of water, i.e. H2O. However, they change the chemical content in water.
Now we will look at the harmful effects of the most dangerous heavy metals one by one.
Lead is a toxic metal and is considered harmful even in a small dose.
Sources: Automobiles, paints, hair dyes, PVC pipes, sweet candy, etc. Smelters and pesticides also emit lead.
- A continuous exposure to lead can cause high blood pressure, anaemia, heart and kidney problems.
- Children exposed to lead suffers the most. It leads to a shortage of memory and can even deplete the IQ level.
- It also causes fertility problems like a decrease in sperm production and miscarriage.
- It affects the central nervous system.
Arsenic is a carcinogenic (cancer-causing) metal. To prevent the wood from rotting, people used to coat it with arsenic till 2002.
Sources: It is still used in the manufacturing of glass, semiconductors, paints, dyes, drugs, soaps, etc.
Pesticides also contain arsenic. When a pesticide is sprayed on the soil or over the crops, arsenic gets stuck to the plants and enters their system.
Seafood also contains arsenic in toxic form.
- Arsenic produces neurological problems, especially in children.
- Arsenic causes cancer. Exposure to inorganic arsenic may cause skin and lung cancer.
- It also affects the peripheral nervous system.
- Arsenic poisoning also causes breathing problems, vomiting, nausea, etc.
Mercury is found in traces in the air.
When Mercury gets into the water, the bacteria present in water converts it into methylmercury. It is a toxic form of mercury. Fishes eat these bacteria. In turn, when we eat these fishes, mercury enters our food chain.
Sources: Oil refineries, coal-burning plants, combustion of diesel, medical wastes, cremation grounds, etc. are some of the sources of mercury.
Mercury is also found in products like a thermometer, CFL bulbs, dental amalgam, etc.
- If mercury gets deposited in the body, it can cause brain damage, blindness and deafness.
- It may lead to digestive problems and kidney damage.
- If a pregnant woman gets exposed to mercury, it gets transmitted to the developing fetus. It may affect the mental development of the newborn.
- It damages the central nervous system.
It is another heavy metal which finds its way to the human body through the water we drink.
Sources: Traces of cadmium are found in sewage discharge.
Smelting lead and zinc, and mining also produce cadmium as a by-product.
Besides, it is also found in batteries and other machinery.
- Short-term exposure to cadmium causes vomiting, nausea, etc.
- Long-term exposure may cause serious damage to the kidneys, liver and bones.
How Is Heavy Metal the Most Damaging Impurity in Drinking Water?
Various factors like pH Level, TDS Level, Fluoride Content, etc. determine the quality of water. But, heavy metals are the most damaging chemicals in water.
It is because heavy metals ‘bio-accumulate’ in our body, which means that once heavy metal is absorbed, our body cannot get rid of it.
Even though there are no immediate problems, heavy metals keep on accumulating in our body. Later, it may show symptoms of heavy metal poisoning. It may be too late by then!
What Is the Solution to the Problem?
The Government, as well as the industries and people, should make efforts to reduce the contamination of water by heavy metals.
The Government has to frame strict laws that prevent the industries from contaminating water with heavy metals.
It is good to know that the government has taken various steps to get rid of this problem:
Many countries, especially the Western countries have banned the use of paints that contain lead in them.
Many countries have switched to LED from CFL bulbs, which contains mercury.
Also, many countries have banned the use of mercury thermometers.
It is high time to phase out the use of heavy metals in industrial products.
Industries should replace solid-waste and medical -waste incinerators with 3 R’s, i.e. Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.
The industries should make sure that they use proper clean-up methods to dispose of the waste.
Industries should focus on manufacturing LED lights as compared to the CFL bulbs.
Health care industries should explore what they can use as an alternate of mercury.
We can reduce the exposure of heavy metals by following simple steps:
Avoid Seafood Containing Mercury
Some species of fishes like swordfish, marlin, etc. contains a high content of mercury. Children and pregnant women should not consume fish containing mercury. You can consume Pacific cod, farmed catfish, etc. which has very low mercury content.
Avoid Old Dishware and Imported Food Cans
The old dishware, especially the ceramics contain lead. It can leech on to your food. Also, imported food cans contain lead.
Replace the Old Thermometers With the Digital Ones
Don’t break the items like CFL bulbs, old thermometer, etc. which contain mercury. Dispose of them properly.
Also, go digital, when it comes to using thermometers.
Be Careful While Using Herbicides
Farmers should be aware that they do not use herbicides or pesticides containing heavy metals. For example, MSMA, which contains arsenic.
Check the contents of the medicines you take. Heavy metals may also make their way to your body through medicines.
Avoid PVC Items
Kids have a habit of chewing their toys. Avoid the toys made of PVC, as it is another source of lead.
Lead paint was used in old times. However, make sure that the house you live in, don’t have lead paint on its walls.
Similarly, prefer latex paint for protecting the wood. Avoid the use of paints like CCA and ACZA which contains heavy metals like arsenic.
If you suspect that your home’s pipes may be a source of heavy metals the, a water purifier is the best solution.
You can improve the safety of your tap water by fixing an RO Water Purifier at home.
UV Water Purifier and UF Water Purifier remove bacteria present in drinking water. But an RO water purifier removes the TDS and traces of heavy metals also. It also retains the essential minerals and gives you the purest drinking water.