Heavy metals are crucial to many industries, but are often harmful to human health. Here are some tips for protecting your drinking water from these dangers.
Why Heavy Metals are Concerning
Heavy metals earned their name thanks to their relatively high density. They include some of the most common metals on Earth, such as copper, tin, gold, and silver, and are widely used in manufacturing, agriculture, and other industries.
While some heavy metals pose little risk to human health, others can be extremely harmful, particularly to children and developing fetuses. There are four heavy metals on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) list of Ten Chemicals of Major Public Health Concern: arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury. In addition to setting Maximum Contaminant Levels for many heavy metals, the EPA has also issued additional rules for arsenic, lead, and copper.
Chronic arsenic poisoning affects the skin, digestive system, and brain functions, and has been linked to several cancers. Serious cadmium overexposure can also cause cancer as well as kidney and musculoskeletal issues, though milder cases lead to fever and gastrointestinal problems. As we have seen, lead is highly dangerous to humans. Copper, meanwhile, can create gastrointestinal problems in the short term, and liver or kidney damage in the long term.
Other metals may not be bad for your health but still negatively affect your water quality. Higher levels of iron and manganese, for example, can lead to unpleasant odor or taste in water as well as create rust and corrosion, which shortens the lifespan of your appliances and could cause more dangerous chemicals to leach into the water.
How to Tell if Your Water has Heavy Metals
Heavy metals get into your water a few different ways.
Cadmium usually becomes an issue when people eat plants and animals that were raised on contaminated water and soil. “However, impurities in the zinc of galvanized pipes and solders in fittings, water heaters, water coolers and taps can sometimes lead to increased cadmium levels in drinking-water,” says the WHO.
Some arsenic occurs from volcanic activity and other natural processes. However, human activities like mining and pesticide production have led to much higher concentrations of arsenic in certain areas. The WHO has cited the USA, among other countries, as having higher levels of arsenic in groundwater.
Lead and copper contamination sometimes occurs from insufficiently treated groundwater but often affects homeowners with older (1930s or before) plumbing systems that include lead or copper pipes or fittings, though lead was still used in some plumbing materials until the 1980s. These outdated materials break down, leaching these metals into the water.
If you get your water from a public supplier, look for your Consumer Confidence Report. Required annually by the EPA for most water systems, this document will show results of recent water quality testing, including the concentration levels of any contaminants and steps the supplier is taking to fix any issues.
These reports, however, only apply to the delivery network, not to your plumbing. The only way to know for sure what’s in your water is to have it tested. A certified water testing laboratory can ensure that the test includes every substance of concern. Hague Quality Water of Maryland also provides free water testing to Maryland homeowners!
How to Prevent Harm from Heavy Metals
If you’re concerned about heavy metals in your water, there are several steps you can take. First, your Consumer Confidence Report will include contact information for your local supplier if you would like to further discuss the report and any tips they recommend.
Second, work with a licensed plumber to assess the water infrastructure of your home or business. Experts like ours at Hague Quality Water of Maryland can help you make any necessary changes or updates. If your primary concern is drinking water, make sure your fridge filter is certified to remove heavy metals. If your fridge doesn’t have a water dispenser, a bottleless water cooler may suit your needs well.
Finally, you may want to consider installing a house-wide filter to ensure your water is always safe and high-quality, even if the water coming from your supplier leaves something to be desired.