5 Harmful Contaminants Found in Tap Water

Our tap water may appear to be clean, but it has many contaminants floating about. Sewage disposal, industrial waste, naturally occurring microorganisms, and damaged plumbing pipes are the top culprits that release toxins into our water.  

Consuming water polluted with disease-causing microbes, toxic metals, and carcinogenic compounds is extremely detrimental to our health. 

Let’s find out what happens when we consume polluted water and discover the top 5 contaminants that may be present in your tap water. 

Consequences of Consuming Contaminated Water

What happens due to poor water sanitation? To answer this question, let’s go into the details of the notorious water contamination incident that took place at Camp Lejeune in the mid-20th century. 

A US Marine Corps base in North Carolina, Camp Lejeune, suffered the drastic consequences of polluted water. Military personnel and their families were unaware of the fact that improper waste disposal practices and leakage of tanks containing hazardous chemicals were contaminating their tap water. 

Consequently, they fell prey to serious health issues, including liver and kidney disorders, birth defects, and various forms of cancer. The contaminated water also led to neurological diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease. 

The incident is a reminder to us that impure water can lead to devastating long-term health disorders. In order to avoid problems similar to Camp Lejeune health issues, we should ensure the safety of our water supply. 

The first step is to gain knowledge about the top potential water contaminants, how they infiltrate our water supply, and their negative health effects. 

Let’s read on to discover some of the most harmful water contaminants. 


Mercury is a metal found in the atmosphere as an industrial waste product. Volcanic eruptions and forest fires also contribute to the release of mercury vapors into the environment. The metal eventually comes back to the ground when it rains or snows. 

Consequently, mercury seeps into water bodies where microorganisms turn it into a highly toxic compound – Methylmercury. In this form, the metal is extremely harmful to our nervous system.

It is particularly dangerous for children since it causes issues during brain development. As a result, there may be learning disabilities, impaired motor skills, low memory retention, or behavioral abnormalities. 

In addition, high levels of mercury in tap water damage the kidneys. Prolonged exposure may also affect the reproductive organs, leading to infertility. 

While most mercury-related health problems develop over a period of time, heavily contaminated water may lead to the immediate onset of gastrointestinal issues, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. 


Tap water contains numerous microorganisms – bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungi. While some of these might be harmless, parasitic microorganisms can give rise to various water-borne diseases. 

When you use this contaminated water while self-grooming and cleaning or during food preparation, you end up ingesting the microbes it contains. As a result, you may fall prey to gastrointestinal diseases like dysentery and gastroenteritis. 

If your water sources are polluted with sewage discharge that contains fecal matter, there are high chances of different types of disease-causing microorganisms thriving in your tap water. 

Here are some of the most common microbes polluting your tap water and their effects on your health. 

  • E. coli bacteria: leads to gastrointestinal troubles, such as severe abdominal cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea. 
  • Rotavirus: causes fever, severe diarrhea, and vomiting.
  • Hepatitis A virus: causes jaundice – a liver condition that causes the skin and the whites of our eyes to turn yellow. Other symptoms include nausea, fatigue, and abdominal pain. 
  • Giardia lamblia parasite: causes diarrhea and vomiting. Severe diarrhea leads to dehydration. 
  • Shigella bacteria: it leads to shigellosis – a disease that causes severe diarrhea with watery stools that may contain blood and pus as the bacteria damages the intestinal lining.
  • Cryptosporidium: the parasite causes cryptosporidiosis, an infection of the intestines. Its common symptoms include fever, abdominal cramps, vomiting, and watery stools. Prolonged infection leads to dehydration and weight loss. 


Chlorine is a chemical we use to disinfect our tap water by killing microorganisms. We use it in minute quantities – not more than 4 milligrams of chlorine per liter of water – in order to avoid the adverse health effects of the chemical. 

However, when chlorine reacts with organic matter in water, such as fungi and bacteria, it produces compounds normally known as disinfection by-products. These compounds can pose numerous health risks.

Here are some of the most common disinfection by-products and their effects on our health.

  • Cholorform: prolonged exposure to the compound can lead to cancer of the bladder, rectum, or colon. 
  • Haloacetic Acids: it’s a group of carcinogenic acids, including dichloracetic acid and trichloroacetic acid. These compounds affect the reproductive system, leading to fertility issues. 
  • Chlorite: leads to methemoglobinemia, a condition that reduces the ability of the blood to transport oxygen. As a result, we may experience shortness of breath, fatigue, and lack of stamina.
  • Bromate: a carcinogen that increases the risk of developing cancer due to prolonged exposure to the compound. 


Copper is one of the materials used to make water pipes. Over a period of time, corrosion of the pipes causes the metal to seep into our water, leading to a number of health problems.

While short-term effects of copper contamination in water lead to gastrointestinal issues like nausea and vomiting, there may be more serious long-term concerns. For instance, the metal can damage our liver, kidneys, as well as the nervous system. 

Copper is also detrimental to children’s early development, leading to growth delays and learning disabilities. 


If your plumbing system contains lead pipes, the metal is likely to infiltrate your water due to wear and tear of the pipes over time. 

Lead can accumulate in our bones. As a result, even after we discontinue drinking lead-contaminated water, our bones keep on releasing the metal into our bloodstream, creating various health issues. It affects the function of different organs in our body, including the heart, kidneys, and reproductive organs. 

Lead also affects the brain development in children. Prolonged exposure leads to behavioral issues, such as irritability and aggressive behavior. 

Final Thoughts 

Our tap water contains different types of contaminants, including microorganisms, toxic chemicals, and metals. Some pollutants end up in our water supply due to poor sewage disposal. Metals like lead and copper, however, can enter the water when our old plumbing pipes corrode. 

The health effects of water contaminants range from short-term gastrointestinal issues, such as nausea and vomiting, to more drastic long-term effects, including cancer, organ damage, infertility, and poor cognitive development in children. 

We must implement sanitation practices, such as proper disposal of sewage and industrial waste, to avoid water-borne diseases. Similarly, we must make sure our plumbing system is in perfect condition so that toxic metal residues do not seep into the water. 

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