Any student of Chemistry will tell that the molecular formula of water is H2O.
However, if you chemically analyse the water we drink, you will find many more chemicals in addition to hydrogen and oxygen.
Where do these heavy metals come from to contaminate the water? Let us see the effects these metals can have on our health. We shall also explore ways to eliminate them from the water before we consume it.
Table of Contents
Let us now look at these heavy metals one by one
Mercury is present in traces in the air. The principal cause of the presence of mercury is the combustion of diesel, heating oil, and jet fuel. These mercury atoms are heavy, and hence they deposit on land and water. It enters the food chain from here.
Coal-burning power plants, oil refineries, medical wastes, dental dispensaries, and cremation grounds are also sources of emission of mercury.
Also, you find mercury in its metallic form in consumer products like CFL bulbs, thermometers, medical equipment, and dental amalgam.
As mercury gets into water, the bacteria present in the water converts it into a toxic form, methylmercury. Fishes consume these bacteria. They enter our food chain when we eat these fishes. This mercury settles down and accumulates inside our body.
Arsenic had great utility in preventing the wood from rotting. People used to coat the wood with arsenic until 2002. This arsenic leeches out to the soil and enters groundwater.
Pesticides contain arsenic. When farmers spray these pesticides on the soil and over the crops, the arsenic sticks to the plants and enters its systems. Smelting industries also emit arsenic in large quantities.
Manufacturers still use arsenic in manufacturing industries like glass, semiconductors, paints, dyes, soaps, and drugs.
Seafood also contains arsenic in a mildly toxic form.
You can find lead in a variety of consumer products such as automobile components, paints, hair dyes, or even candy sweets. Almost all PVC compounds contain lead.
Drinking water can also contain lead that leeches out from pipes.
Smelting industries and pesticides emit lead.
You can also find traces of lead in the clothing and shoes of workers exposed to lead during their jobs.
Cadmium is another heavy metal that finds its way into the human body through the water we consume.
It is a by-product of mining and smelting of lead and zinc.
Plastics manufacturing industries discharge cadmium as well.
There are traces of cadmium in sewage.
We have seen how the heavy metals contaminate water and enter the human body. We shall now look at the ill-effects of these heavy metals on our bodies.
Arsenic is a carcinogenic agent while lead and mercury affect the human brain, especially children.
Exposure to lead from a very young age causes children to develop shorter attention spans. They lag behind in their studies as compared to their peers.
Children having substantial exposure to mercury experience difficulties in learning.
We shall now discuss some of the common health effects that these heavy metals have on humans.
Industry level actions that could reduce exposure to heavy metals
Our responsibility in reducing exposure
1. Be careful with wood treated with preservatives like CCA (Chromated Copper Arsenate) and ACZA (Ammoniacal Copper Zinc Arsenate). It is better to remove them or paint them to reduce leeching. On the other hand, you can choose semi-transparent deck stains for deck surfaces and latex paint for other furniture.
2. Arsenic and mercury can enter our body through consumption of seafood. Specific fishes such as king mackerel, swordfish, marlin, and so on have a high content of mercury. Similarly, limit your consumption of tuna and canned ‘white’ albacore. You can consume fishes having lower mercury content such as Pacific cod, Atlantic herring, salmon, sardines, farmed catfish, and others. Pregnant women and children should avoid fish containing mercury.
3. Lead paint was standard in the olden times. Nowadays, you do not have lead paint. However, you should be careful especially if you live in houses having lead paint on its walls. Hire a professional and scrape out the paint. Use the non-lead paints available in the market today to reduce exposure to lead.
4. Lead can also enter your drinking water sources through your plumbing appliances. Hence, it is advisable to use quality water purifiers to ensure elimination of lead. The RO water purification systems are the best in this regard.
5. PVC is another source of lead. Avoid toys made of PVC. Children especially the toddlers have a habit of chewing on their toys. Make sure that you keep these PVC toys and other items away from the reach of children.
6. It is better to avoid old dishware, especially the ceramic ones. They contain lead that can leech on to your food. Similarly, the imported food cans contain lead solder. Avoid using imported food cans.
7. These heavy metals can also make their way into your body through medications. Check out the composition of the medicines you take. Avoid consuming medicines containing lead, mercury, or arsenic.
8. Go digital when it comes to using thermostats and thermometers. Avoid the use of old thermometers containing mercury. Do not break old thermometers, CFL bulbs, and other household items containing mercury. Dispose of them using appropriate clean-up methods.
9. Farmers should be careful while using herbicides. Many herbicides such as monosodium methanearsonate (MSMA) and others contain arsenic.
10. Choose composite dental fillings instead of the mercury-contained amalgam fillings.
In any case, it is good to have an RO water purifier at home. It ensures the elimination of all these heavy metals that contaminate water. It is our responsibility to provide a healthy environment for our children.