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3. Inorganic Contaminants

Inorganic contaminants are compounds that typically do not contain the element carbon in their molecular structure. Sources of dissolved contaminants result from natural sources such as natural elements which occur in geology. They also occur as a result of human activity. An example of this is outfall runoff from industry. Because of risks associated with inorganic contaminants causing acute poisoning, cancer, and other health effects, state and federal governments regulate water distributed to the community to ensure inorganic levels do not reach toxic levels.

Fill in the Blank:

Inorganic contaminants are compounds that typically do not contain the element in their molecular.

Five examples of inorganic contaminants include:

  • Asbestos

  • Lead

  • Copper

  • Mercury

  • Nitrite

Because of health risks to exposure to asbestos, most uses of it were banned in the U.S. by the EPA in 1989. Before this, it was used heavily in water pipes construction, sewage disposal systems, and irrigation systems. It was also a primary source for roofing materials and friction resistant materials such as automobile brakes. As reported by the EPA, Asbestos can cause cancer from a lifetime exposure. Asbestos is non-biodegradable in aquatic organisms. The fibers are not broken down to other compounds in the environment and, therefore, can remain in a water environment for decades or longer.

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It was also a source for roofing materials and friction resistantsuch as automobile brakes.

images (2)Lead

The EPA estimates that approximately 600 groundwater systems and about 215 surface
Suppliers may have water leaving the treatment plant with lead levels greater than 0.005 mg/L These two sources together indicate that less than one percent of the public water systems in the United States have water entering the distribution system with lead levels greater than 0.005 mg/L. This means that less than 3 percent of people that receive their drinking water from public water systems can be affected. Low-level exposure to lead can result in adverse health problems affecting red blood cell chemistry, delays in normal physical and mental development in babies and young children, slight deficits in the attention span, hearing, and learning abilities of children, and slight increases in the blood pressure of some adults.

Quick Quiz

Fill in the Blank:

Less than percent of people that receive their drinking water from public water systems can be .

Chronic exposure has caused kidney disease and cancer. Although lead is rarely found in source water, it does enter tap water through corrosion of plumbing materials. Homes built before 1986 are more likely to have lead pipes, fixtures, and lead solder. However, the EPA does caution the public regarding newer homes as well. Technically, legally “lead-free” plumbing can still be comprised of as much as eight percent lead. Still today unhealthy exposure to lead can result from water being exposed to brass or chrome-plated brass faucets and fixtures because they may leach significant amounts of lead into drinking water. The occurrence can also be magnified when hot tap water is used for drinking purposes. Exposure to lead can cause permanent damage to the nervous system, especially in children and pets. According to EPA, the primary sources of exposure to lead are ingesting paint chips and inhaling the dust. EPA estimates that 10 to 20 percent of human exposure to lead may come from lead in drinking water. Infants who consume mostly mixed formula can receive 40 to 60 percent of their exposure to lead from drinking water. The Centers for Disease Control name lead poisoning as the number one preventable environmental disease affecting our nation’s children.

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 Infants who consume mostly mixedcan receive 40 to 60 percent of their exposure to lead from water.