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6 Scary Contaminants Found in Tap Water

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running waterThis article originally appeared on Live in the Now.

You turn on the kitchen faucet to get water to put in your coffee maker. When you drink that cup of coffee, do you expect to consume small amounts of birth control pills and the Teflon used to make nonstick skillets, along with herbicides, pathogenic microbes and metals?

“Tap water is legal but may be unhealthy,” was a 2009 news headline that came not from an environmental watchdog group but from The New York Times, a mainstream media outlet. Since that time, more studies finding surprising contaminants in the country’s water supply are casting further doubt on its safety.

Here are a few of the pollutants that municipal water filtration systems don’t remove.

Traces of Pharaceutical Drugs

According to research by the Environmental Protection Agency, when you drink tap water, you are ingesting small concentrations of innumerable drugs. In fact, they are turning up in higher quantities than pharmaceutical companies have expected. The worst offenders include antibiotics, painkillers, antidepressants, beta-blockers, birth control pills and hormone replacement medications.

While scientists know drugs enter the water supply through urine and feces, as well as through the flushing of unused pills down the toilet, they don’t know what will be the effect on human health. However, some experts fear ingesting the trace amounts of drugs for prolonged periods may lead to health problems as people age. In addition, the profusion of antibiotics in water is likely to worsen the development of superbugs that are resistant to treatment.

Another factor fueling the fear is evidence showing adverse effects on fish that inhabit water contaminated with drugs. Altered behavior has been traced to antidepressants, a change in sex has been linked to a diabetes drug and “intersex” species have been associated with estrogens. Moreover, a U.S. Geological Survey report found birth control hormones were affecting fish fertility up to three generations after exposure, which raises questions about their impact on the women who drink the hormone-tainted water.


Nationwide testing shows Americans in 27 states are drinking water that contains PFOA, a chemical used to make Teflon. Although the amounts are small, research indicates even tiny quantities can cause heart disease, birth defects, cancer and weakened immunity.


The herbicide atrazine, marketed as Triazine, is frequently detected in water. It disrupts the endocrine system, which causes a range of disorders. Studies link drinking water with this contaminant to higher rates of breast cancer, low-birth-weight babies and menstrual irregularities. Animal studies associate atrazine with pregnancy loss and delayed puberty.


The most common cause of waterborne disease in the U.S., Cryptosporidium is a potentially fatal parasite that causes diarrhea. The pathogen can appear in water sources like private wells that are contaminated with human or animal feces.


Drinking water that is polluted with lead can over time lead to high blood pressure and kidney problems. The metal can also hinder the physical and mental development of children. Higher levels can result in stomach ailments, impaired coordination, seizures and brain damage.


Nitrates in water can pose an acute threat to babies because their bodies don’t produce an enzyme that negates the chemical’s ill effects. When nitrates enter the intestine, they transform into nitrites, which hinder the blood from carrying oxygen.

How to Protect Yourself

Aside from the above contaminants, public water is tainted with fluoride, chlorine, radioactive material, arsenic and many other chemicals. Plastic bottled water isn’t a good alternative as it contains leached plastic chemicals like BPA, as well as other harmful elements. A reverse osmosis filtration system for the kitchen may be the best option for drinking and cooking water.

Natural health proponent Dr. Joseph Mercola says filtering shower water is even more important than filtering drinking water. He explains that damage can occur during showering through the absorption of toxins through the skin and lungs. You can protect yourself with a whole house filtration system if you are a homeowner or a shower filter if you live in an apartment.

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