The Impact of Water Contaminants on Human Health

human health

The Impact of Water Contaminants on Human Health

Human health and water quality are closely related. This fact has been known since London’s cholera outbreak in 1855, which was linked to contaminated water. But what in our water is harmful, and how can we protect ourselves? This article’s summary of the UN environment programme’s review on water contaminants has all you need to know.


Microorganisms (e.g. Viruses and Bacteria)

Impact on Human Health: Can cause stomach problems, fever, and even serious diseases like hepatitis and cancer.

Sources: Human faeces, livestock manure, and wildlife.

How To Fix It: Improve sanitation, treat wastewater better, and reduce exposure (by boiling drinking water for example).


Organic Micropollutants (e.g. Pesticides, Pharmaceuticals and Others)

Impact on Human Health: Disrupts different body processes and can lead to diseases like cancer and diabetes.

Sources: Pesticides, medicines, and chemicals in manufacturing.

How To Fix It: Better control of pesticide use, improved medicine use, and tighter regulation of chemical disposal are needed.



Impact on Human Health: Causes skin, vascular, and nervous system disorders, also increasing the risk of cancer.

Sources: Primarily found in natural sources, but also from mining activities and pesticides.

How To Fix It: Switch to low-arsenic sources where available, or use filtration methods.



Impact on Human Health: Leads to dental and skeletal diseases.

Sources: Mainly from natural sources, with additional contributions from pesticides.

How To Fix It: Transition to low-fluoride sources or employ filtration techniques.



Impact on Human Health: Can contribute to blue baby syndrome.

Sources: Various sources, including manure, sewage, and industrial sludge.

How To Fix It: Improve wastewater treatment, manage manure well, and use water filtration systems.


Heavy Metals (e.g. Lead and Copper)

Impact on Human Health: Poses risks of cancer, toxicity, diarrhoea, and vomiting.

Sources: Manufacturing, agriculture, domestic wastewater, atmospheric deposition, and pipe leakage.

How To Fix It: Reduce heavy metal usage in manufacturing and agriculture and upgrade pipe networks.



Impact on Human Health: Contributes to hypertension, increased risk of (pre)eclampsia, and infant mortality.

Sources: Irrigation return flows, domestic wastewater, and manufacturing activities.

How To Fix It: Improve irrigation management practices and consider desalination.


Plastics (including Microplastics)

Impact on Human Health: Cell damage, inflammation, and disruption of how our bodies use energy.

Sources: Personal care products, clothing fibres, car tyre wear, and macroplastics in waste.

How To Fix It: Mitigation measures for car tyre wear and enhanced solid waste management practices.


Conclusion for Health and Water Quality

The 2015 global burden of disease study attributed 1.8 million deaths to contaminated water from unsafe or untreated sources. Aside from fatalities, water contamination is a cause of numerous non-fatal human diseases.

Understanding the link between water quality and health is essential. This knowledge can drive efforts to keep our water sources free from contamination. The first step in this process should involve water monitoring. Once we identify areas of contamination, we can fix the problem. 


Test for harmful contaminants in your water by ordering a drinking water test today!



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