Many people don’t realize that water contamination and water scarcity aren’t limited to third-world countries. In 2015, nearly 21 million Americans drank from contaminated community water systems; contaminated water sources have only continued to increase since then. The Flint, Michigan water crisis is something many Americans are familiar with, a crisis that has yet to be resolved and has caused people living in that area to resort to drinking and bathing only in bottled water. Rural areas are impacted more often than urban areas, but any community can be impacted by water contamination.

Water contamination can result in several illnesses. Familiarizing yourself with the signs of unsafe drinking water and knowing what precautionary measures to take can help keep you healthy.

Signs of water contamination

Sometimes water appears brown in appearance. This is a sign of rust build-up in pipes and is usually resolved by allowing the water to run for a few minutes until it clears up. If the water does not clear up, it could be contaminated. Other times, brownish stains or mineral build-up might appear in sinks or tubs. Stains are a sign of high iron, calcium, or magnesium levels. Occasionally, contaminated water might develop an unusual taste. Metallic-tasting water might have iron or magnesium in the water. Salty-tasting water might have sodium in the water. Low levels of any of these contaminants are safe to drink for short periods of time, but higher levels or prolonged exposure could be problematic.

Finally, water can also develop unpleasant smells. Water that smells like rotten eggs indicates a sulfur problem. Sulfur is harmless but the smell does make it hard to drink. The most concerning smells are when water smells like gas or mold. A gas-like smell indicates that there is fuel in the water, which is extremely dangerous to drink. A moldy smell indicates that there is bacteria growth in the water.

Illnesses from water contamination

Sometimes, you might not be aware that your water is contaminated until you start showing signs of illness. Not all contaminants have a smell or taste. Plenty of people drink clear water that smells and tastes normal, only to discover the water was tainted after they start showing signs of illness. Most contaminated water causes gastrointestinal problems, such as cramping, diarrhea, and vomiting. Many people assume that they have some sort of stomach virus. Eventually, these gastrointestinal problems can lead to dehydration. In extreme cases, contaminated water can lead to death.



Contaminants that can be found in tainted water include (but aren’t limited to): E. coli, fecal matter, parasites, chemicals, lead, and Radon. Prolonged exposure to a contaminant such as Radon can lead to cancer and heart problems. Individuals that suffer from prolonged or repeated gastrointestinal problems need to visit their doctor. It could be a sign that they’re drinking from a contaminated water source. Doctors will either do a blood test or stool test to determine what the cause of the gastrointestinal problems are. Visiting a doctor early enough can prevent dehydration and other serious complications.

Ensuring safe drinking water

A water filtration systems such as a zero water filter is an easy way to begin filtering out unwanted minerals and other contaminants from your water. Most water filters can get rid of chlorine, drugs, chemicals, heavy metals, and other organic materials. Even if water doesn’t contain contaminants, a filtration system can improve the overall taste of water. Water filtration systems come in a variety of styles. Some families opt for whole house water filters, while others get systems that attach to their faucets or use a filtered water pitcher.

Most fridges that have internal water dispensers already have a filtration system. For most American households, water filtration is sufficient when it comes to getting rid of contaminants. In some instances, however, a water filter is not enough. If water is severely contaminated with toxins, people might need to purchase distilled water until the contaminated water source is fixed. Most towns and cities will send out an announcement if water contamination is getting so severe that toxins cannot be filtered out with a water filtration system.

In summary

Many American households don’t realize they’re drinking contaminated water until they start having gastrointestinal problems. Installing and maintaining a water filtration system can help get rid of contaminants before they make you sick. If you’re having gastrointestinal problems and you think it might be related to your water, don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor.