Heavy metal is harmless when you’re talking about music, but not when you are talking about your water. Ingesting heavy metals with your water can be a serious potential health threat. When you consume any heavy metal with your water, it can accumulate in your body, causing cancer and other health risks. These contaminants are not easily detected as they are odorless, tasteless, and colorless.
How Heavy Metals Get in Your Water
Heavy metal contaminants can enter your drinking water from several sources. Some leach into the water through older pipes and plumbing systems. They can also enter water sources from industrial processes as they seep through the ground into aquifers.
As we continue to develop land and increase industrialization, the levels of heavy metals in our water are also increasing. Heavy metals are released into the environment from coal-burning plants, waste incinerators, household plumbing, paints, and other chemical substances. These toxic metals are then transported through industrial, municipal, and urban runoff until they ultimately reach our waterways.
Other heavy metals are released into the environment through naturally occurring processes. For example, arsenic is found in certain geological formations. Over time the arsenic can dissolve into the groundwater, reaching potentially unsafe levels.
Good Metals Versus Bad Metals
Not all of the elements that are classified as heavy metals are considered to be dangerous. Only 17 have been identified as potential health threats. How dangerous a metal is depends on the type, the amount, and how it affects the body.
There are some metals that the body needs for good health, such as copper (Cu), zinc (Zn), and iron (Fe). These metals and others are necessary for vital functions like circulation, reproduction, and respiration. Although there are metals that are essential nutrients for good health, even these metals, at certain amounts, can become toxic to the human body.
Heavy metal toxicity can cause a number of health problems and prolonged illnesses. Reported effects include nervous system damage, stunted growth, slow development, organ damage, cancer, and in extreme cases, even death. For example, exposure to mercury and lead can cause autoimmune disorders, where the immune system begins to attack its own cells. Eventually, this can lead to rheumatoid arthritis, kidney disease, and circulatory and nervous system failure.
The heavy metals linked most often to human poisoning are lead, mercury, arsenic, and cadmium. Other heavy metals, including copper, zinc, and chromium, are actually required by the body in small amounts, but can also be toxic in larger doses. The EPA has set limits on the amounts of heavy metals that are permissible in drinking water.
|Arsenic||Maximum Contaminant Level of 10 parts per billion (PPB)|
|Cadmium||Maximum Contaminant Level of 0.005 milligrams per liter (mg/L)|
|Chromium||Limited to a total of 100 PPB|
|Copper||Non-enforceable health goal of 1.3 PPM|
|Lead||Must not exceed 15 PPB; however, no amount of lead is considered safe, and the Maximum Contaminant Level goal is zero|
|Manganese||Concentration should be at or below 50 PPB|
|Mercury||Maximum Contaminant Level of 0.002 mg/L or 2 PPB|
|Nickel||Does not currently have an EPA enforced limit, but the amount should still be monitored|
Who Is at Risk?
Young children are more prone to become ill from exposure to heavy metals. This is because they consume more water for their body weight than adults, so toxicity can happen much quicker. Babies and children are at risk because their developing organs and systems are more sensitive and can easily be damaged. Exposure at a young age can cause learning disabilities, memory problems, behavioral problems, and hyperactivity. In extreme cases, heavy metals have been reported to cause irreversible brain damage.
Testing for Heavy Metals
Whether you have tap water or municipal water, it may contain trace amounts of heavy metals. It is important to know if there are heavy metals in your water because these contaminants can pose a serious health threat. It is recommended that you test your water for heavy metals frequently, especially if you have older metal pipes or live in an industrial area.
There are a number of tests available that will show you if your water contains these potentially dangerous contaminants. Depending on your needs, you can choose from an at-home test kit or a mail-away laboratory test kit.
At-home test kits typically use test strips that are dipped into a water sample, allowing you to test your water at home, school, or the office. The test strips use chemical reagents to show the presence of heavy metals. When free metal ions from heavy metals are present, they react with the reagent causing the strip to change color. The more metal ions that are present, the darker the color change on the strip.
Test strips are an easy, safe, and economical way to test for the presence of heavy metals in your water. Simply follow the instructions and then compare the developed test strip to the color-coded chart to determine the levels of heavy metal in your water.
While at-home water test kits are a quick and affordable way to assess your water quality, you can get more precise results if you opt for a laboratory water test kit. Typically, these kits include everything you need to gather water samples and send them to a certified lab for testing. All you need to do is fill the supplied vials with your water samples according to the testing instructions and then mail the samples to the lab. Once the lab receives your water samples, they will perform tests specifically engineered to identify the presence of heavy metals.
Know What Heavy Metals Are in Your Water
The presence of heavy metal contaminants in your water is hard to detect because they are colorless, odorless and tasteless. The best way to know what is in your water is to test it. Whether you decide to perform your water tests yourself or have your water analyzed by a certified lab, TestAssured can help you keep your family safe from heavy metals. Our at-home test kit is an affordable option for quick results. While our lab test kits may take a little longer for your results, you’ll know exactly what is in your water with our certified lab’s analysis. All of our test kits are neatly packaged with clear instructions and will provide you with important details about your water quality.