Skip to content

    Everyday Toxins

    Can you name something we depend on each day for our health and well-being that can also serve as the source of more than 100 harmful substances? Answer: everyday drinking water.


    It’s difficult to come up with a comprehensive list of potentially toxic substances found in ordinary, everyday drinking water. That’s because there are literally thousands of potential toxins and toxic sources. Every year, approximately 150 million tons of solid waste are dumped into our nation’s 7,500 municipal landfills. Over time, toxins found in this solid waste can make their way down into the groundwater and eventually pass over into our drinking supply. Waste incinerators, manufacturing waste, and use of treated sewage sludge as an agricultural fertilizer are other common sources for toxic contamination of our drinking water.

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets standards — and routinely monitors — over 80 different toxic substances commonly found in our drinking water. Many of these substances are common agricultural pesticides, like alachlor, atrazine, or lindane. Others are heavy metals, like cadmium or lead. Also found are plastics like styrene or vinyl chloride. More than 1,000 potentially toxic substances have been found in drinking water from water supplies throughout the United States, and some toxins, like the pesticide atrazine, are found in virtually all city and county-regulated water supplies.

    What you can do about all of these toxins is quite simple: you can choose your drinking water carefully, and treat it as an all-important aspect of your diet when it comes to quality. Even if you live in a region where watersheds are fairly clean, you are likely to need some type of home water-filtering system, unless you’d prefer to buy high-quality bottled water. We like solid-block carbon filters (especially the kind that can be installed under the sink). Reverse osmosis filters are also an excellent way to achieve high-quality drinking water.

    When it comes to bottled water, we like natural mineral and spring waters (especially those bottled in glass rather than plastic). When water is allowed to naturally percolate down through the soil, it can pick up substantial amounts of many minerals, including minerals like calcium and magnesium that we often have difficulty optimizing in our diet. For this same reason, we typically avoid distilled water, because too many of these beneficial minerals get removed during the distilling process.

    For more complete information about drinking water contaminants, click here.


    1. Environmental Working Group. (2005). A National Assessment of Tap Water Quality. National Tap Water Quality Database. December 2005 Report. Available online here.
    2. Lubick, N. Emerging DBPs in drinking water. Environ Sci Technol. 2006 Dec 1; 40(23):7112-3.
    3. Manassaram, D. M.; Backer, L. C., and Moll, D. M. A review of nitrates in drinking water: maternal exposure and adverse reproductive and developmental outcomes. Environ Health Perspect. 2006 Mar; 114(3):320-7.
    4. Rodriguez-Mozaz, S.; de Alda, M. J., and Barcelo, D. Monitoring of estrogens, pesticides and bisphenol A in natural waters and drinking water treatment plants by solid-phase extraction-liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. J Chromatogr A. 2004 Aug 6; 1045(1-2):85-92.
    5. Sinclair, C. J.; Boxall, A. B.; Parsons, S. A., and Thomas, M. R. Prioritization of pesticide environmental transformation products in drinking water supplies. Environ Sci Technol. 2006 Dec 1; 40(23):7283-9.
    6. Squillace, P. J.; Scott, J. C.; Moran, M. J.; Nolan, B. T., and Kolpin, D. W. VOCs, pesticides, nitrate, and their mixtures in groundwater used for drinking water in the United States. Environ Sci Technol. 2002 May 1; 36(9):1923-30.
    7. Thacker, P. D. Pollutants persist in drinking water. Environ Sci Technol. 2005 Feb 1; 39(3):58A-59A.
    8. Vieira, V.; Aschengrau, A., and Ozonoff, D. Impact of tetrachloroethylene-contaminated drinking water on the risk of breast cancer: using a dose model to assess exposure in a case-control study. Environ Health. 2005; 4(1):3.

    Related Topics:

    Technorati Tags: , , ,


      The opinions expressed in WebMD Second Opinion are solely those of the User, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. These opinions do not represent the opinions of WebMD. Second Opinion are... Expand

      URAC Seal TRUSTe TAG Registered Seal HONcode Seal AdChoices