Drinking contaminated water or using it for personal and domestic hygiene is a major cause of bad health for people in developing countries. By far, the most water-related health problems are a result of biological contamination of the water. Besides biological contamination, chemical contamination of water sources can also cause serious health problems.
Drinking biologically contaminated water is a very significant route of transmission for many waterborne diseases. But these diseases may also be transmitted via other routes such as eating food that is contaminated during preparation (inadequate food washing, using contaminated tools and surfaces). Also eating with contaminated hands is a common transmission route. It is thus very important that people do not only have access to safe water for direct consumption, but also for personal and domestic hygiene.
Contaminated water can contain many different types of disease-causing micro-organisms, including:
Bacterial diseases such as typhoid fever, cholera, bacterial dysentery, shigellosis and gasteroenteritis.
Viral diseases such as coronaviruses, viral gasteroenteritis (e.g. rotavirus), hepatitis A and E, polio.
Single celled parasites (protozoa - when dormant to survive harsh conditions also referred to as cysts) causing diarrheal diseases such a amoebic dysentery, giardiasis and cryptosporidiosis.
Parasitic worms (helminths) such as dracunculiasis (Guinea worm), schistosomiasis (bilharzia) and ascariasis.
It is very difficult and time-consuming to test for all diseases separately. Luckily, as the source of these pathogens is usually human faeces, the comparatively easy testing methods for the presence of faecal contamination can generally provide a good indication towards the presence of pathogenic organisms. Usually ‘coliforms’, a group of bacteria found in human and animal feaces and in soil, are measured. The result for ‘total coliforms’ includes all bacteria in this group and indicates contamination of some sort but not whether the contamination is actually from ‘faecal coliforms’. Escheria coli, or E. coli is a specific type of faecal coliform that is found in the faeces of humans and other warm-blooded animals. When found in a water sample it indicates the possible presence of pathogenic organisms, whereas its absence indicates that the chance of pathogens being present is negligible. [Note that E. coli is only a good indicator, but its absence does not fully guarantee that the water is safe.]
Besides biological contamination, also chemical contamination can seriously damage health, primarily through chronic exposure (except for nitrate, where short-term exposure can already cause serious issues). There are thousands of chemical substances that could cause health problems. Fortunately only a relatively small number are likely to pose a real threat in drinking water.
Specifically, there are three chemicals of particular concern as they occur over widespread areas and have the potential to cause serious health problems: arsenic and fluoride, which can occur naturally, and nitrate, which is widely applied as a fertilizer. These 3 contaminants are more often found in groundwater, but surface water can also be impacted.
More information on water contamination, as well as guideline values listed by the WHO for drinking water quality, can for example be found here, here and here.
Filtraide supplies standardized water purification and filtration equipment to remove the most common contaminants from virtually any source and can also provide tailor made solutions to tackle specific issues according to your needs.