Estimated conservatively, up to 50 different contaminates are added to Australian water supplies, with others putting this figure closer to 2,000 when by-products are considered. Staggering though these figures may seem, the chemicals are added for a wide variety of purification and health related reasons, ensuring that water is fit for human consumption.
- Up to 50 chemicals are added to Australia's water supplies for a variety of purification and health purposes.
- The most common of these chemicals are; Chlorine, Fluoride and Aluminium.
- In small amounts the majority of these chemicals cause no harm; however, they can be an issue at more concentrated levels.
Reasons why you may find chemicals in drinking water
“Ideally, drinking water should be, clear, colourless, and well aerated with no unpalatable taste or odours. It should contain no suspended matter, harmful chemical substances or pathogenic micro-organisms”.
- The Australian Drinking Water Guidelines
Whilst there is generally no publicly available data as to the quantities of chemicals found in our water supplies, there are various governments throughout Australian territories that are more open as to what their citizens are consuming, which you can find at the bottom of this article. However, the following chemicals are regularly added for the treatment of your home or workplace's tap water supply:
- Chlorine, which is added to reduce bacteria
- Fluoride, which is added to protect the oral health
- Aluminium, which can be added to help remove harmful solids or pathogens
Chemicals and your health
Chlorine is perhaps the most scrutinised chemical of all when it comes to possible health concerns. In rare cases, consuming this chemical has been found to be linked to several forms of cancer, asthma and heart disease.
Similarly, fluoride has been linked to several conditions affecting the brain and thyroid as well as being associated with a number of behavioural issues. Finally, consuming high amounts of Aluminium has been linked to health issues related to Alzheimer's. To see an extensive range of chemicals and contaminants that might be in your water and what you can do about it click here.
Potential problems with chemical by-products
Many are unaware that it is often the by-products that are created between these chemicals, and during the transition of the water, that pose a more serious threat to our health. Aluminium for example provides particular cause for concern as it can raise the acidity of the water, which in turn results in the water absorbing more significant levels of lead, cadmium, copper and other heavy metals from pipes, which can cause a plethora of side effects.
It’s also worth noting that testing of chemicals found in drinking supplies only happens at the source, and the water that arrives in our homes and businesses could well be very different to the water at its original filtration plant.
This fact can cause two of the more serious water contamination issues:
- Lead – Lead can enter water whilst in transit via corroded pipes and has been found to be linked to learning difficulties, behavioural problems, mental and physical problems, hypertension, strokes and heart disease. Lead poisoning, which is extremely dangerous can sometimes require years before any symptoms are shown – by which point health complications may be irreversible. If you’d like to know what to do if lead is in your water take a look at our article on this contaminant.
- Giardia and Cryptosporidium – These forms of bacterial contamination are commonly responsible for gastro-intestinal diseases and can enter our water supplies where there are issues with sanitation.
Advice on how to remove chemicals from drinking water
Given the sheer number of chemicals in water supplies, being able to monitor and test for each one would be almost impossible and too time consuming. If you have reason to believe that your water is contaminated, whether due to a change in colour, odour or taste, our advice is that you get in touch with your local water service provider. Beyond this, if you’re unhappy with the response received, then you should contact your local authority. Details of which you can find below, dependent upon where you live.
Who to contact if you suspect chemicals in drinking water
The Western Australian Health Department can be contacted on 08 9388 4999.
Northern Australia is a territory with a wide array of public bodies that serve individual regions; visit the Department of Health for the Northern Territory Government website for more information.
For contact details for The Queensland Government Department of Energy and Water Supply, follow this link.
South Australia make a concerted effort to provide in-depth data as to their water treatments; detailed information about this can be found in their 2013-2014 Drinking Water Quality Report. South Australia’s water entities are publicly owned and known as the business entity SA Water, you can contact them via the SA Water contact page.
South Wales adopt a robust approach to the monitoring of all water chemicals, more information on this can be found on the NSW Drinking Water Monitoring Program; you may also contact the NSW Ministry of Health via their contact page.
Victoria has recently revised their Safe Drinking Water Regulations – you can read more about this here. Victoria also undertake an annual report of the water quality throughout the state, download the 2014-2015 report here.
Should you have concerns about your water supply in Victoria, you can contact the government’s dedicated department for their water program on: 1300 761 874 (during business hours); on pager: 1300 790 733 (which is a 24-hour pager service for public health emergencies) or by email: water[at]dhhs.vic.gov.au.