When the Environmental Working Group (EWA) came out with its report about tap water contaminated with the carcinogen chromium-6, Phoenix was on the list with the highest average level among major cities.
The EWA found chromium-6 — a chemical that’s linked to certain types of cancer — in 79 out of 80 samples they took in Phoenix. If you’re wondering why chromium-6 sounds familiar, it’s the chemical at the center of the “Erin Brockovich” film.
Chromium-6 is one example of a water-borne contaminant that can affect your health — but it’s not the only contaminant found in Arizona’s tap water. Though your utility company will generally process water to remove most major contaminants, the process isn’t perfect. In rare cases, harmful chemicals and contaminants can bypass this filtration and make their way into your tap water, making it unsafe for consumption.
Fortunately, as the co-author of the EWA study points out, you can use a water filtration system to stay safe. Curious which water-borne illnesses a water filter can help prevent? Check out these 8 water-borne illnesses caused by contaminants found in Arizona’s untreated water.
Giardiasis is a water-borne illness caused by the Giardia parasite. The main symptoms of giardiasis are diarrhea, gas, stomach cramps and nausea. Most people show symptoms one to three weeks after infection, and it usually lasts for several weeks.
In 2019, there have been 57 cases of giardiasis in Arizona reported by the Arizona Department of Health Services.*
The Entamoeba histolytica parasite causes amebiasis, which you can contract from drinking or eating contaminated water or food. Not everyone who gets the infection will show symptoms, but if you do, they include diarrhea and stomach cramps or pain. Symptoms usually appear two to four weeks after infection.
There have been seven cases of amebiasis in Arizona in 2019.*
Legionellosis is caused by Legionella pneumophila bacteria in contaminated water. Also known as Legionnaires’ disease, this is a serious infection with symptoms of fever, coughing, diarrhea, muscle aches and headaches. The symptoms can show up two to 10 days after infection.
A total of 41 cases have been reported in Arizona during 2019.*
4. Adenovirus Infections
If you’ve ever had pink eye or bronchitis, you’ve been infected with Adenoviridae viruses. Adenovirus infections can spread through contaminated water. Since the viruses can cause a variety of diseases such as the common cold and pneumonia, the symptoms also vary.
It’s difficult to separate adenovirus infections caused by touching a contaminated surface or drinking water, so the Arizona Department of Health Services doesn’t publish the case totals.
5. Viral Gastroenteritis
Another name for viral gastroenteritis is the stomach flu. This infection comes from calicivirus, but water isn’t the only way it spreads. Since it can also come from food and other infected people, the Arizona Department of Health Services doesn’t publish how many people have it. Typical symptoms are diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea and fever.
Sometimes chlorine can’t kill everything. The Cryptosporidium parasite that causes cryptosporidiosis is one example of a contaminant chlorine won’t eliminate from water. Symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, fever, stomach pain and cramps, weight loss and nausea.
A total of 52 cases have been reported in Arizona during 2019.*
It’s hard to miss the Salmonella bacteria recalls that seem to happen every week for a different food product, but Salmonella can also get into your drinking water. This bacteria causes salmonellosis, which has symptoms of diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps.
In 2019, a total of 317 cases of salmonellosis were reported in Arizona.*
The Shigella bacteria cause shigellosis and can spread through water. Symptoms usually appear one to two days after infection. They include diarrhea, stomach cramps and fever, though some people don’t show any symptoms.
The Arizona Department of Health Services reported 117 cases for 2019.*
Other Tap Water Contaminants
Though water-borne illnesses caused by bacteria and viruses are the most obvious risk associated with drinking unfiltered water, it isn’t the only contaminant worth worrying about. There are risks associated with other tap water contaminants and chemicals, including:
- Chlorine: Although chlorine helps disinfect tap water, too much chlorine is linked to higher rates of certain types of cancer, including bladder, rectal and breast cancers.
- Pharmaceuticals: Drugs can enter drinking water when people don’t dispose of them properly. Studies aren’t clear how this can impact your health, but researchers are aware that it can harm aquatic organisms.
- Heavy metals: Lead and mercury are two examples of heavy metals you may find in contaminated drinking water. Heavy metals can have a wide range of health effects, from neurological damage to cancers.
- Chromium-6: As the EWA report pointed out, chromium-6 in tap water is linked to certain types of cancer.
Water-Borne Illnesses in Arizona: A Growing Problem
Water-borne illnesses are more common in Arizona because of multiple reasons. First, drinking water sources in the state often allow recreational uses such as swimming. This increases the risk of contamination and disease.
Second, Arizona is working on reclaiming wastewater and reusing it, but there are no federal regulations that outline its safety. Third, Arizona allows rainwater collection in individual households, which can be contaminated.
Finally, climate change is having a dramatic impact on Arizona, and Phoenix is already the second fastest-warming city in the country. Studies have shown that higher temperatures lead to more water-borne diseases.
How a Water Filter Can Keep You and Your Family Safe
Though water-borne illnesses caused by tap water contaminants can wreak havoc on your health, there are plenty of ways to protect yourself. One of the easiest ways to remove these contaminants from your water is to invest in a quality water filter.
There are many different types of water filters, from combined water softeners and filters to on-demand whole home water filters. Your selection should depend on your needs and overall water consumption. However, UV filters are best equipped to remove contaminants like bacteria and viruses, whereas a reverse osmosis water filter is best for heavy metals and harmful chemicals like chromium 6.
For help choosing the right water filter for your needs, contact the Clear Water team. With over three decades of experience serving Arizona homeowners, we understand the unique demands of our state’s tap water and how to make your home’s water safe for drinking.
* Total number of cases are based on data gathered in June 2019. Totals may change as new cases are reported following publication of this article.