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Mercury in Your Drinking Water: FAQs

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Our drinking water supply is so much better, so much safer than it was 100 years ago.

Nowadays we know the possible contaminants that can make us sick from unclean water and we have identified the agricultural chemicals that spoil our water supply. Lets not forget the waste products that some companies dump in our water supplies as well!

But one contaminant which doesn’t get much exposure but can be found in our rivers and reservoirs is Mercury, an element known as a notorious ecological and health hazard.

What is Mercury?

Mercury is one of the most harmful substances present in the environment.

It naturally occurs in the earth’s crust in the form of compounds found in ores, and has important industrial applications. However, various industrial activities have brought about mercury pollution that at times affect the water supply.

How did it get into your drinking water?

How it gets into your drinking water can be a complicated discussion…but basically Mercury in its metallic or inorganic form usually comes from the following activities:

  • Natural deposits
  • Refineries
  • Landfills
  • Mining areas
  • Coal plants
  • Farms

Who is responsible?

It begins with a number of industrial activities such as running coal plants, incineration of hospital waste, or manufacture of cement. These activities release mercury into the atmosphere, where it mixes with other gases in the atmosphere which results in it being present in rain or snow. Then runoff water takes it to rivers and catchments.

When factories and laboratories don’t manage their waste appropriately, they can also leak mercury into the environment.

Farmers may also contribute to mercury pollution through using certain fungicides.

YOU may also be unconsciously contributing to this through wrong disposal of these common household items:

  • batteries
  • fluorescent bulbs
  • electronic devices
  • old gas pressure regulators
  • paint
  • old TVs
  • mercury thermometers

You can find all of the above in landfills, posing hazard to the environment, groundwater supply, streams, and water catchments.

How much Mercury is safe?

Safe maximum level of mercury in drinking water is 0.001 mg/L. According to National Health and Medical Research Council, average concentration of mercury in community water supply is 0.0001 mg/L.

State-owned water companies monitor levels of chemical contaminants, including mercury, in community water supply to make sure they pass Australian Drinking Water Guidelines.

What are the health risks of drinking mercury in water?

Without getting too complex Mercury found in community water supply can lead to damaged kidneys if consumed in large amount and it generally occurs with a major environmental or waste disaster.

It is actually more common for people to get Mercury poisoning by eating Mercury contaminated fish than by drinking water. WHY? Well a more dangerous form of Mercury is organic in nature. It’s called methylmercury. Bacteria producing this toxin is consumed by fish and the bacteria and the toxin build up in their bodies. Next thing we are catching them and serving them up on plates.

Mercury Cycle

What does the Australian Government do to keep YOUR water safe?

The Australian Drinking Water Guidelines require all states to ensure safe levels of Mercury and its compounds in the community water supply. In case, significant levels of Mercury are detected, residents in the affected areas should be notified immediately, and they should be provided with alternative, safe drinking water supply to mitigate health risks.

What can you do at home to reduce chances of drinking Mercury?

The problem with state policy is that it may take time before high levels of Mercury can be detected, considering monitoring is not done daily or weekly. You may already have consumed tap water that has a lot toxin in it without your knowledge.

Mercury is a highly toxic metal, and it can accumulate in your body through frequent consumption of contaminated water or food, slowly damaging your kidneys.

The solution is to install the correct and advanced water filter at home to clean your water. Mercury can be removed through coagulation, granular activated carbon filtration, and reverse osmosis.

Coagulation chiefly uses aluminum sulfate to bind Mercury, forming a sludge that can be easily filtered out. This is cheap and fairly effective.

Granular activated carbon filtration is effective in removing chemicals from water, including inorganic and organic mercury.

A more effective way to make sure your tap water is Mercury-free is reverse osmosis. This is passing water through membranes with very tiny holes, small enough for H2O molecules only, leaving out other substances. Many advanced water filters feature reverse osmosis capabilities.

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