Skip to main content

Other Contaminants

In addition to bacteria, nitrate, VOCs and pesticides, the following list briefly describes other potential contaminants that may affect your drinking water.

Arsenic is a naturally occurring element found in rock and soil throughout nature. It is also used commercially in alloying agents, wood preservatives and pesticides. The most common source of arsenic in drinking water is a result of minerals dissolving from eroded rocks and soils, but can also occur from contact with industrial waste. Drinking water containing arsenic can cause adverse health effects. Long-term exposure to arsenic at levels above health standards may increase the risk of several types of cancer. Arsenic has no smell or taste; therefore, the only way to detect it is to test for it.

Visit the following links for more information on arsenic:

For more detailed information about arsenic in Illinois, visit the following online report: USGS Water-Resources Investigations Report 03-4103 – Arsenic in Illinois Ground Water Community and Private Supplies, includes information (sources and concentrations) and maps regarding arsenic in Illinois (12 pages, 2003).

Common and naturally occuring properties – hardness, sulfates, iron, chlorides, pH (acidity and alkalinity), total dissolved solids and hydrogen sulfide

The Illinois State Water Survey's Public Service Laboratory offers a FREE water analysis test that may include the following: calcium, magnesium, iron, sodium, hardness, total dissolved solids, alkalinity, color, turbidity, fluoride, chloride, nitrate, and sulfate. Visit the Public Service Laboratory's web site for more information on water treatment, testing and quality.

Iron is an abundant element making up at least 5 percent of the Earth's crust. Iron seeps into groundwater by rainwater dissolving the mineral. Although iron is not hazardous to health, it is considered an aesthetic problem. At high concentrations it can cause an unpleasant stain (reddish brown), taste or odor.

Lead was once widely used in household plumbing materials and water lines. This highly toxic metal is especially hazardous to babies and children because it tends to accumulate within the body and affects the central nervous system. Since lead contamination can go unnoticed due to it not having a taste or smell, it is important to test for it especially if your home has lead pipes (homes built before 1986 are more likely to have lead plumbing materials).

Visit the following web sites for more information on lead:

Protozoa – Giardiasis is a disease that is caused from water contaminated by Giardia lamblia, a protozoan parasite. This disease causes chronic diarrhea and can be treated with prescription drugs. Although giardiasis is not a common disease, it can be spread easily by hand-to-mouth transfer (improper hand-washing techniques) or by drinking contaminated water.

Radium – This naturally occurring radioactive element is found primarily in the northern third of Illinois within the deep rocks, soil, and groundwater. The presence of radium in groundwater supplies occurs normally within the deep bedrock aquifers, as opposed to surface water or shallow aquifers. Radium has been detected in private wells and can only be identified through testing of the water.

Visit the following web sites for more information on radium:

Radon is a radioactive gas that is invisible, odorless and tasteless. Although it is more common to be exposed to radon through indoor air pollution, as opposed to drinking it in your water, it is still a hazard. Testing is the only way to identify radon, and it is easy and inexpensive.

Visit the following web sites for more information on radon:

Sulfur and Sulfate – Sulfur (hydrogen sulfide) gas is the "rotten-egg" odor that is found in some well water. It also causes yellow or black stains and deposits. There are no health effects from drinking water containing sulfur, although death can occur when persons are overcome with the gas in confined areas. The sulfate mineral is commonly found in well water and when found in concentrations greater than 500 mg/L, it can cause a bitter taste and a laxative effect, which could lead to other problems such as dehydration. Considering that the sulfur gas is readily identifiable, testing is not always required. However, you may want to test for sulfate.