I want to drink clean water

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Lithuanian water is recognised as one of the highest quality and cleanest in Europe. We are proud to be one of the few countries where water comes from groundwater instead of surface water sources. Our water is naturally replenished with minerals from chemical compounds in the ground, making it natural, odourless, colourless and delicious. According to Lithuanian water research experts, water from Lithuanian water sources can be drunk directly from the tap without the need for additional filtration, boiling or other treatment,

Due to Lithuania’s intensive economic and industrial activity, increasing urbanisation, especially in large cities, and slow renovation of water supply systems, the quality of drinking water from some water points is deteriorating. Excess iron, chlorine or other compounds, impurities of nitrates and ammonium ions are found.

The most common causes of drinking water pollution are:

  • Outdated water supply system: old and worn out pipes lead to iron compounds in the water.
  • In large cities, in areas of newly built individual houses, where people install their own water boreholes (wells), and in areas of intensive industrial activity and high traffic flows, soil contamination is increased.
  • In homesteads and rural areas, water is also used from self-drilled wells. The problem is that they are installed in inappropriate locations (close to dwellings, outbuildings and sheds) and the well water is contaminated with nitrogenous substances that are dangerous to health.
  • The water used is spring water, which, according to experts, is probably in the worst condition in Lithuania due to agricultural and industrial activities.

How can I check if my water is contaminated?

If the tap water is constantly turning brownish in colour, it should be checked for rust. Rust is formed when iron compounds react with water and oxygen. Take a white paper towel or paper napkin, put it in a funnel and filter the water through it. If a brownish residue remains on the paper towel and the water becomes clearer, your water sample contains excess iron and impurities of iron compounds.

Tap the water. If you feel that the water has a salty taste, it may contain excess chloride.

Smell the water. If you smell a pungent odour like boiled eggs, your water sample probably contains sulphates (sulphur compounds). Ammonium ion pollutants can also cause unpleasant smells. This is usually found in wells near outbuildings, sheds and toilets.

Microbiological water pollution is caused by micro-organisms such as bacteria and protozoa that are common in the water supply. Place the water sample in a light and warm place. Micro-organisms multiply quickly under favourable conditions, so that after a few days the water will turn brown or scratchy, sediment will appear and you will see foam fragments on the surface.   The water will have an unpleasant smell as it will turn brown. The water will contain the metabolic products of micro-organisms.

Unfortunately, the only way to find out if your water is contaminated with nitrates and excess fluoride is to have it tested by a water testing laboratory. These elements are easily soluble and do not give the water any taste or smell.

Threats from contaminated water

Chloride is a trace element and is essential for our bodies. Chloride ions are involved in water metabolism, maintain the osmotic pressure of body fluids, are involved in the production of hydrochloric acid in the cells of the stomach lining, and are bactericidal. Cl- activates amylase, which breaks down starch. Excess can cause nausea, diarrhoea, weakness, difficulty in breathing.

Fluoride. When fluoride levels in drinking water exceed the limit of 1.5 mg/l, excess fluoride can cause fluorosis. When fluoride levels are below 0.5 mg/l, the risk of developing caries increases. Excessive fluoride leads to changes in tooth enamel, hardening of bones and ossification of cartilage.

Nitrates. Nitrate derivatives that enter the human bloodstream through the digestive tract via water and food block the transport of oxygen to the tissues, and may even lead to death in infants and young children (blue baby syndrome). In children and adolescents, constant exposure to nitrates slows down physical and mental development, weakens the immune system, and makes children sicker.

The susceptibility to nitrates and nitrites is increased in the elderly, in patients with cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, anaemias, drinkers of alcoholic beverages, etc., where tissues require a higher oxygen content. In summary, nitrate poisoning is similar to alcohol poisoning in its effects on the body, although the consequences are not immediately apparent. People who consistently consume nitrate-contaminated water are also at increased risk of cancer.

Sulphates. It is not dangerous to our bodies, but its unpleasant odour makes it unpalatable for drinking and domestic use. Too much of it in water can lead to unpleasant consequences: laxative, dehydrating and irritating to the digestive system.

Ammonium compounds and microbiological pollution. Elevated ammonium levels in water can signal increased bacteriological contamination or decay. Water contaminated with ammonium compounds has an unpleasant taste and odour, so you may not want to drink it, but there is a high probability that micro-organisms dangerous to human health are present in such water. They can cause intestinal infections such as cholera, legionellosis, botulism, dysentery and other very dangerous infections.

How can you protect yourself from this?

Improving water quality can be done at home. Here are some useful tips on how you can do this:

Water filters can clean water contaminated with iron compounds. Just remember to consult a professional before buying and installing a water filter at home. Of course, you can also try the easy way by letting the water settle or boiling it.

If you suspect that your water is contaminated with ammonium ions or micro-organisms, be sure to boil it before use.

Keep an eye on the news to see if there have been any chemical spills, other accidents, or any elevated or abnormal levels of chemicals in your drinking water near where you live.

Before installing a water borehole (well), consult a specialist to choose the most suitable location. It is recommended to locate the well away from outbuildings, toilets and sewage systems. Always keep the well covered to prevent the ingress of rainwater, rubbish or other contaminants.

Have your water tested regularly by a water testing laboratory.

Sources of information used:

https://www.vanduo.lt/naujienos/fluorido-aptinkamo-vandenyje-poveikis-sveikatai/

https://anteja.lt/cl-chloridu-koncentracija

https://agavita.lt/nitratai-vandenyje-ju-poveikis-salinimas/

Authors: Agnė Matolionytė and Otilija Smelevičiūtė