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Chemicals in Drinking Water

By: Helena Stratford - Updated: 10 Dec 2012 | comments*Discuss
Drinking Water Drinking Water Chemicals

In the UK we enjoy some of the highest quality drinking water in the world, but in order to get it so clean; various chemicals first need to be added. These chemicals cause some scientists to worry that a gradual accumulation of small amounts may eventually serve to damage our health.

So what are these chemicals and what can we do about them?


Aluminium is one of the most common metals found in the Earth’s crust and so is consequently found naturally in our lakes and rivers. However it also makes an extremely effective water purifier, so water companies use it to help kill harmful bacteria and improve the quality, taste, and appearance of the water.

Even so, there has been some circumstantial evidence to suggest that aluminium may play a part in the deterioration of brain cells and consequential dementia in humans, such as might cause the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

Although there is no direct proof that aluminium can be linked with Alzheimer’s, there is nevertheless concern about the amount we absorb from our drinking water.


Approximately 10% of the UK – about six million people - has fluoride added to their drinking water as a means of helping to prevent tooth decay. However this measure has been extremely controversial due to some dental practitioners disputing the traditional belief that fluoridisation helps protect teeth, and stating that it could even do more harm than good.

The row over fluoride is a particularly robust one as fluoride is treated as a toxic substance in many other countries and banned from being added to drinking water. High exposure to fluoride has also been linked to cancers, hip fractures, birth defects, and kidney problems as well as fluorosis in teeth.


Chlorine is used in the purification process of our drinking water to help disinfect it, killing pathogens, and preventing water-borne diseases such as cholera and polio. However, it is also a powerful chemical and the subject of much scientific debate as to whether the adverse health effects it might cause outweigh its usefulness as a disinfectant.

Exposure to chlorine can have many side effects including skin reactions and stinging eyes with some scientists believing it also contributes to a hardening of the arteries. They say that adding it to our drinking water could lead to plaque build-up, coronary problems, and strokes in some people.

There is also an additional concern that a side-effect of adding chlorine to our drinking water could cause cancer. When chlorine is added, it will bind with some organic matter to produce toxic trihalomethanes (THMs), which have been shown to act as carcinogens. Although these are found in limited amounts in our drinking water, they are still deemed to be dangerous to our health in some scientific and environmental quarters.

Other Chemicals

There has also been recent concern over chemicals which are not deliberately added to our drinking water but which might accidentally find their way into it.

Traces of toxins from fertilisers, toiletry products, and medicines are often found in water which goes for purification by the water treatment companies but doubts have been raised as to whether the process is able to filter out all the chemicals. Some reports have raised alarm bells that elements of pharmaceutical drugs have been found in tap water which could be detrimental to our health.

What Can You Do?

If you are at all worried about your drinking water, then investing in a water filter will help to ease your mind. It will reduce the amount of chemicals the water contains and also improve its look, odour and possibly taste.

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