Assessing the Effects of Water Contamination

by Abel Wolman, (F.ASCE), Prof. Emeritus; School of Engrg. and the School of Hygiene at Johns Hopkins Univ., Baltimore, Md. 21218,

Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 1984, Vol. 54, Issue 4, Pg. 38-41

Document Type: Feature article


The threats to potable water are examined. An assessment of human ill effects of contaminated water requires a knowledge of the quality of water throughout the world and a corresponding record of disabilities from their use. Neither of these sets of data is at hand. In spite of these difficulties, disclosures of ill effects are clear with respect to microbiological or infectious diseases and inorganic chemicals, but less so with organic chemicals. Most inorganic constituents do not appear to present significant human health hazards. Modest continuing investigations are warranted to assure that suspected harmful ingredients do not travel through water. Another difficulty is the extrapolation of test findings on the health effects of toxics on animals to the effects on humans. No simple single test provides an answer. However, technology exists to treat wastewater to any level of quality appropriate for human consumption. It is concluded that organics must be eliminated at their source. Cumulative evidence in the U.S. and abroad demonstrates that such practices may be cost-effective and economical. Receiving bodies of water and drinking water should not be the repository of toxic chemicals.

Subject Headings: Water pollution | Drinking water | Water quality | Human factors | Diseases | Toxicity | Quality control | Microbes

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