What Are Some of the Most Harmful Contaminants in Water

There are many harmful substances found in the water supply across the U.S. These contaminants include lead, biological compounds and bacteria, as well as toxic chemicals. Water contamination refers to any foreign bodies that exist in water other than water molecules. While some contaminants are harmless, there are, unfortunately, many harmful substances in the water we drink and use every day. Some can cause serious illnesses, long-term health complications, or death. 

Government agencies, like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), investigate the parties that cause or contribute to water contamination, like corporations, polluting industries, and government institutions. If you or your loved one suffered an illness from water contamination, you have legal options. 

Types of Harmful Contaminants in Water 

There are four main water contaminants found in our water supplies. In each category, you will find both harmful substances and those that don’t have an impact on the environment or people’s health. According to the EPA, the four types of water contaminants are:

Physical Water Contaminants

These contaminants affect how the water looks or feels. Physical water contaminants include sediment, soil, and organic material, like leaves and seaweed. You can find physical contaminants in freshwater sources we may use, such as lakes and rivers. 

Typically, physical water contaminants are filtered out of the water. But consuming water with these contaminants can cause acute illnesses in some cases.

Chemical Water Contaminants

Chemical water contaminants aren’t always easy to spot, and many are undetectable until the water is tested. Some chemical contaminants are natural elements, while others are unnatural substances, like runoff, industrial solvents, or pollution.  

Biological Water Contaminants

Biological water contaminants, also known as microbes, are what we consider to be “germs.” Some examples include bacteria, viruses, and parasites. In many cases, these appear naturally in water sources due to environmental changes or events. But some can appear when biological pollution or waste is not properly disposed of.

Radiological Water Contaminants

Radiological water contamination comes from radiological material and waste that pollute the water. Accidents or poor waste management at radioactive energy sites can be a source of radiological water contamination.

Most Harmful Contaminants Found in Water

There are many naturally occurring or other foreign substances in our water supplies that don’t have any effect on our health or the environment. Yet, there are also plenty of toxic water contaminants. 

Some of the most common harmful substances found in water include:

  • Lead
  • Copper
  • Fluoride (which can be harmful in large quantities and over long periods)
  • Chlorine
  • Arsenic
  • Nitrate
  • Mercury
  • Radioactive substances, like uranium, radium, and radon
  • Bacteria, viruses, and other microbes

The most dangerous types of water contaminants are known as “emerging contaminants.” This term refers to water contaminants that threaten human health, but researchers don’t understand the full extent of the potential damage. That makes it harder for policymakers to regulate the substances that produce these contaminants and protect our communities.

Emerging Contaminants Endanger People, the Environment, and More 

Here are some emerging contaminants that cause serious health effects and what we know about them:

Per-and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)

Also known as “forever chemicals,” PFAS refer to incredibly toxic chemical substances and compounds that take a long time to break down. Since it takes so long for these compounds to break down, they can continue to contaminate water supplies indefinitely. 

Some examples can be found in industrial products, like firefighter foam. They can also be found in commercial and consumer products. 


Pharmaceuticals generally enter the water supply through human waste as the body does not absorb every compound or substance. Another way pharmaceuticals can end up in our water is if people incorrectly dispose of leftover medications, such as by flushing them down the toilet. 

The chemical compounds in pharmaceuticals can contaminate water, even after it’s been processed and filtered. This contamination can spread to other bodies of water and affect other sizeable populations. Researchers do not fully know the extent to which pharmaceuticals in the water supply could have adverse effects. 

Endocrine Disrupting Compounds (EDCs)

EDCs are chemical compounds and substances that can affect the endocrine systems in the body, also known as the hormone systems. Like pharmaceuticals, EDCs can enter the water supply in many different ways, from human waste to manufacturing pollution to natural occurrences.

Water contaminated with EDCs is becoming increasingly common across the U.S. If someone is exposed to EDCs over an extended period, there could be long-term damage to the hormonal system and many other physiological systems.

Personal Care Products (PCPs)

Personal care products include the materials, chemicals, and physical compounds found in soaps, scrubs, lotions, and fragrances. These can enter the water supply while we take a shower, wash our hands, brush our teeth, wash dishes, do laundry, and more.

How Harmful Is Water Contamination?

Water contaminants can affect the body in many different ways. As previously mentioned, some contaminants have little to no effect on human health. Others can quickly show their effects through acute illnesses. For example, some bacteria and viruses in water can cause diarrhea, cholera, dysentery, and other acute and/or treatable illnesses.

Some of the most toxic and harmful water contaminants, however, have long-term effects, like chronic illnesses, disabilities, developmental issues, and hard-to-cure or incurable diseases, like cancer.

Water contamination is also bad for the environment. Not only do wild plants, animals, and habitats suffer in some cases, our communities suffer, too. Homeowners may experience property damage to their land, animals, and the features of their home, depending on the type of contamination. The farms that grow our food can suffer damage, yielding produce that’s inherently unsafe for consumption. 

Water Contamination Cases in the U.S.

For many years, people have fought against corporations, government entities, and other institutions that have caused or contributed to water contamination in the U.S. There have been numerous mass torts and class action lawsuits against these parties for their negligence or intentional disregard for our communities. A mass torts attorney handles cases related to water contamination. 

Here are some of the most notable water contamination cases we’ve seen in the past few years in the U.S. and their outcomes:

Camp Lejeune

Between 1953 and 1987, anyone who lived or worked at the U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina may have been exposed to harmful chemicals through water contamination. These chemicals — including trichloroethylene (TCE), tetrachloroethylene (PCE), and vinyl chloride — are linked to serious medical conditions like:

  • Cancer
  • Renal toxicity
  • Infertility and miscarriage
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma

In 2012, anyone who resided at Camp Lejeune during that period and developed a water contamination-related illness can seek benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). 

More recently, a class action lawsuit was brought against the U.S. Navy — the branch of the military that houses the Marine Corps — for allowing the water contamination to happen and affect people. There are many law firms around the country actively fighting for Camp Lejeune victims and their families to secure damages. 

The Flint, Michigan, Water Crisis

Starting in 2014, the city of Flint, Michigan, changed the water supply for its citizens. Instead of getting clean filtered water from nearby Detroit, the city began pumping water from the Flint River, which was once polluted with manufacturing and industrial farming runoff. 

The people of Flint were forced to drink and use water that contained incredibly high amounts of lead, one of the most harmful water contaminants. Children and adults suffered from numerous conditions, including Legionnaire’s disease. The city attempted to offset these pollutants with higher amounts of chlorine, which then created high amounts of total trihalomethanes (TTHM), chlorine by-products linked to cancer.

Thanks to the diligent work of community members and legal organizations, the people of Flint were able to file a lawsuit against those responsible. They pushed the government to fix the water supply system, a process that continues to this day. In addition, multiple negligent officials were criminally charged.

The MTBE Contamination Settlement

Methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE) is a cancer-causing chemical that was found in the water wells and reservoirs across 17 U.S. states, including Pennsylvania, New York, and Michigan. This chemical is a gasoline additive that was not properly handled by oil companies, and it polluted groundwater in various areas of the country. 

There are law firms that stood up to these large, powerful corporations and secured nearly $500 million for people who were exposed through various public water systems across the country.

What Damages Can You Get in a Water Contamination Case?

If you suffered the adverse effects of water contamination, you can seek financial recovery for your injury-related losses. Here’s what you should know about seeking a settlement or court award: 

How Much You Can Recover Depends on Your Situation 

The types of damages you can claim depend on many factors unique to your circumstances, including:

  • The type of water contamination you experienced
  • How you were affected by the contamination, such as through health issues or property damage 
  • Whether you’re pursuing damages as a business or an individual
  • Whether your contamination case fits into a class action, mass tort, or independent lawsuit 

It can be difficult to calculate what you’re owed by yourself. This is why many people partner with injury lawyers; these professionals can assess your situation and determine what you deserve based on your overall condition. 

Compensable Losses Account for Your Injury-Related Challenges

Recoverable damages in your case may include: 

  • Medical costs: Exposure to water contamination can cause cancer, birth defects, and a host of other complications. In these situations, medical costs can get expensive. Yet, you can include the cost of treatment, hospitalization, and rehabilitation in your case. 
  • Lost income and reduced future earning potential: If water contamination caused an illness or condition that prevents you from working, either temporarily or long-term, you can claim lost income and future earning potential. This includes lost wages, tips, salary, benefits, bonuses, and an inability to earn the same income as you did before the contaminated water exposure. 
  • Property damage: Water contamination that has impacted your home or business may be part of your claim. This includes estimated property damage losses, changes in income or inventory for certain businesses, and the costs to repair or replace damaged water supply systems. 
  • Pain and suffering: You can also get compensation to account for the physical pain, emotional anguish, discomfort, inconvenience, and trauma you suffered. 
  • Various out-of-pocket losses. You might have already spent money out of pocket because of the contaminated water. For instance, you may have moved to distance yourself from the contaminated water supply. Those costs could be accounted for in your claim or lawsuit. 
  • Non-economic damages: If water contamination directly contributed to or caused your disability, you can claim loss of quality of life, inconvenience, and an inability to pursue gainful employment. How much you can recover for these losses depends on your situation since they don’t come with documentation (like receipts). 
  • Wrongful death-related expenses: If you lost a loved one due to complications from water contamination, you deserve justice. You can get compensation for funeral and burial expenses, end-of-life medical costs, and more.

These are just some of the losses you could recoup through legal action. You’re not alone after suffering the consequences of contaminated water exposure. A personal injury lawsuit lawyer can identify the liable party, evaluate your losses, and pursue financial recovery. 

You Have the Opportunity to Partner With a Lawyer for a Mass Tort Lawsuit  

A toxic contamination lawyer who focuses on these situations can collect supporting evidence, identify all liable parties, and file complaints against these parties. Fill out this contact form to get in touch with a toxic contamination lawyer and start your claim today. Today, you can explore your options and learn about working with a mass tort lawsuit attorney.