7 Common Well Water Contaminants That Can Cause Anemia

While everyone wants to drink fresh, pure water, the unfortunate truth is that water anywhere in the world can contain contaminants capable of causing harm to one’s health. Once you know this, however, you have a key to detecting the possible cause of certain illnesses or disabilities that may show up in your family or community.

Anemia is one such health problem. One of the three types of anemia is hemolytic anemia, a blood condition that occurs when a person’s blood destroys red blood cells faster than they can be replaced. The body always loses red blood cells but the marrow in a person’s bones manufactures more red blood cells to replace them. 

When the level of red blood cells drops, these symptoms may occur:

  • Tiredness
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Enlarged spleen or liver
  • Fever
  • Feeling cold
  • Confusion
  • Inability to handle physical exertion
  • Paleness

While some medications can cause hemolytic anemia, metals in drinking water can also have this effect. 

Metals Are Common (If Unwanted) Contaminants in U.S. Water Supplies

There are many different metals that make their way into surface water and groundwater across the country. Some of them occur naturally in bedrock or soil and others enter the water supply as a result of manufacturing or agricultural activities, industrial spills or leakage from landfills. However they get into the water supply, it’s important for a homeowner or family to know what’s in their water and how anything undesirable can be removed. 

Hemolytic anemia can be caused by too much exposure to six metals commonly found in water supplies:

  • Chromium
  • Nickel
  • Copper
  • Lead
  • Arsenic
  • Cadmium

Nitrites in a water supply can also cause a type of anemia among babies. 

How to Remove These Hazardous Contaminants from Your Water

  1. Chromium: Chromium can be added to drinking water from deposits in topsoil or bedrock. Improper disposal in landfills is another source. There are multiple types of chromium. Chromium (3) is less toxic than chromium (6). Ingesting too much chromium (6) can cause anemia in addition to other illnesses. To remove: Reverse osmosis filter. 
  2. Nickel: In some forms, nickel can directly destroy red blood cells or interfere with the enzymes that keep red blood cells healthy. Too much nickel in water or food can also interfere with iron metabolism in the body, which can then result in anemia. To remove: Carbon filters or reverse osmosis.
  3. Copper: Copper most commonly enters drinking water when water sits in copper pipes too long. Corrosive groundwater increases copper levels in drinking water. Long-term or high levels of copper in the water supply can cause anemia. To remove: Reverse osmosis, distillation, and ion exchange.
  4. Lead: Lead mostly enters drinking water from pipes or solder that contain lead. Even low levels of lead in water can cause problems like low birth weight or impaired mental abilities. Higher levels can cause anemia or brain damage. To remove: Reverse osmosis or distillation.
  5. Arsenic: Arsenic in drinking water causes oxidative damage to red blood cells, resulting in anemia. The states most likely to have naturally-occurring arsenic in water include Michigan, Minnesota, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and California. To remove: Reverse osmosis filters.
  6. Cadmium: Acidic water can dissolve cadmium in plumbing fixtures so it can enter the drinking supply. Areas contaminated by mining or industrial discharges may also have high levels of cadmium in the water. To remove: Ion exchange or reverse osmosis filters.
  7. Nitrites: Nitrites in drinking water can cause a specific type of anemia in infants called methemoglobinemia which reduces the ability of the blood to carry oxygen. Babies with this problem may turn bluish. Nitrites can enter the water supply due to fertilizer runoff or contamination from septic systems. To remove: Ion exchange units, reverse osmosis, or distillation.

Unfortunately, these contaminants that cause anemia are common in many parts of the U.S.

If anemia is present in the household supplied by well water, detailed water testing should be one of the first actions taken. Then the right filtration system to reduce or eliminate that contaminant can be designed. The Premium Water Test from ETR Labs is the perfect place to start when you need to check the purity and healthfulness of your water.