A UNESCO study from March 2003 presented the World Water Development Report. According to the UN Index, Finland is the leader in terms of water quality. Canada and New Zealand are in second and third place. Austria ranks 18th, just beaten by Switzerland in 16th place.
Germany is ranked 57th in terms of water quality.
Countries like Jamaica, Mali or Iran have cleaner drinking water than is the case in Germany. This is mainly due to the fact that in industrialized countries such as Germany, in addition to industry, agriculture is the main source of strain on our drinking water with herbicides, pesticides and fungicides.
Good, clean and pure drinking water is a scarce commodity worldwide, whereby the situation of the water supply tends to worsen rather than improve.
Only a few pollutants and chemicals have been tested for their health and environmental relevance, or subjected to an ecotoxicological assessment.
More than 100,000 different chemicals flow into the groundwater every day, and it is impossible to remove all impurities and chemicals from the water, despite extensive chemical treatment.
It should be noted that water containing chlorine or other unhealthy chemicals can contribute significantly to premature aging and disease. The chlorine problem should by no means be underestimated. Hormones, medicines and antibiotics are also found in drinking water. Because the effort to filter them out is too big a hurdle.
What are the reasons?
Drinking water treatment in waterworks
Addition of chemicals that cause sedimentation against corrosion and scale formation: phosphates … Disinfection by chlorine, Na, Ca and magnesium hypochlorite, chlorinated lime, chlorine dioxide and ozone.
For 33 substances that can occur in the water, limits are set, only on these substances must examine the water works. But are now known several thousand pollutants!
Drug residues are not investigated at all, there are no guidelines. In addition, the responsibility for tap water quality by waterworks at the respective house connection ends. (Source: “Water & Salt” by Dr. med. Barbara Hendel and Peter Ferreira)
Water is usually enriched with heavy metals through piping systems and domestic faucets. These heavy metals are not a natural component of drinking water.
It is well known that they pose a potential health hazard. Heavy metals accumulate mainly in the bones, intestine and brain.
Copper and lead are most commonly detected in drinking water. Other pipe materials such as stainless steel or galvanized steel pipes always give off something to the water.
Pesticides are chemical compounds that serve as crop protection or pest control agents. Among the best known drugs are atrazine, DCMU, mecoprop (MCPP) and DDT (now banned).
In industrial agriculture, immense amounts of these toxic substances are used, in Germany it is more than 30,000 tons per year.
The substances seep into the ground, get into the groundwater and become part of our drinking water. The removal of pesticides from drinking water is very complicated and expensive.
The toxins themselves are very durable and degrade extremely slowly. Therefore, many substances whose use is already prohibited, can still be detected in groundwater.
In our drinking water, more and more drug residues can be detected. These are mainly antibiotics, X-ray contrast media, pain and blood lipid lowering agents.
In Germany, about 3,000 active substances are available on the market in about 50,000 different preparations. The human body can not completely process or degrade drugs, in some cases up to 70% are excreted.
Hundreds of tons of active pharmaceutical ingredients pass through excretions into the drinking water cycle. Improper disposal (e.g., in the toilet or sink) will also contaminate the highly concentrated compounds.
Water companies can not sufficiently or not at all filter out these hardly biodegradable chemical substances with conventional cleaning methods – they remain part of our drinking water and enter our bodies in food or drinks.
Consequences of such uncontrolled intake may be side effects such as allergies or intolerances. In addition, resistances can occur, i. the body gets used to certain substances (such as antibiotics), they have no healing in the case of an acute illness and the long-term consequences for human health are not foreseeable.
Since there are no limit values for drug residues, these substances may be present in the drinking water without it being possible for water supply companies to be prosecuted or for the health department to intervene.
Just like remnants of medication, hormones enter our drinking water and can be detected there in ever higher concentrations. Hormones are mainly used for contraception (birth control pills), as well as in agriculture (livestock).
Hormones in humans can cause infertility, heart damage and developmental damage in children. In Germany, male fertility has dropped by 70% over the last 40 years, with hormones contributing to this.
In order to protect the drinking water in the piping network from bacterial contamination, chlorine is added to the water during so-called incidents. This can ensure that dangerous bacteria are killed in the water.
However, chlorine does not remain stable in the water, but can combine with many different other water constituents to form new chemical forms. These degradation products are then the real problem, since they can pose a greater health risk than the source of chlorine.
In the meantime, only rarely is water permanently chlorinated in Germany. Also in the waterworks, the chlorine is increasingly replaced by chlorine dioxide, which produces less degradation products.
Viruses, Bacteria & Microorganisms
Microorganisms are microorganisms, also called microbes. In addition to viruses and bacteria, these include fungi, microalgae and protozoa. Some microorganisms are important and useful in the human organism (e.g., bacteria of the oral flora), others can cause uncomfortable and dangerous diseases (e.g., Escherichia coli bacterium).
If bacteria are found in the water, they are contaminated with feces or other organic materials. According to the legislator, coli bacteria must not be present in the drinking water at all, but it is not uncommon for such impurities to occur.
These can only be eliminated by strong chlorination. Human or animal excretions may also cause viruses, e.g. Giardia enter the drinking water, a genus of small intestinal parasites that can not be completely killed by chlorine or UV radiation.
Disease-causing microorganisms can cause nausea, diarrhea or cholera-like illnesses, especially in children, elderly or immunocompromised people.
Drinking water pipes consist to a large extent of asbestos fiber cement, as the use of asbestos until the beginning of the 1990s was considered harmless to human health. New drinking water pipes may only contain since 1995 no addition of asbestos.
Due to the slow decomposition of the old pipes, asbestos fibers enter our drinking water. The harmful effect (carcinogenic) has now been proven beyond doubt, yet there is no limit for asbestos fibers in the German Drinking Water Ordinance.
Nitrite / Nitrate
Nitrates are salts of nitric acid. They serve plants as nutrients and are used in agriculture as fertilizers, eg. in the form of manure.
Small amounts of nitrate are not considered harmful. However, nitrate can be converted to nitrite and carcinogenic nitrosamines in the human body.
This is done by the body’s own bacteria in saliva, stomach or intestinal flora. Children and infants, in particular, are at serious risk from nitrite formation, but there is also a risk of cancer in adults.
Nitrate can only be removed from our drinking water with great effort, if at all. To comply with the legally prescribed limit of 50 mg / l *, nitrate-rich waters are often blended with less nitrate.
In the meantime, the first large-scale plants with reverse osmosis technology are being built and used for nitrate removal.
* For comparison: limit value in Switzerland: 25 mg / l; Recommendation of the World Health Organization (WHO) for children: max. 10 mg / l