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Natural Contamination

Most people think of water pollution as a problem of human origin, but nature plays a role as well. Water incorporates minerals and other natural constituents from its environment and, for better or worse, they become part of the water people drink.

Not all of the constituents in water are harmful to human health. Calcium and magnesium-rich water is called ‘hard water,’ and its best-known property is that it makes soaps and detergents less effective. Trace amounts of many constituents, such as fluoride, iron, and copper, are actually beneficial in small doses. But at high concentrations even elements necessary for health become harmful. On the other hand, naturally occurring elements like cadmium and lead are hazardous to human health at even relatively low concentrations.

Two inorganic chemicals have led to particularly widespread and serious drinking water problems—arsenic and fluoride.

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