5 Common Heavy Metals in Water (Are You Testing For Them?)

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Of all the tap water contaminants, heavy metals are some of the most concerning. Heavy metals are metallic elements with a high density.

Even trace amounts of heavy metals in water can be harmful to your health. This article will look at the most common types of heavy metals found in water, their effects on human health, and how to remove them from tap water.

By the end of this article, you should have a better understanding of the metals your drinking water may contain, and how you can protect yourself against them.

Let’s take a look at the most common metallic elements in drinking water:

MetalHealth EffectsGets Into Water From
LeadImpaired nervous system, kidney, blood cell function. Cardiovascular problems.Corrosion of pipes, industrial pollution
MercuryNeurotoxin; brain & nervous system damage.Industrial pollution, acid rain, some agricultural practices
CopperStomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, kidney disease & liver damage.Naturally occurring, corrosion of pipes, mining activities
ArsenicCirculatory system damage, cardiovascular disease, increased risk of cancers.Naturally occurring, burning of fossil fuels
CadmiumKidney damage, lung damage, anemia, high blood pressure, and weakening of bones.Naturally occurring, leaching from pipes, industrial waste

πŸͺ¨ Lead

What Is Lead?

Lead is a cumulative contaminant that is dangerous even in tiny amounts. There is no safe level of lead exposure, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set a maximum contaminant level for lead at 0. This means that no amount of lead should be found in drinking water – but many of us still drink lead every day.

The Health Effects of Lead

Lead interferes with proper development and function of the nervous system, kidneys, and blood cells. Because it takes a very long time for the human body to eliminate lead once a person has been exposed, even small amounts can build up to dangerous levels over time. Lead poisoning is a serious type of metal poisoning that has harmful effects on the brain and the body, especially in children and developing fetuses.

How Lead Gets Into Water

Lead is most commonly found in drinking water as a result of corrosion from lead pipes or household plumbing containing lead. Hundreds of pipes in the U.S. still contain lead – you can view a map highlighting the risk of lead exposure across the country here. This type of heavy metal contamination can also occur as a result of industrial pollution. Exposure to lead occurs primarily through ingestion, but may also occur through inhalation or skin contact.

πŸ‘‰ See the best water filters for lead removal in 2024.

Lead poisoning through ingestion

πŸŒ‘ Mercury

What is Mercury?

Mercury is a heavy metal that is liquid at room temperature. Aside from drinking water, eating fish is one of the main sources of ingestion of mercury.

The Health Effects of Mercury

Mercury is a neurotoxin and can cause long-term damage to the brain and nervous system even at low levels of exposure. In high amounts, mercury can have dangerous effects on the human body, including an increased risk of cancerous tumors, according to the EPA.

How Mercury Gets Into Water

Mercury doesn’t occur naturally in water, but can end up in water through industrial wastewater contamination, industrial pollution (such as coal burning power plants), and acid rain. Some agricultural practices may also contribute to mercury contamination in water. Mercury builds up in the environment over time, and this type of metal pollution poses a serious risk to aquatic organisms in natural waters and aquatic systems all over the world.

πŸͺ™ Copper

What is Copper?

Copper is a heavy metal that, in its pure form, is a reddish-brown color. Copper can be found naturally in many rocks and soils, but it is also used widely by humans for manufacturing items such as electrical wiring.

The Health Effects of Copper

Copper is an essential nutrient for human health for most living organisms, and a tiny amount of copper in your drinking water isn’t dangerous. However, in very high doses, copper in a water supply can cause metal toxicity, resulting in nausea, vomiting, liver damage, and kidney disease.

How Copper Gets Into Water

Copper can get into groundwater from runoff from human activities such as mining, and by corrosion of copper pipes. Typically, the presence of copper in tap water is due to plumbing materials such as brass or chrome-plated brass fittings.

Corrosion of copper pipes

πŸ’€ Arsenic

What is Arsenic?

Arsenic is a naturally-occurring element that can be found in the soil and water. The high toxicity of arsenic presents a serious health risk to humans even at low levels of exposure.

The Health Effects of Arsenic

Even in very small doses, arsenic causes nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Long-term exposure to low levels of arsenic in contaminated water can damage the circulatory system and has been linked to cardiovascular disease, including stroke and coronary heart disease. High concentrations of arsenic are also known to cause cancer in humans.

How Arsenic Gets Into Water

Arsenic occurs naturally in rocks, and is often present in drinking water as a result of natural processes such as geological disturbances. Volcanic eruptions or erosion can cause arsenic and other metals to leach into water. Arsenic is also produced as a byproduct of burning fossil fuels, along with other inorganic pollutants.

πŸ‘‰ Check out the best water filters for arsenic removal.


What is Cadmium?

Cadmium is a naturally-occurring element used in the production of batteries, plastics, and metal coatings. The primary exposure to cadmium is through food or a public water supply.

The Health Effects of Cadmium

The potential risks of exposure to low levels of cadmium include kidney damage, lung damage, anemia, high blood pressure, and weakening of bones. Drinking large quantities of cadmium can have harmful effects on all the organs in the body and can even cause death.

How Cadmium Gets Into Water

As a result of the natural process of erosion, cadmium can get into groundwater that is used for drinking water. This heavy metal contamination in water also occurs due to leaching from galvanized metal pipes, and from industrial waste.

Cadmium contamination from industrial waste

🚰 How to Remove Heavy Metals from Water

Public water suppliers simply don’t have the funds to purify water on a large scale, which means that the water we drink contains trace contaminants, including metal pollutants.

Luckily, you can remove heavy metal concentrations from your drinking water at home at an affordable long-term cost. First of all, get your water tested to see which metals it contains. You can then look at the best means of removing heavy metals from your water supply.

There are several methods of removing toxic heavy metals from water:

Reverse Osmosis

Reverse osmosis is one of the most common techniques to filter out heavy metals from water. A Reverse osmosis filter contains a semi-permeable membrane that only allows water molecules to pass through it, leaving larger particles on the other side.

Activated Carbon Filtration

This type of filtration technique uses activated carbon to remove heavy metals. Activated carbon is porous, allowing water to pass through it. The activated carbon traps the metals that are present in water.


Distillation involves boiling water into vapor and then collecting this vapor as it condenses back into liquid form. Water vaporizes, then condenses back into liquid, leaving the metals behind as a solid residue in the boiling chamber.

  • Jennifer Byrd
    Water Treatment Specialist

    For 20+ years, Jennifer has championed clean water. From navigating operations to leading sales, she's tackled diverse industry challenges. Now, at Redbird Water, she crafts personalized solutions for homes, businesses, and factories. A past Chamber President and industry advocate, Jennifer leverages her expertise in cutting-edge filtration and custom design to transform water concerns into crystal-clear solutions.

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