Clean and safe drinking water is a fundamental necessity for human health. Regrettably, water sources worldwide are facing growing contamination from diverse pollutants. Among the numerous health risks associated with contaminated water, one of the most concerning is its potential link to cancer incidence.

In this article, we delve into the various contaminants present in drinking water that have been linked to an increased risk of cancer. By understanding and addressing these risks, we can work towards ensuring the provision of healthier water sources and ultimately safeguarding public health.

Understanding the Sources of Water Contamination

CNN Health reported on a comprehensive study conducted by scientists between 2016 and 2021. They gathered water samples from 716 locations, comprising 269 private wells and 447 public sources.

The findings of this research indicated that about 45% of drinking water samples in the United States are susceptible to contamination. The potential sources of water contamination are diverse and encompass industrial discharges, agricultural runoff, improper waste disposal, and natural processes.

Among the common contaminants found in water are:

Heavy Metals

Various substances, including lead, arsenic, and mercury, have the potential to seep into water sources from geological formations, mining activities, and industrial waste. This poses significant risks to public health. For instance, an alarming 4.1 million individuals in the contiguous 48 states may be facing exposure to arsenic levels exceeding EPA’s drinking water standards.

Furthermore, a recent assessment relying on EPA data spanning from January 2018 to December 2020 underscores a challenging truth. Approximately 186 million individuals, constituting 56 percent of the U.S. populace, consumed water from potable water systems. In these systems, lead concentrations exceeded the recommended threshold of 1 part per billion (ppb).

Chronic exposure to these metals has been linked to the development of various types of cancer, including lung, liver, and kidney cancer.

Industrial Chemicals

Improper handling and disposal of industrial chemicals can result in the introduction of harmful substances into water sources, significantly increasing the risk of cancer.

A prominent illustration of this is the Camp Lejeune water contamination incident. It took place at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina, spanning from 1953 to 1987.

Throughout this duration, the water supply at Camp Lejeune became contaminated with volatile organic compounds, primarily Perchloroethylene (PCE), also known as tetrachloroethylene. The contamination stemmed from the waste disposal practices of ABC One-Hour Cleaners, an off-base dry cleaning firm.

Regrettably, this contamination exposed at least a million people to potential cancer risks. This, in turn, led to the filing of the Camp Lejeune contaminated water lawsuit in pursuit of accountability and justice for those affected.

According to TorHoerman Law, this case serves as a stark reminder of the critical importance of proper chemical management and waste disposal. It emphasizes the need to safeguard public health and ensure the preservation of water quality.

Pesticides and Fertilizers

Agricultural practices that employ pesticides and fertilizers can result in runoff, leading to the contamination of nearby water bodies. Unfortunately, some of these chemicals have been classified as potential carcinogens.

A study investigating the groundwater used for public drinking water supply found that 41% of the supply wells contain pesticides. Out of this 41%, two-thirds have the actual pesticide compounds, while the remaining one-third contain pesticide degrades.

This highlights the concerning presence of pesticide residues in the water sources, raising health and environmental concerns.

Microbial Pathogens

Contaminated water poses the risk of harboring disease-causing microorganisms, leading to gastrointestinal infections. Prolonged exposure to these pathogens can potentially play a role in the development of cancer in specific organs, such as the stomach.

Research studies suggest that approximately 20% of human cancers may be linked to microorganisms. This underscores the significance of preserving clean and safe water sources. Such efforts help mitigate the prevalence of waterborne illnesses and their potential long-term health implications, including the development of cancer.

Regulatory Measures and Public Health Interventions

To address the potential cancer risk associated with contaminated water, various regulatory measures and public health interventions are necessary:

  • Stringent water quality standards: Governments and regulatory bodies should establish and enforce strict water quality standards to limit exposure to harmful pollutants.
  • Improved water treatment: Investing in advanced water treatment technologies can effectively remove or reduce a wide range of contaminants, safeguarding public health.
  • Source protection: Protecting water sources from contamination through sustainable land use practices and pollution prevention measures is crucial.
  • Public awareness and education: Educating the public about the risks of contaminated water and the significance of safe drinking water is crucial. This effort aims to promote proactive measures and foster a change in behavior.


The link between contaminated water and cancer incidence is a pressing issue that demands immediate attention. Understanding the sources of water contamination, conducting comprehensive epidemiological studies, and identifying specific carcinogens are vital steps in addressing this complex problem.

By implementing stringent regulatory measures, we can strive to ensure access to clean and safe drinking water. This effort can help reduce cancer incidence and safeguard the health of both present and future generations. A collaborative effort from governments, communities, and individuals is essential to secure a healthier and more sustainable water future.