How does drinking water impact child development?

Lamb Loves Fox by Katherine Heise

By Emily Folk

Each year, more than 2 million children die from water and sanitation-related illnesses, making waterborne disease a major leading cause of under-5 mortality. Children are even susceptible to sickness and death from water pollution before being born. Fetal exposure to contaminated water can lead to low birth weight, premature birth and congenital abnormalities, and even slow their growth within the womb.  

While this crisis often affects those in developing countries, water pollution is still a prevalent issue within the United States. For instance, just a few years ago, residents of Flint, Michigan, got lead poisoning from tainted tap water. This spurred investigations into the water quality of neighbouring cities like Detroit and New York City, where dangerous levels of lead were also found.

These contaminants are especially harmful to children who are still growing and developing organs and tissues.  

What’s in your water? 

Water for millions of Americans has higher amounts of 90 contaminants than is considered safe. Moreover, more than 250 contaminants were detected in water samples across the U.S. At least 45 of these were linked to hormone disruption, another 93 were linked to cancer, and 63 can harm fetal and young child development. Researchers still don’t understand the full effects of certain chemicals found in water.

Subtle changes within children are hard to detect, and the impact of contaminated water may not be noticeable for many years.  

Although tap water contains contaminants, it does hold a valuable ingredient – fluoride. This mineral prevents tooth decay and cavities, and infants need fluoride supplements when they reach 6 months of age. Tap water typically contains at least o.3 ppm of this important mineral, which is safe and healthy for children to ingest. However, the water from your faucet can contain too much fluoride, which can cause skeletal problems and dental fluorosis in young children.  

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