Sources of Contamination

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As indicated earlier, a major source of potential pathogens is human fecal material. People with gastrointestinal and some other types of infections may shed massive numbers of pathogens in their feces. Urine is also a potential source of contamination for some diseases. Thus, untreated or inadequately treated human wastes and sewage are a major sanitary concern.

However, there also are several other potential sources of water contamination. Water from activities such as bathing, showering, and toothbrushing, and from hand, dish, and clothes washing (often referred to as graywater, as opposed to the blackwater containing fecal material) may also contain pathogens, although typically in lower concentrations and of some different types. Urban and suburban stormwater contains fecal material and urine from pets and probably from rats, squirrels, and other wildlife. In some areas heavy concentrations of geese contribute large quantities of waste material. Agriculture may also be an important source of contamination directly from the animals being raised, or from the spreading of their manure; this may enter water through treated or untreated discharges, stormwater, or irrigation return flows (the portion of the irrigation water that flows off the field and back to a surface water, mainly to prevent salt buildup). Even in pristine areas water may not be safe to drink without treatment because of pathogens contributed by wildlife (e.g., beaver are a major reservoir of Giardia).

Human solid wastes may contain pathogens (e.g., from used facial tissues, diapers, and sanitary pads) that can enter water from litter, runoff, or landfill leachate (water that passes through the waste material in a landfill). Some industries (e.g., slaughterhouses, tanneries), institutions (e.g., hospitals), and other facilities (e.g., laboratories and doctor, dentist, and veterinary offices) are other potential sources. And especially in swimming pools, even the human body itself is a source, from skin sloughings and mouth, nose, and eye discharges.

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