Public Health Water Quality
Mark Robson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 February 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 February 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756797-0062


According to the United Nations, almost one billion or more people lack access to safe drinking water, and 40 percent lack access to basic sanitation. Water contamination is one of the most important global public health issues. Chemicals such as pharmaceuticals, personal care products, such as detergents, soaps and shampoo solvents, gasoline, and others that are used in urban and industrial activities have been found in surface water and ground water. Banned pesticides that have not been used for decades are currently being detected in fish and streambed sediment at levels that pose a potential risk to human health, aquatic life, and fish-eating wildlife. Water contaminants are numerous and include naturally occurring and manmade chemicals as well as biological contaminants. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that over 137 million people in more than seventy countries are probably affected by arsenic poisoning of drinking water.

Reference Resources

There are numerous online reference resources for water contamination and related issues of water quality and water treatment. The link for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Water is one of the most useful, as it leads to many additional links, both governmental and private. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is responsible for most health-related water issues; the CDC link also provides extensive information and links to particular topics and databases. The EPA is required to report on the nation’s water quality; the link to this report, the National Water Quality Inventory Report to Congress, is below, as are links to the United Nations Global Environment Monitoring System (GEMS) and the Water Environmental Federation, both of which provide global reports and resource materials. The International Water Association is a large network of water professionals in the public and private sectors throughout the world and offers resource materials as well as the identification of experts. The UCLA School of Public Health website has an outstanding historical collection of information and original articles on the topic of water contamination.

  • American Water Works Association.

    AWWA is an international nonprofit and educational society; site includes information on resource development, water and wastewater treatment technology, water storage and distribution, and utility management.

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Healthy Water.

    The CDC Healthy Water site provides information on water pollution, contamination, and prevention of health issues. There are sections with statistics on surveillance data and outbreak data.

  • International Water Association.

    The International Water Association (IWA) is the global network of water professionals in academic, governmental, and private sectors who work in all areas of water resource management.

  • United Nations Global Environment Monitoring System. Global Water Quality.

    The United Nations Global Environment Monitoring System (GEMS) Water Programme database contains water quality data and information on a global scale. The primary uses for these data are for UN assessments and capacity-building initiatives.

  • US Environmental Protection Agency. National water quality inventory report to Congress.

    The National Water Quality Inventory Report to Congress is a report from the US EPA; it contains information about water quality conditions throughout the United States

  • US Environmental Protection Agency Office of Water.

    The EPA Office of Water has an extensive listing of programs and resources that are related to water contamination and water pollution as well as health issues.

  • UCLA Department of Epidemiology, School of Public Health. John Snow.

    The UCLA School of Public Health has a superb website dedicated to the father of waterborne disease study, Dr. John Snow.

  • Water Environment Federation.

    The Water Environment Federation is a not-for-profit organization that offers technical education and training to water professionals and treatment operators.

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