Water contamination (chemical and microbial) is a major threat to human health as well as ecosystem health. This contamination can originate from industrial, agricultural or urban runoff. Consumption of water contaminated with chemicals (metals, organic compounds, inorganic compounds) tends to cause chronic diseases, such as various cancers and disruptions to the endocrine system.
Shoreline communities are dependent on lake water for drinking, fishing and recreation. Fish are both a food source and an economic good. As a result, water contamination has both a direct and indirect impact on health and well-being. Fish and shellfish harvested from the Lake Can bio-accumulate and bio-magnify chemical contaminants, increasing human exposure. This renders the food unfit for both consumption and sale, impacting livelihoods. Access to safe drinking water for direct consumption is important to public health in and of itself. Through reductions in acute gastrointestinal illness, people are more able to function within society, have less sick days, attend school more often and are generally more able to break the cycle of poverty. Thus the health of people in terms of morbidity, mortality, economics and well-being is dependent on the health of the lake environments.
Physiology, age and underlying health (e.g. nutritional status) all play a role in incidence and severity of illness as a result of consuming microbes in water. Children and women are most severely and directly impacted – children because of their physical vulnerability and women, as primary caregivers, through their role in tending the sick.
In order to reduce the levels of water contamination and minimize exposure to these substances that result in morbidity, mortality and an overall decrease in well-being and livelihoods, there is an urgent need to develop capacity for understanding the linkages between poor water quality and adverse health. It is essential that water professionals understand how to deal with these issues in order to reduce contaminant levels and human exposure through management and protection of water sources, water supplies and water storage.