Zinc contamination is one of the most common water quality problems in the United States.

It is an essential nutrient for human health and can be found in food, supplements, and even some drinking water. While a small amount of zinc is necessary for good health, too much zinc can be harmful.

Let’s now take a look at some of the main sources of zinc contamination in water and what you can do to mitigate the risk.

Zinc contamination in water

One of the biggest sources of zinc contamination in water is zinc mining. When zinc mines are in operation, they release large amounts of contaminated water into the environment. This water often contains high levels of dissolved metals, including zinc.

Once these metals are released into waterways, they can be difficult to remove. These metals can also have harmful effects on aquatic life and humans who come into contact with contaminated water.

As such, the EPA has set the maximum contaminant level goal (MCLG) for zinc at 0 mg/L. This means that if your water contains more than 0 mg/L of zinc, it may be harmful to your health.

Working Zinc Mines in the USA

There are a number of working zinc mines in the United States, many of which are located in western states such as Montana and Wyoming. These mines are important sources of zinc for the US economy and provide thousands of jobs to local residents

However, mining can also lead to environmental contamination if operators do not take proper precautions.

Below is a list of some of the main zinc mining sites in the US, and some of the issues that they face with regard to water contamination:

  • The Red Dog Mine in Alaska – One of the largest zinc mines in the world. It has been operating since 1989 and produces around 1.2 million tons of zinc concentrate each year. However, this operation has also been linked to water contamination, as the mine releases large amounts of contaminated water into nearby waterways.
  • The Admiralty Island Mine in Alaska – Is another major zinc mining site, with over 55 million tons of zinc mineralization reported since it began operations in 1964. However, this mine has also been linked to environmental issues, including impacts on local wildlife and water contamination.
  • The Coeur D’Alene district in Idaho – One of the largest producers of zinc in the US, with almost 300 million tons mined since 1960. However, there have been concerns about the potential impacts of mining on local drinking water and flora and fauna.
  • The Viburnum Trend in Missouri – one of the most productive zinc-lead mining districts in the US. However, it has also been associated with water contamination and other environmental issues, including acid mine drainage and soil erosion.
  • The Middle and East Tennessee Zinc Complexes in Tennessee – Two adjacent zinc mines that have been operating since 1945. Like other zinc mining sites, these mines have also been linked to issues with water contamination and soil degradation.
  • The Metaline district in Washington – One of the largest sources of zinc ore in the US, producing over 100 million tons since operations began in 1901. However, this location has also been associated with pollution and environmental damage that has had negative impacts on local communities and wildlife.
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To minimize risks to water quality, it is important for operators to follow best practices for waste management and ensure that they are complying with all relevant regulations.

Additional Sources of Zinc Contamination in Water

There are a number of other ways that zinc can end up in the water. Some of the most common sources of zinc contamination include:

  1. Industrial facilities: Industries that use zinc-containing chemicals can contaminate local water supplies through accidental spills or improper disposal.

2. Leaching from old pipes: Galvanized pipe is made by coating steel or iron with a layer of zinc. This process protects the metal from corrosion and extends its lifespan. However, over time, the zinc coating can wear away, exposing the metal underneath to water. When this happens, the metal can leach into the water supply, contaminating it with zinc.

3. Stormwater runoff: When it rains, stormwater can wash pollutants like zinc into rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water. 

Warning Signs of Zinc Contamination in Water

There are a few warning signs that can indicate that your water may be contaminated with zinc.

If you experience any of the following symptoms after drinking or coming into contact with water, it’s important to seek medical attention and have your water tested for zinc contamination:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Changes in taste or smell
  • Skin irritation

Long-term exposure to zinc can also cause copper deficiency and anaemia. In some cases, exposure to high levels of zinc can even be fatal.

Reducing the Risk of Zinc Contamination

There are a few things you can do to mitigate the risk of zinc contamination in your water supply. First, if you live in an area with known zinc mines, you should have your water tested regularly for Dissolved Metals. You can do this by purchasing a home water test kit, or by consulting with a professional environmental engineer.

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Second, if you have galvanized pipe in your home or business, you should have it replaced with a non-galvanized pipe or another type of material that will not leach into your water supply.

Finally, you can install a point-of-use water filter that is designed to remove dissolved metals from your water before it reaches your taps. While this will not completely eliminate all risks of exposure to zinc, it can significantly reduce your chances of developing adverse health effects from exposure.

Overall, by taking these steps to minimize the risk of zinc contamination in water, you can help protect yourself and your family from potential health risks associated with this metal.​

Final Thoughts

Zinc contamination is a serious problem that can have harmful effects on human health and the environment. While there are many sources of zinc contamination, there are also solutions available to mitigate the risk. If you are concerned about zinc contamination in your water supply, you should have your water tested.

If you suspect that your water may be contaminated with zinc, it’s important to have it tested by a professional. While there are many potential sources of zinc contamination, early detection is key to preventing serious problems.

If you’re concerned about the quality of your water, contact your local water treatment facility or the Department of Environmental Protection for more information.

About the author

I started working as a quality control manager with the Water Authority of Nassau County in 2005. After a few years, I moved into Water Waste Prevention, where I currently work as the production supervisor. I love my job and the people I work with, but most of all I love spending time with my family.