Digplanet and EPA clear some confusion – define different types of contamination – National primary drinking water regulations resources included.

Posted in: Drinking Water News, Water Contamination
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Noun: contamination (plural contaminations)

  1. The act or process of contaminating; pollution; defilement; taint; also, that which contaminates.
  2. (linguistics) A process whereby words with related meanings come to have similar sounds.
  3. The process of making a material or surface unclean or unsuited for its intended purpose, usually by the addition or attachment of undesirable foreign substances.

Contamination is the presence of a minor and unwanted constituent (contaminant) in a material, in a physical body, in the natural environment, at a workplace, etc.


“Contamination” also has more specific meanings in science and in geology:

  • In chemistry, the term usually describes a single constituent, but in specialized fields the term can also mean chemical mixtures, even up to the level of cellular materials.

All chemicals contain some level of contamination. Contamination may be recognized or not and may become an issue if the contaminated chemical is mixed with other chemicals or mixtures and causes additional chemical reactions. The additional chemical reactions can sometimes be beneficial, in which case the label ‘contaminant’ is replaced with reactant or catalyst. If the additional reactions are detrimental, other terms are often applied such as toxinpoison or pollutant depending on the chemistry involved. A major fraction of chemistry is involved with identifying, isolating, and studying contaminants.

  • In environmental chemistry the term is in some cases virtually equivalent to pollution, where the main interest is the harm done on a large scale to humans or to organisms or environments that are important to humans.
  • In radiation protection the radioactive contamination is radioactive substances on surfaces, or within solids, liquids or gases (including the human body), where their presence is unintended or undesirable, or the process giving rise to their presence in such places,.[1][2]
Also used less formally to refer to a quantity, namely the activity on a surface (or on a unit area of a surface).
Contamination does not include residual radioactive material remaining at a site after the completion of decommissioning.
The term radioactive contamination may have a connotation that is not intended.
The term radioactive contamination refers only to the presence of radioactivity, and gives no indication of the magnitude of the hazard involved.

See also Environmental monitoringRadiation monitoring


  • In food chemistry and medicinal chemistry, the term “contamination” is used to describe harmful intrusions, such as the presence of toxins or pathogens in food or medicinal drugs.
  • In forensic science, a contaminant can be complex materials such as hair or skin particles arising from sources not related to the ongoing investigation.
  • In the biological sciences accidental introduction of “foreign” material (‘contamination’) can seriously distort the results of experiments where small samples are used. In cases where the contaminant is a living microorganism, it can often multiply and take over the experiment, especially cultures, and render them useless.
  • In geology and especially geochemistry, it can have similar effects where even a few grains of “modern” dust can distort results of sophisticated experiments.
  • the term “contamination” is sometimes used to describe accidental transfers of organisms from one natural environment to another.
  • it has even been used in the “Directed panspermia” hypothesis about the origin of life on Earth, which suggests that visiting aliens accidentally infected the planet with microbes from their own world.[3]



  1. ^ International Atomic Energy Agency (2007). IAEA Safety Glossary: Terminology Used in Nuclear Safety and Radiation Protection. Vienna: IAEA. ISBN 92-0-100707-8.
  2. ^ International Atomic Energy Agency (2010). Programmes and Systems for Source and Environmental Radiation Monitoring. Safety Reports Series No. 64.. Vienna: IAEA. pp. 234. ISBN 978-92-0-112409-8.
  3. ^ Crick, F. H.; Orgel, L. E. (1973). “Directed Panspermia”. Icarus 19 (3): 341–348. Bibcode 1973Icar…19..341Cdoi:10.1016/0019-1035(73)90110-3

National primary drinking water regulations

National Primary Drinking Water Regulations (NPDWRs or primary standards) are legally enforceable standards that apply to public water systems. Primary standards protect public health by limiting the levels of contaminants in drinking water. Visit the list of regulated contaminants with links for more details.



Information on this section



List of Contaminants & their MCLs

An alphabetical listing with links to fact sheets on the primary drinking water regulations.



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