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What's Actually in Your Tap Water?
We drink, bathe, cook, and clean with it. But how much do we really know about the water that flows out of our faucets? Some regions fare better than others when it comes to contaminants, but lead, bacteria, and nitrates can still make their way into water supplies . And recent debates on the potential negative impact of hydraulic fracturing (one way of mining oil and gas trapped deep underground) have brought even more attention to what's reaching our water supply. So before drinking up, let's take a closer look at what’s on tap.
Troubled Waters? — The Need-to-Know
Tap water comes from one of two sources: surface water (including reservoirs, rivers, and lakes) or groundwater (from artesian and deep wells). But before it hits our thirsty lips, most H2O undergoes an important disinfection process, destroying most harmful organisms like bacteria and parasites .
But chlorination won’t kill off every bad guy, and some disease-carrying germs can still pollute surface water — and ultimately tap water — through the stool of infected animals or people (ick, we know). Lead and copper can also crash the party via corroded pipes, mostly in homes built before 1970, when copper pipes and lead joints were deemed acceptable. Other less-than-ideal findings: nitrates and other chemicals from fertilizer and pesticide runoff, arsenic (via erosion, orchard runoff, and industrial waste) and even rocket fuel  . And then there’s the alphabet soup of chlorination byproducts — some of the most controversial and potentially harmful contaminants of them all   . And while the possible effects of hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking) on drinking water has certainly stirred up debate, official reports won't be released until 2014, so it's too early to label this a bad guy for sure.
Still sounds scarier than a Freddie Krueger flick? Luckily, the EPA has established Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) for public water sources, making the chances of catching a water-related illness relatively slim . And with 91 contaminants regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act, unwanted intruders are capped at concentrations generally safe enough for the average healthy individual.
Tips for Tap — Your Action Plan
While the quality of H2O will vary between homes, there are a few ways to start sipping more soundly. First, contact the local Public Water Supply for a Consumer Confidence Report, and ask about further testing options if data is limited. And in the meantime, consider trying these simple tips to reduce lead (one of the most dangerous but preventable toxins) in drinking water:
- Run It. When a particular faucet hasn’t been used for six hours or more, "flush" the cold water pipes by running the water until it becomes as cold as it will get.
- Drink Cold. For drinking, cooking, and preparing baby formula, always reach for the cold water tap. Hot water is likely to contain higher levels of lead.
- Re-Strain. Routinely clean and replace faucet strainers, which can accumulate debris, metals, and other sediment.
- Take a Sniff. Smell rotten eggs, chemicals, or an earthy or metallic-type odor? Consult this troubleshooting resource — or contact the local public water department if the problem isn’t described there.
- Go Filtered. Pregnant women, children under the age of 6, and those with weak immune systems should opt for filtered water to keep harmful contaminants away.
Of course, bottled water is always an alternative to tap (albeit a pricier one), just remember that not every bottle comes “straight from the source.” Some bottled brands are simply purified tap water — or not even purified at all.
But in areas with good quality drinking water, and after taking all the recommended precautions, there should be little to worry about when it comes to tap. Studies show there might even be some pluses, including fluoride to promote strong teeth, as well natural mineral content like calcium, magnesium, and sodium, which could be beneficial to some individuals . So if the tap at home makes the grade, drink up!
What's your go-to source for hydration? Bottled? Tap? Or Brita? Tell us in the comments below, or tweet the author directly at @jshakeshaft.
Originally posted on Aug. 15, 2011. Updated March 21, 2013.
- Sources, pathways, and relative risks of contaminants in surface water and groundwater: a perspective prepared for the Walkerton inquiry. Ritter, L., Solomon, K., Sibley, P., et al. Canadian Network of Toxicology Centres, Department of Environmental Biology, University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, 2002 Jan 11; 65(1): 1-142.⤴
- Sources, pathways, and relative risks of contaminants in surface water and groundwater: a perspective prepared for the Walkerton inquiry.Ritter, L., Solomon, K., Sibley, P., et al. Canadian Network of Toxicology Centres, Department of Environmental Biology, University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, 2002 Jan 11; 65(1): 1-142.⤴
- A review of nitrates in drinking water: maternal exposure and adverse reproductive and developmental outcomes. Manassaram DM, Backer LC, Moll DM. CDC/NCEH/EHHE, Health Studies Branch, Chamblee, GA. Ciencia & Saude Coletiva, 2007 Jan-Mar; 12(1): 153-63.⤴
- Nitrates in drinking water and methemoglobin levels in pregnancy: a longitudinal study. Manassaram DM, Backer LC, Messing R, et al. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Environmental Health, Health Studies Branch, Chamblee, GA. Environmental Health, 2010 Oct 14; 9:60.⤴
- Drinking water disinfection byproducts: review and approach to toxicity evaluation. Boorman, G.A. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Research Triangle Park, NC. Environmental Health Perspectives 1999 Feb; 107 Suppl 1: 207-17.⤴
- Occurrence of a new generation of disinfection byproducts. Krasner, S.W., Weinberg, H.S., Richardson, S.D., et al. Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, La Verne, CA. Environmental Science and Technology 2006 Dec 1; 40(23): 7175-85.⤴
- Drinking water contaminants and adverse pregnancy outcomes: a review. Bove, F., Shim, Y., Zeitz, P. Division of Health Studies, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Atlanta, GA. Environmental Health Perspectives 2002 Feb; 110 Suppl 1: 61-74.⤴
- What's next after 40 years of drinking water regulations? Roberson, J.A. American Water Works Association, Washington, DC. Environmental Science and Technology 2011 Jan 1; 45(1): 154-60.⤴
- Comparison of the mineral content of tap water and bottled waters. Azoulay, A., Garzon, P., Eisenberg, M.J. Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 2001 Mar; 16(3): 168-75.⤴
Comments Leave a comment
Been drinking tap water since I was a kid, as did my parents. Everybody's fine. Just more unnecessary scare tactics. 'Cause in reality, what are we supposed to do? Tap water isn't any better, and I'm not paying for tap water in a bottle.
If we (humans) continue to obsessively filter everything single microorganism out of our systems, our bodies and immune systems will become so defeated that our species won't even be able to combat the common cold.
Think about it people... same reason why germaphobes are sick more often than not. And me, I haven't had a cold/flu in over 10 years. Mmmm... give me the bacteria! Helps regulate my immune system.
Lead and arsenic are not going to help your immune system. People die from cancers and lead poisoning and other toxicities every year that are found in their tap water. There is also ongoing controversy over the fluoridation of tap water and whether or not it is a large contributor to degenerative diseases. I purify all of my water as tap water is full of unnatural man-made substances that don't belong in the human body.
I'l note that I also haven't been sick in years and have higher cognitive function than most other people I work without, though I can't prove it's because of my water intake habits :P
I'll also note that I also haven't been sick in years and have higher cognitive function than most other people that I work and interact with on the daily. Though I can't necessarily correlate this to my drinking habits, I'm sure it's not hurting :P
I have purchased a couple reusable coolers that I keep in my fridge--6 gallons of reverse-osmosis purified water lasts me over a week, tastes great and costs about $2.50 at my local water shop.
I definitely brita my tap water. There are times my tap smells like chlorine, and that's one thing that I just don't want to ingest.
I've been wondering about the tap water in Florida I've been drinking for some time. Glad I came across this article. I use a filter, but it's too time-consuming to fill it every time I'm in the kitchen. After reading this, I may have to take the time to filter more often.
Fluoride is a neurotoxin element that the most available electrons in its makeup. Because of this, it acts like a magnet to the heavy metals that we find contaminating our water. Fluoride is also the number one active ingredient in rat poison. It is against the law in all counties in Europe except one. So while some are obvious, some are not. The government also is culpable to allowing toxins into our drinking water. Do your homework and find out about what they allow in your water as well. [Pun intended]
If you are using a CDC report as your source, then you are NOT doing your homework. Look up 'Fluoridegate - An American Tragedy' on YouTube. It's about an hour long film with scientists, doctors, dentists, all telling you that fluoride is dangerous, and the government is protecting a policy over any real science. The lead toxicologist of the EPA is in this film. He was fired for speaking out against fluoride! He sued the EPA and won, and got his job back, but they still refuse to listen or change their policy. Fluoridation is a policy that makes certain people A LOT of money. It is extremely dangerous, a poison, and has even been found to cause lowered IQ in developing children.
As the previous poster stated...DO YOUR HOMEWORK.
It is not only the pregnant women who need to avoid drinking the tap water but also small children. Water borne diseases are very dangerous and they are the real threat to our health. Apart from these water contaminants, there are lot of bacterias, viruses, small worms and hardness of the water which can create problem to the humans. Hence it is advisable to buy the best RO water purifiers for your home. Boiling the water after the filtration process is the healthiest way to drink water. Thank you.
Another issue to keep in mind is the effect of plastic water bottles on the water that it is containing. Toxins such as phthalate in plastic seeps into the water causing serious health problems over time. Not only that but it's expensive and is environmentally unfriendly.
Purified water is important. Just remember to select a solution that isn't counterproductive.
:-O there is no escape, everything in this society is a slow poison. There is no escape from the packaging issue.
I only know one thing, when human beings start meddling with things and acting clever they tend to do more harm then good. I might start heading towards bottled water, I am definitely not going to listen to the government. They are last people you want to trust.