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 suppliesSources, 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.. 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.
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 slimWhat’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.. 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 individualsComparison 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.. 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.