You go to get a nice, refreshing glass of water from your kitchen tap. But just as you lift the glass to your lips, one terrifying question arises: Is this water actually safe to drink?
Our modern plumbing systems make clean water readily available at the turn of a faucet. But recent headlines have brought potential problems lurking in our taps to light. Communities across the country have discovered contaminated water linked to health issues.
So, how can you really know what’s flowing through the pipes in your own home? Is your family exposed without even realizing it? Join us as we examine the safety of tap water and explore simple ways to safeguard your health when thirst demands a drink.
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Key Things to Know About Tap Water
Many Americans are concerned about the safety of their tap water. A recent study from the US Geological Survey found chemicals called PFAS present in nearly half of water systems tested across the country. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) can persist in both the environment and the human body.
Long-term exposure has been linked to serious health issues like cancer, thyroid disease, and decreased fertility.
To help ensure tap water meets strict purity standards, the Environmental Protection Agency regulates contaminant levels and requires rigorous water quality monitoring by local systems.
Both tap and bottled water in the United States undergo thorough quality reviews. The Food and Drug Administration oversees bottled water quality standards. For municipal water, the EPA works with local authorities to establish contaminant limits and conduct routine compliance testing. Water reports are available to help consumers understand source details, test results, and any health considerations for their system.
For those relying on private wells, annual water testing is recommended. Homeowners are personally responsible for verifying contaminants stay within acceptable safety limits over time. Consistent testing can provide assurances and peace of mind about drinking water purity from local sources.
Hard Water vs Soft Water
The classification of water as hard or soft depends on its mineral content, according to the United States Geological Survey. Groundwater tends to have higher mineral levels since it flows through soil and rock during filtration. The two main minerals determining water hardness are calcium and magnesium.
Water hardness is categorized based on calcium carbonate concentrations: soft contains 0-60 mg/L, moderately hard is 61-120 mg/L, hard is 121-180 mg/L, and very hard exceeds 180 mg/L.
While minerals like calcium and magnesium are essential nutrients, excessive amounts may pose health risks. Some studies link hard water to increased chances of cardiovascular disease. The body requires minerals in moderation for proper functioning.
Contaminants in Your Tap Water and Their Impact on Your Health
The Safe Drinking Water Act broadly defines contaminants as any physical, chemical, biological, or radiological substances present in water other than H2O molecules. At low levels, some contaminants may be harmless, but high concentrations of others can pose health risks if consumed in drinking water.
Contaminants on the Contaminant Candidate List undergo further review to understand their potential health effects. These contaminants generally fall under main categories, including physical particles that impact appearance, naturally occurring or human-made chemical elements and compounds, biological microbes, and unstable radioactive isotopes.
One concerning historical case of groundwater contamination provides a cautionary example. According to TorHoerman Law, at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, an estimated one million people may have been exposed to toxic compounds in the drinking water supply from the 1950s through the 1980s. Subsequent studies linked this contamination to higher reported rates of birth defects, childhood diseases, and various cancers among those exposed.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry further analyzed potential health impacts specific to exposure at Camp Lejeune. Their research associated contaminated drinking water with increased risks of developing bladder, breast, cervical, esophageal, kidney, liver, blood, and lung cancers, as well as renal toxicity, neurological disorders, and birth defects.
As a result, many affected individuals and their families are pursuing legal action by filing the Camp Lejeune water contamination lawsuit.
Contaminated drinking water can also transmit diarrheal illnesses and hepatitis. While modern regulations aim to limit such health risks, continued vigilance remains important. Strict testing standards and regular water quality monitoring help safeguard public well-being by limiting exposure to contaminants through the drinking supply.
Ensuring the Safety of Your Tap Water
The quality of the water flowing into your home is influenced by both the public water sources and your internal plumbing system. Potential contaminants can infiltrate from either direction. Here are some practical steps you can take to enhance the quality of your tap water.
Invest in a Certified Water Filtration System
Opting for a certified water filtration system is a wise move to eliminate chemical sediments and enhance the taste of your water. Look out for NSF certification, which serves as a reliable indicator of a filter’s effectiveness against specific contaminants. Consider the efficacy of reverse osmosis systems, which are particularly effective in removing substances like arsenic and lead.
Regularly Test Your Water Quality
Despite assurances from your municipality about water safety, contaminants can still seep into your water via your home plumbing. It’s advisable to conduct annual water tests using an EPA-certified lab. Pay particular attention to heavy metals such as lead, which can leach from older pipes. The cost of testing can vary from $15 to several hundred dollars, depending on the range of tests required. Reach out to your local health department or the EPA for recommendations on reputable labs.
Additional Precautions for Your Drinking Water
Implementing some extra precautions can further bolster the safety of your drinking water. Boiling water before consumption effectively kills bacteria, ensuring its purity. Always opt for cold water, as it spends less time in the piping system, minimizing the risk of contamination. Regularly clean aerator screens to prevent buildup, and make it a habit to flush taps each morning to clear any accumulated residues.
Consider collecting the flushed water for alternative uses to conserve this precious resource. By adopting these habits, you can foster a culture of clean, contaminant-free tap water.
An abundance of clean water is one of life’s most precious resources, so protecting its purity through awareness and prevention makes good sense. With sustained vigilance, communities can continue enjoying the benefits of safe, contaminant-free water for generations to come.