Your Top 10 Water Quality Questions Answered
Water & Health
The conditions in Flint, Michigan have brought awareness to the importance of proper procedure for creating drinkable water. The average American uses between 80 and 100 gallons of water per day. If that water is contaminated with lead or other harmful elements, that’s a lot of dangerous exposure.
August is National Water Quality Month, and we took ten of your most pressing questions to help you advocate for yourself and for your family’s health.
- Where Do We Rank?
As a developed nation, we have the privilege of access to much cleaner water than in many other countries. We are warned to stick to bottled water when traveling to foreign countries, and while we have heard of Montezuma’s Revenge, we may not know what it actually means. It is the name given to the intestinal distress caused by e-coli and other foreign bodies in water that hasn’t been fully treated.
In fact, aside from the United States, only Australia, Japan, Canada, and Western Europe have water that is considered safe straight from the tap. This infographic highlights the research done by the CDC to illustrate this finding.
According to the non-profit organization WaterAid, than 844 million people around the world have no access to safe drinking water, and 800 children die every day from e-coli poisoning, dehydration, and other maladies caused by unsafe drinking water.
While we live in relative security from these issues, Flint has shown us just how important vigilance about our drinking supply is.
- Who Maintains and Regulates our Water Supply?
Drinking water comes from several places in the U.S., and different agencies have their own set of standards to which the supply they regulate must meet.
The EPA manages the supply that comes from your tap, while the FDA sets the standard for bottled water.
Your state regulates the water that is bottled and sold in your state, and your municipality ensures that all federal and state water quality standards are met.
Private wells are just that, private. They are not regulated by the state or the EPA, and it is the responsibility of the homeowner to follow the rules for standard testing. This means that if you’re not managing the safety of your well, it’s possible that nobody is.
- What Contaminants May Be in Our Supply?
Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) has a very broad definition of “contaminant”, which includes literally all things that aren’t hydrogen or oxygen molecules. That being the case, don’t let the word “contaminant” instantly strike fear into your heart. Many minerals that are found in your water cause no negative impacts on your health at all.
Some of these dissolved solids can cause hard water problems. Minerals like magnesium, iron, and calcium can cause issues with residue, rust, and soap scum build-up that can cause drains and wreak havoc on your skin, hair, and home appliances.
While annoying, 80% of the minerals and contaminants in your water are safe to consume. Other H2O invaders are less benign. The Water Quality Association has compiled a list of common water contaminants and their possible impacts on your home and health.
Contaminants can take many forms. Some of the most common include:
- Physical– any material that changes the physical property of water, from sediment and dirt, to dissolved rock and other solids
- Chemical– some of these are natural, while others are the result of human impact.
- Biological– parasites, bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms
- Radiological– uranium, plutonium, and other elements that cause radioactive properties
- Which Contaminants May Be in Our Groundwater?
Groundwater accounts for about 50% of the municipal and well supply in the United States according to GroundWater.org.
This valuable source of water can become polluted when oil, road salts, gasoline, and other chemicals mix into the groundwater, making it unsafe for consumption.
Fertilizer, manure, pesticides, and toxic and hazardous byproducts from landfills and waste sites can move through the soil, making the water unfit for humans.
This graphic illustrates how groundwater is exposed to contaminants
- How is the Municipal Supply Treated?
The public water supply is treated at a water processing facility before it is considered safe for consumption. The municipal treatment plant will use chlorine to disinfect the water, kill microbes, and neutralize bacteria.
Additional chemicals may be used, including chloramine, which is a chlorine and ammonia cocktail, if it is considered necessary.
Treatment of the water is absolutely vital to prevent the spread of disease and infection, and to ensure the safety of your drinking water, but it does come with a small risk.
The potential exists for the chemical compounds to react with the organic matter in the supply. This could create byproducts called trihalomethanes (THMs) and haloacetic acids (HAAs). Independent studies have shown a link between these byproducts and an increased risk of diseases like cancers and cardiovascular disease.
The World Health Organization has deemed that any potential risk carried by the process is far outweighed by the dangers of drinking untreated water.
- Where Does Lead Come From, and How Does it Get Into the Water Supply?
Anyone with a toddler knows the unnerving wait to receive lead testing results, and since America learned of the situation in Flint, the dangers of lead poisoning have never been more on our minds.
The health implications of lead consumption are very serious, and the CDC and EPA agree that there is no safe level of lead consumption. Lead poisoning can lead to developmental and neurological problems, behavioral and memory issues, abdominal pain, tingling or numbness in the extremities, and even seizures. Some of these effects can last for years after the exposure, and some are even permanent.
Lead and other heavy metals can enter the water supply by leaching off of corroded and outdated plumbing and fixtures, or bleed into the soil from lead-based paints on houses and fences. Many houses build prior to 1986 used lead-based solder to fuse copper pipes in the plumbing. This means that even if water entered the home clean and lead-free, it was picking up traces of the metal before filling your child’s cup.
If you are concerned, or if your child has tested positive for lead, you can choose to have your water tested in a state-certified laboratory.
- My Water is Cloudy, and Smells “Off”. Is it Safe?
There are many factors that can have an effect on the smell, taste, and clarity of your drinking water. While some are a concern, many are absolutely harmless.
If you have a sensitive palate, you may be able to detect the taste of chlorine in your water. This is part of the water treatment we mentioned earlier. Others notice the smell of eggs, which is caused by sulfur in your water. Iron can cause a metallic taste, as well as staining on your dishes, clothes, and possibly your teeth.
The number of Total Dissolved Solids in your supply will surely affect the flavor and smell of your water. While it is a nuisance, and can make the water less pleasant to drink, it poses no negative health implications. A high efficiency water softener and a water filtration system will remove these minerals from your water, and provide many solutions to what ails your supply.
- Should I Switch to Bottled Water?
Using bottled water seems like a fool-proof solution to avoid the contaminants that may be in the public supply. While the superiority of bottled water has long been advertised, it is unlikely that you’re getting anything more than filtered tap water.
The last decade has brought about many regulations forcing bottles water suppliers to avoid making false claims about their supply. While the water in that bottle may be safer than it used to be, the bottle itself may be leaching harmful plastics into your body, and into the soil once it’s been discarded. This only propagates the cycle of pollution and undrinkable water, which makes those bottles seem more necessary.
Buying a reusable BHP-Free bottle and filling it at home with filtered water is as economical as it is ecological. You may lose a bit of a workout, as you won’t be lugging dozens of bottles of water around the store and into your home every week, but at about a dollar a bottle you can use the money you’ll save to buy a home gym.
- How Do I Know if my Water is Safe?
Many people choose to remove all doubt about the health of their water supply by sending a sample to a state water testing facility. You can do some of your own research into the quality of your local supply by checking out your water utilities Consumer Confidence Report. This is a public document detailing the EPA’s findings on your supply of water, its contaminants, and possible health implications.
You can learn more about the quality of your water using The Environmental Working Group’s online database to collect information and reports from your area.
For private well owners, The Groundwater Foundation suggests sending a sample of your water to a state-certified lab once a year.
Be sure to take two samples before sending the water for testing, one from the source, and another from the tap. To check for bacteria, it is recommended that you contact a local lab, as many bacteria will die before the sample can make the trip to an out-of-state testing facility.
- Do I Have Access to Residential Water Treatments That Can Help?
The only way you can know your water is up to your standard of health and safety is to take matters into your own hands. You have options for in-home filtration systems, including a Reverse Osmosis Filtration System, and a UV Light Purification System, and a water softening system to remove dissolved solids and hard water minerals.
Once you know what’s in your water, we can help you get the most out of it!