Water is one of our most vital and frequently used resources. The United States supposedly has one of the finest public water systems in the world. Despite this, some US cities have had various water crises and some, like Flint, Michigan, remain without drinkable water. As well, the consumption of bottled water by Americans has notably increased in the last couple of decades, with about 43.7 gallons of bottled water being consumed per capita in 2019.

It’s apparent that hesitation still remains regarding drinking tap water. In this post, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about tap water regulation, the types of contaminants your water could contain, how to make sure your water is potable, and how you can guarantee the safety of your home’s tap water.  

Regulating Tap Water

Most of us hardly give any thought to the water readily flowing from the faucets throughout our homes. A simple turn of the spigot and we’re filling our kettles for tea, pans for cooking, and tubs for bathing; usually leaving this magical process to trickle out while we turn our attention to other things. However, there’s actually a quite complex and effective system established for monitoring and delivering the water that comes out of our spouts.

Natural water is sourced from rivers, groundwater, or runoff water origins and then sent to water towers or reservoirs through a series of pipes. Once in these storage areas, the gathered water goes through treatment and filtration. The water should also be regularly tested. Cities are required to test their taps at least 100 times per month; this is in contrast to the requirement of bottled water factories who only have to test once a week according to the Natural Resources Defense Council

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for determining the legal limits of contaminants in tap water. Yes, our water is allowed to include some impurities, and health campaigners have a few criticisms and demands: 

  1. The federal standards for contaminant levels in our tap water needs to be updated more frequently. It’s been almost 20 years since they were updated.
  2. The water needs to be tested for new pesticides and other current-day pollutants. Uranium was the last chemical to be banned in 2001.

With dodgy regulation policies, your tap water might not be as safe as you think it is. 

Toxins & Possible Health Effects

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a non-profit organization advocating for cleaner tap water, acknowledging that the standards set by the EPA are based on out-of-date studies and that many dangerous chemicals remain. Thus, a passing governmental grade does not mean that your tap water is safe for consumption. 

The EWG has created a list of their own drinking water standards in contrast to the government’s, whose list can be compromised by the desire for convenience and lower costs for treating the water. The EWG’s health guidelines were last updated in April 2020 and detailed at least 100 chemicals capable of causing harm at the current government standards. 

Some of these contaminants are:

  1. Pesticides
  2. Lead
  3. Cyanide
  4. Uranium
  5. Mercury

The potentially detrimental health effects include:

  • Various forms of cancer
  • Hormone disruption
  • Changes to the nervous system
  • Jeopardized immune system
  • Impairment of reproductive systems and child development

Plenty of other pollutants exist in your water as well that you might not know the names of, but are frequently used in your state and end up in the groundwater. 

A herbicide called Atrazine has been detected and served to over 44 million people in 35 states. It poses harm to male and female reproductive systems among humans and wildlife; and can cause disruptions to hormones, changes in the brain and behavior, and changes in the nervous system. 

Another agricultural toxin, nitrate, exists in water above EWG recommended limits with no treatment in states such as Pennsylvania, Texas, Oklahoma, California, and Kansas. With health effects such as harm to fetal growth and cancer, it is important to ask why such substances are going untreated and how we can be certain our water is cleansed correctly.

Is Your Water Potable?

Clean water is claimed as an accessible, basic right in the United States. Nonetheless, utilities culpable for purification continue to be underfunded and outdated. You might want to investigate how potable your water is yourself to gain peace of mind. 

Here’s how you can inspect what is coming out of your tap:

  1. Request your drinking water quality report

Also called a Consumer Confidence Report (CCR), this document tells you critical information about your tap water. Legally, you’re supposed to receive an annual report from your community water supplier anyway. The report should tell you where your water comes from and the EPA standards for safe contaminant levels, which we know needs revision. It also details the levels of contaminants in your community’s water, including the beneficial ones like chloramine which protects against germs in the water. A section on Cryptosporidium, a microscopic parasite causing diarrheal disease, is included as well.

       2. Call the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline

If you prefer speaking to a person rather than deciphering a written report, telephone their number at 800-426-4791. You might experience a long waiting time, but once on the line, you’ll be able to ask all your questions regarding the safety of your water.

       3. Locate your information online

You can access your information in a more timely manner by visiting the EWG’s Tap Water Database – last updated in 2019. Simply search your zip code and you’ll receive a list of contaminants in your local water that might comply with the federal health-based guidelines, but do not pass the EWG’s recommendations. 

       4. Purchase an at-home test

There are several at-home tests that you can purchase for understanding what’s coming out through your pipes; however, the accuracy of results varies and it can be difficult to analyze them yourself. At a heftier price, you could hire a professional lab that is certified in testing water.

Take control of your water today by following these guidelines!

Purifying Your Water at Home

Unfortunately, no water is completely free of contamination. Until pollutants are prevented from entering our water sources in the first place or are properly treated at cleaning facilities, you might want to follow these recommendations:

       1. Let your water run for a minute

If you have a lead service line, some departments of health advise you to let your cold water run for 3-5 minutes before collecting it. If your service line isn’t lead, you might still want to let it run for 30-60 seconds. Don’t consume hot water from the tap because it releases more lead. As well, don’t take this advice too far, we shouldn’t waste water! Have a small bucket in your sink to collect the unused water to replenish your plants with.

       2. Purchase a carbon filter

You usually have a choice of two different forms of carbon filters: carbon block or granulated activated carbon purifiers. Carbon block filters are often more effective at reducing volatile organic compounds. However, they’re a bit pricier than granulated activated carbon alternatives. Each comes in a variety of shapes and sizes convenient for your space: whether you need a counter-top pitcher, one attached to your faucet, or one that filters your entire house.

       3. Invest in a reverse osmosis system

A reverse osmosis system for your home is the most effective way to remove a multitude of contaminants according to EWG. However, it has some unfortunate qualities. They produce 5 times less water than they take in, creating a huge waste. As well, they remove minerals imperative for good health, such as magnesium, iron, and calcium. Talk to a manufacturer before investing in this system to ensure they have a re-mineralization method.

There are several options to choose from when deciding to certify that your water is cleaner and/or filtered at home. One of these will work for you!

Be the Boss of Your Water

Clean water should be on hand for every resident of your community. Take these steps to fight for your rights. Tap water can be safe as long as your utilities are treating everything. Sadly, this is not usually the case as money is saved by cutting corners; leaving facilities with out-of-date technology and toxin lists that fail to include modern chemicals. 

Learn the origins of your tap water from your Consumer Confidence Report and evaluate its levels of contaminants. Compare your CCR with the Environmental Working Group’s Tap Water Database and decide if you would prefer to execute further filtration at home; then, decide which system works best for you. 

Finally, you can always take additional action by contacting your local officials. You can learn what tough questions and demands need answers to hold state legislators, city council members, Congress, and the Oval Office accountable here.