Take a look at a glass of water. It looks refreshing, hydrating and invaluable to your survival. Before you take a sip though, how do you know that the water inside is free from disease-causing organisms? Did you know that 1 out of 10 people can actually be sure that their water is clean and safe to drink? People are much aware that water safety is incredibly important to the human body. The quality of the water you drink greatly impacts your overall health.
Most of us don’t think about the water we drink. We turn on a tap, fill a glass, and drink. Is the water you're drinking safe or would bottled water be safer? What can you do if your tap water suddenly became contaminated?
Inadequate sanitation, poor protection of drinking water sources and improper hygiene often lead to sewage and feces-contaminated water; that is the ideal breeding ground for dangerous bacteria, parasites and other forms of viruses, and the effects of these pathogens are staggering. Diarrheal disease from unsafe water is one of the leading causes of death around the world for children under 5. According to the UN report from 2010, microbial water-borne illnesses killed more people per year than war. So how can you tell whether the water you have access from the tap is safe or drinkable?
Water in America: Is It Safe to Drink?
Over 1 billion glasses of tap water Americans drink each day. Most of the water supply is very potable except for some of the large cities like San Francisco, LA, New York, Boston, and Washington DC. You may get water which is drinkable, but in places where contaminants in drinking water exceed a legal limit, rural areas are often more affected than wealthy, urban and suburban ones. Those are some of the key takeaways from a new database that the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has reported.
Another report in NRDC that nearly 77 million Americans lived in places where the water systems were in some violation of safety regulations, that many relied on the systems that did not comply with standards in protecting the public health. Millions of water suppliers failed to test water safety properly; in fact, they did not report the test results to health authorities.
This underreporting and the fact that many contaminants aren’t even monitored or regulated may have occurred with common contaminants such as perchlorate and PFOA/PFOS (chemical cousins of Teflon) in millions of Americans’ tap water. Thus, America has a drinking water crisis.
The law governing public water sources is the Safe Drinking Water Act (SWDA), and it is a regulation passed by the US government to provide safe drinking water for all US resident. It is a federal law, which only applies to the public community or public water system (PWS). If something happens with water safety or its regulations, the local government has to inform people to stop drinking the water, and Community water systems are required to prepare and distribute annual reports about their water.
Tap Water in America: What Is It Like?
Generally, tap water is considered safe if it comes from a public water system in the United States, such as one run and maintained by a municipality. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the authorizing body that sets enforceable health standards regarding the contaminants in drinking water and monitors all public water systems.
In the United States, there is a nearly one-in-four chance your tap water is either unsafe to drink or has not been properly monitored for contaminants by federal law; one example is the water crisis happened in Flint, Michigan. Sky-high levels of lead in tap water were widely publicized in 2015, which was not led by the E.P.A., but by Flint residents who enlisted allies including Marc Edwards, a scientist at Virginia Tech, who played a major role in bringing the crisis to national attention.
The main problem with tap water in America is the pipes in the houses. Many homes and schools have galvanized steel water pipes for drinking and these galvanized steel pipes rust on the inside, causing the drinking water to have a yellow, red, or brown tint, where lead solder can leach into the water. In houses that have discolored tap water, a water filter is worth paying for and using during this predicament.
Another problem with tap water is that much of the country has hard water and this makes it harder to clean sinks, tubs, and showers. There are some people who choose to "soften" their water, but this usually adds sodium in the water. The U.S. public water systems provide drinkable tap water, and most of them add chlorine to sterilize the water, but to ensure that the water is sterile, you need to boil it or chemically treat it yourself. So, what’s actually in tap water?
Here are 7 Contaminants Found in Tap Water in America
The U.S. government has mandated, to prevent dental problems, fluoride is added to the water supply for about 50 years now. However, the current study has shown that fluoride, a chemical that is used in rat poison, does a lot more harm than good. This substance is considered a class 4 hazardous waste product by the EPA, and it is illegal to dump anywhere in the environment. The cities all over North America have been banning the chemical over the last few years, and it is expected to continue.
In fact, the fluoride found in tap water has actually been shown to damage tooth enamel, it can increase fracture risk, as well as suppress immune and thyroid function. Also, it increases cancer risk and disrupts the function of the pineal gland.
Chlorine is used in water treatment facilities as a disinfectant which is proven to kill bacteria, but it has toxic effects in the human body. It has been identified as the leading cause of the cancer of the bladder, associated with breast and rectal cancers, asthma, premature aging of skin and birth defects. It is not only common in tap water but as well as treating swimming pools. The problem with this substance is, it does not know when to stop killing organisms, which is evidently lead to toxic effects on the human body.
- Pharmaceutical drugs
Pharmaceutical drugs are significantly consumed in North America. Antibiotics and birth control pills to antidepressants, painkillers, and other psychiatric medications are now showing up in most public water supplies. These drugs find their way into our water inevitably after being flushed through urine. New investigations have shown that a growing number of pharmaceutical drugs are finding their way into drinking water.
- Hexavalent chromium
Chromium is found naturally in rocks, plants, soil, volcanic dust, and even animals. It is an odorless and tasteless metallic element, and the most common forms of chromium that occur in natural waters in the environment are Trivalent chromium (chromium-3) and Hexavalent chromium (chromium-6).
At present, an Environmental Working Group (EWG) report shared that hexavalent chromium, a chemical identified, that probably considered as “carcinogen” by the EPA, is present in high concentrations in 31 U.S. cities. Despite its known toxicity, there are no government regulations for hexavalent chromium in drinking water.
- Radioactive Contaminants
During the Fukushima nuclear accident, radioactive fallout from Japan has been detected in drinking water supplies throughout the U.S., and radioactive iodine-131 was detected in drinking water samples from 13 U.S. cities. Radioactive cesium and tellurium isotopes have been detected at low levels. However, the health implications of this radioactive contamination are not known yet, and there are still widespread hazardous impacts on human health.
Arsenic is odorless, tasteless and a poisonous element well-known to be extremely carcinogenic. It can enter drinking water supplies from natural deposits in the earth or agricultural and industrial practices. The base form the Natural Resources Defense Council, as many as 56 million Americans are estimated have drink water containing unsafe levels of arsenic, and this can greatly increase the rate of cancer of the bladder, lungs, nasal passages, skin, kidney, liver, and prostate.
- Lead, aluminum, and other heavy metals
Lead is a toxic metal that can be harmful to human health even at low exposure levels and it is persistent, and bioaccumulation may occur in the body over time. Particularly vulnerable to lead are young children, infants, and fetuses because the behavioral and physical impacts of lead occur at lower exposure levels in children. Exposure of lead has been linked to damage to the central and peripheral nervous system, impaired hearing, and impaired formation and function of blood cells usually in children.
Other heavy metals and Lead can make their way every home’s tap water through corrosion of the pipes in your plumbing system. Lead contamination has been linked to serious developmental delays and learning disorders in children. Aluminum and other heavy metals have been linked to nerve, brain and kidney damage. Today, some municipalities are still transporting water in lead pipes.
Water contamination from these and other sources including leaching, chemical spills, and runoffs has been linked to long-term health effects, like cancer, cardiovascular and neurological diseases, and miscarriage. Analyzing the exact risks of chemically contaminated water is unfortunately difficult. So while it’s clear that disinfectants make us safer by removing disease-causing pathogens, experts have yet to determine the full scope of how the chemical cocktail in our drinking water really impacts human health.
For the greater part, America’s drinking water is pulled from groundwater to federal and state purity levels before arriving at every home’s tap. How do you know if your water is safe for drinking? See if these reports help you tell whether the water you have access from the tap is safe or drinkable.
Is It Safe to Drink Tap Water in the U.S.?
All municipal water systems in the United States provide clean and safe drinking water. Water supplies are regulated by the government and must be tested regularly. Often national news, if they are significant, are generally well publicized, where water safety problems and emergency notices are issued if a rare temporary situation, results in unsafe water.
The Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance noted that the EPA faced a discouraging list of challenges in its ongoing efforts, particularly with small systems that “lack the basic infrastructure, resources, and capacity to provide clean drinking water to the public.
Clean and safe water remains a precious and often scarce commodity. The good news is that continued development in water treatment, both on the small and large scale can alleviate a lot of unsafe conditions. Implementing proper systems where they are needed and paying careful attention to the ones already in place will fulfill one of the most basic of human needs.
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