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 essential 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 worldwide 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 to from the tap is safe or drinkable?
A Consumer’s Guide to Nation’s Drinking Water
Water is one of the most precious resources – it is essential to life on earth. About 70% of Earth's surface is covered in water. 97% of the water on earth came from the oceans and seas, while the remaining 3% is fresh water. Of that small amount of freshwater, almost 2% is locked up in glaciers and ice. The remaining 1% of freshwater is mostly groundwater, with a small fraction filling the world's lakes and rivers. Thus, with this minimal amount, how can we be sure that the water we drink is clean and safe?
Most people in the United States get their water on tap. These waters do meet the federal and state standards, and therefore it is indeed safe to drink. But due to some technical inaccuracies such as improper plumbing, the probability of having major and minor diseases is still high.
Drinking unclean water can cause diarrheal diseases such as Cholera, Typhoid, Guinea Worm, and Dysentery to common people, especially those living with HIV/AIDS, undergoing chemotherapy, transplant patients, infants, frail elderly, and pregnant women.
Though most of us are still lucky enough to drink clean water, we must still do our best to conserve it and value its importance.
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 large cities like San Francisco, LA, New York, Boston, and Washington DC. You may get drinkable water, 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 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 residents. 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.
How Safe is My Drinking Water?
Waters produced by taps in the U.S. are very well tested and regulated by the Public Water Systems (PWS). PWS serves water for at least 60 days per year to not less than 15 service connections. This said system has 161,000 units in the U.S. and is owned by public and private sectors. At the same time, the Community Water System (CWS) is a PWS that serves water all year round. Since the CWS is lesser in price and is convenient for hundreds of connections, it is then used by most people.
The safety and the standards of the Public Water Systems are defined by the U.S.’s Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). Passed by Congress last 1974, this act protects the public health by controlling the supply of the nation’s drinking water and giving protection to their sources.
On the other hand, the water at schools, factories, campgrounds, and restaurants, is being regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This Environmental Protection Agency administers the Safe Drinking Water Act and makes sure that their water supply is being tested regularly.
The amount of contaminated water increases as our modern society develops. Activities such as the disposal of human, animal, and chemical wastes could create chemical, lead, and microbial contaminations that cause high probabilities of polluting the water.
Because of this, the EPA makes sure that the waters flowing in the pipes have undergone proper treatment and disinfection to lessen the health risk.
To know more about the waters in your home, better to ask for information or contact your water supplier. It is also better to ask them for regular reports so that you, too, will be updated on how your water is being regulated.
Where Does My Drinking Water Come From and How is it Treated?
There are two sources where we could get our drinking water: surface water and groundwater. Surface waters include reservoirs, lakes, and rivers, while the wells and other geological formations that contain water are the groundwaters.
Most people get their water from the surface since it is easier to attain. Unfortunately, since the surface water is exposed directly to the atmosphere and runoffs from the snow and rain, treating it takes more time.
On the other hand, large water suppliers get water from the ground since the amount of clean water there is greater. Also, groundwater is less contaminated than surface water because some minor pollutants are filtered as the water seeps into the ground.
But no matter where these waters came from, these suppliers still follow various treatment processes to delete their contaminants.
The most common process includes these steps:
- Coagulation: is when the particles suspended in the water are being removed. Also, alum and other more chemicals are added here to attract the dirt.
- Sedimentation: is when the heavy particles created by the alum and other chemicals are removed so that only the clean water remains.
- Filtration is when the water is filtered by layers of gravel, charcoal, and sand to remove smaller particles.
- Disinfection: is when chemicals such as chlorine are being added to kill the bacteria or microorganisms in the water.
- Storage is when the water is now clean and was placed in a reservoir to be delivered to your homes.
What can you do to Protect your Drinking Water?
Plants, animals, and humans all need fresh water to survive. Though small in numerical value, freshwater is also essential to life.
Because of the growing population, we are then faced with the threat of water scarcity. Problems are caused by the excessive water supply usage and the decreasing quantity of clean water due to pollution.
Governments are trying to find ways to lengthen each countries water supply. They are finding alternatives and better solutions to help lessen the increasing contamination of our lands and waters. And as a citizen, we must also do our part to have clean water in the future still.
We can help by getting involved in every activity concerning the protection of the water, being informed of the updates coming from the local water supplier, being observant regarding the happenings in the surroundings, and causing no more damage to the water sources.
We can also start changing our lifestyles and try to be more natural and organic. We can try not to use pesticides and other cleaning products because it could cause contamination in the water underground. If possible, find additive-free solutions so that they won’t add to the toxic chemicals seeping into the ground. Reducing the amount of garbage by recycling and reusing it could also help not just in our waters but also in our environment.
Always remember that everything has its limits. Thus we must protect and save our water sources and try to value every drop of it, because sooner or later if we won’t take any action in preserving it, these waters could be gone.
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 that 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 with 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, making it harder to clean sinks, tubs, and showers. Some people choose to "soften" their water, but this usually adds sodium to 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
TO PREVENT DENTAL PROBLEMS, the U.S. government has mandated that fluoride is added to the water supply for about 50 years now. However, the current study has shown that fluoride, a chemical used in rat poison, does a lot more harm than good. This substance is considered a class 4 hazardous waste produced 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 proven to kill bacteria, but it has toxic effects on the human body. It has been identified as the leading cause of cancer of the bladder, associated with breast and rectal cancers, asthma, premature aging of the skin, and congenital disabilities. It is not only common in tap water but as well as treating swimming pools. The problem with this substance is that it does not know when to stop killing organisms, which evidently leads to toxic effects on the human body.
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.
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 is probably considered as a “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.
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. As many as 56 million Americans are estimated to have drink water containing unsafe levels of arsenic. The base from the Natural Resources Defense Council 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 to 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 to 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 to from the tap is safe or drinkable.
REPORT: Nearly One in Four Americans’ Drinking Water Comes from Untested or Contaminated Systems
Drinking-Water for 15 Million Americans Is Contaminated With a Toxic Chemical
Threats on Tap: Widespread Violations Highlight Need for Investment in Water Infrastructure and Protections
If you're drinking tap water, you're consuming plastic pollutants.
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. If they are significant, national news is often 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 a 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 human needs.
Related stories about Tap Water in America
EWG’s National Drinking Water Database
27 Alarming Facts About Water Pollution in the United States
How Do We Get Our Drinking Water In The U.S.?
Water disinfection application standards (for the USA)
Nearly All USA Tap Water Is Contaminated With Plastic
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