Most Americans have easy access to fresh water, which comes flowing freely with the turn of handle. But, is tap water safe? The answer isn’t always so simple.
Critical to our health and survival, water plays an essential role in countless cellular processes. At the same time, it’s also an easy way for pathogens and toxins to enter our blood streams. Water can become contaminated in a variety of ways: It may contain microorganisms such as parasites, bacteria and viruses. It can contain chemicals from agricultural or industrial waste. Nitrates used in fertilizers may also find their way into the water supply, along with harmful metals, such as mercury or lead, which can leach off pipes or natural deposits underground.
Assessing the Risk
The recent water crisis in Flint, Michigan has caused many people to ask questions about the quality of their community tap water. For the most part, these concerns are unfounded. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets enforceable health standards regarding potential contaminants in drinking water. Water treatment plants are required to regularly provide proof that they are meeting these strict safety standards before pumping any water to your home.
At the same time, accidents can and do happen. If a water supply becomes contaminated for any reason, the supplier is required to promptly notify the community. They also have 24 hours to inform customers of any violation of standards that could result in short- or long-term health problems for consumers.
Those at Special Risk
While public water contaminants pose little risk to most people, some are at a higher risk. These include:
- People with HIV/AIDS
- Those undergoing chemotherapy
- Transplant patients
- Pregnant women and their fetuses
- Children and infants
While the threat of water contamination is still very low even for these people, many opt to install private home filtration systems to mitigate even the slightest risk.
People who get their water from wells are also at a higher risk of contamination, because the EPA is not responsible for ensuring well water quality. If you rely on a well for fresh, potable water, the EPA recommends that you have the source tested regularly to make sure it is free of contaminants.
Other Things You Can Do
Occasionally, tap water can become contaminated when lead leaches off pipes. Sadly, even “lead-free” pipes can contain as much as 8 percent lead. The best way to avoid potential leeching is to use only cold tap water for cooking, drinking and making baby formula.
You should also stay aware of potential announcements regarding water quality and, if an accident occurs, follow the advice of local authorities until the water is declared safe to drink.