One of the greatest blessings of the developed world is fast access to clean water supplies. Many households can turn on their tap and grab a glass of water whenever they are thirsty.
Is that clean water you’re really drinking though? Horror stories that have come out of Flint show us that maybe our tap water isn’t as safe to drink as many may think. Do you know what is in your water right now?
Organic and Microbial Contaminants Cannot Always Be Detected
If your water smells like the local sewage plant or has a color that looks more like coffee, then you know that there is something lurking in your home’s tap water. The greatest dangers of tap water contamination occur when there is a contaminant in the water that cannot be detected by human senses.
It is possible to consume these contaminants for several years before even realizing a problem with the water supply exists. Until an entire community becomes sick, like in the example of Flint, the quality of water being consumed may not even be considered if a household begins to feel ill.
That is why it is so important to have the correct home water filtration system. Whether you draw your water from a well or get it from your city, there are no 100% guarantees of cleanliness. It is up to you to filter your water to remove whatever might be lurking within it.
What Could Be in My Water Right Now?
Many communities are located in agricultural regions or zones. This means the groundwater supplies are exposed to fertilizer applications, pesticide sprays, herbicides, and other chemicals that are used for crop growth. The chemicals from these products have the potential to interfere with the human reproductive process, can increase a personal cancer risk, and can impair organ function.
If your home isn’t near an agricultural zone, then you may be near an industrial zone. Many of the same chemicals that farmers use on their fields to produce crops are also used during the manufacturing cycle. Sometimes these chemicals are used in much higher concentrations. If they get into a drain, then the water treatment plant may not be able to remove it all from the local supply and that means it could be in your water.
There are several common contaminants that are frequently reported to be in the tap water of communities throughout North America.
Aluminum: In the United States, aluminum levels are recommended to be below 0.05 parts per million (ppm). At 0.1 ppm, aluminum contamination can affect water coloration. It comes from soil leaching and pipe treatments and can affect kidney health. Reverse osmosis is the best filtration method.
Ammonia: There are no maximum contaminant levels for ammonia in water. It is toxic to fish and that toxicity increases with temperature and rising pH levels. It is often used for disinfection. Treatment options are through ion exchange or distillation.
Arsenic: Arsenic comes from natural sources, petroleum production, semiconductor manufacturing, pesticides, preservatives, and coal-fired power plants. It may cause skin problems, is a known carcinogen, and will harm the cardiovascular and nervous systems of the body. Iron oxide and reverse osmosis are both filtration methods. This chart shows the high-risk areas of arsenic contamination in the United States.
Barium: This contaminant comes from copper smelting, the manufacture of automobile parts, and through drilling wastes. It can cause hypertension, problems with breathing, changes in heart rhythm, and organ disruption. Cation exchange and reverse osmosis are the best options for removal. The US allows 2.0 ppm, while Canada allows 1 ppm, and the international standard is 0.7 ppm.
Cadmium: The most common reason for this contaminant being in tap water is because of the corrosion of galvanized pipes. It can also come from runoff waste that involves paint or certain batteries. It can cause short-term health issues that include vomiting, cramping, and hallucination. It may also cause organ and bone damage. Reverse osmosis and lime softening are effective treatment methods.
Chloramine: This contaminant is present because of municipal treatment methods. It can cause hemolytic anemia when consumed in high amounts. Activated carbon filters are effective at removing it. Allowable levels are 4 ppm.
Copper:It may be an essential mineral for human health, but too much of it can be poisonous. It may cause vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. In severe poisoning cases, anemia and kidney failure are possible. Reverse osmosis can reduce copper levels to the 1.3 ppm recommended levels.
Fluoride:Although it is often added to water to protect teeth, it can also cause teeth to become discolored, disfigured, and pitted. Long-term consumption can result in a bone disorder that is similar to osteopetrosis. Activated alumina adsorption and reverse osmosis can remove it from water, even if it has been municipally treated.
Lead:This toxic metal was often used for lead service lines because it is so cheap. Then the lead is lined to protect it from leeching into the water supply. Mines, smelting, solder, and brass fittings all contribute to lead in water. Children are at a greater risk of lead poisoning, which can cause damage to the brain, bone marrow, and kidneys. Several different filters and reverse osmosis can remove lead.
Nitrates and Nitrites:This enters tap water because of fertilizers, natural deposits near a water source, or wastewater that has not been fully treated. Most of the dangerous health effects of high nitrate and nitrite levels occur in infants under 6 months of age. Reverse osmosis can reduce levels, but a film composite membrane must be used.
Mercury:This contaminant can occur in many forms. Even breathing the water vapor of contaminated water with mercury can be potentially dangerous. Reverse osmosis is the most effective way of removing it, though activated carbon filters can also get the job done. High exposure levels can cause organ failure and interfere with fetal development.
Radium:This contaminant increases the personal risks of cancer development. It occurs naturally through the decay of thorium and uranium in the rocks and soil near local water supplies. Reverse osmosis and lime softening can reduce contamination levels.
Selenium:You’ll notice fingernail and hair changes when high levels of this contaminant are present. It can also cause irritability, fatigue, and may damage the peripheral nervous system. Filtration and reverse osmosis can reduce or eliminate this contaminant from tap water.
Silver:It may be a precious metal, but it can also be in tap water when present as silver sulfide or silver chloride. In most instances, it is present in tap water because of a bacteriostatic agent being used in water treatment. Exposure over time can cause the skin, organs, and hair turn a unique blue color.
Uranium:This is a naturally occurring mineral that, in high doses, can cause kidney toxicity and increase a personal risk for cancer. You would notice a change to urine composition with this contaminant present. The most effective method of removal is reverse osmosis. It is more of a concern in the US West than other parts of North America, but can occur anywhere.
There can also be viruses and bacteria in the local water supply, especially if UV filtration is not part of the local water treatment cycle.
How Can I Know What Is in My Tap Water?
If you get your water from a municipality, then the water you receive is regularly tested to ensure its overall quality. Those reports are often sent with the utility bills that are received each month, usually with a household usage report. For municipalities that have transitioned to paperless billing, the city website will be able to direct you to the information you want.
Municipal water testing is treated as part of the public record. If you cannot locate testing reports in the above locations, then you can directly request a water report from your local City Hall.
If you draw your water from a well or groundwater source, then it is necessary to perform testing on your water to determine if it contains any contamination. You may wish to have it professionally tested if you have never had the water checked before.
For those who need to do regular monitoring of their well-water quality or want to test their tap water for its overall quality, then we highly recommend the Watersafe Well Water Test Kit. You can find it through this link.
It will test for 10 common contaminants, including lead, copper, and nitrates, plus help you recognize unsafe levels of chlorine, fertilizers, or pesticide toxins that may be in your water supply. This is one of the few testing kits that meets EPA standards for water testing and will give you instant results.
What is lurking in your home’s tap water? If the water looks or smells wrong, then something is wrong and you should not consume it. The real challenge is identifying a potential hazard when the water looks and smells normal. By understanding the common contaminants and how to filter them out, you can have a safer and healthier glass of water every day.