Is My Tap Water Always Safe to Drink?By John Davis - January 2, 2015
Admittedly, for the better portion of my life I have drank straight tap water completely assuming that the water coming out of the faucet was free of anything that could possible harm me, and as far as I know, it never has.
As a kid growing up in the 80’s it was common place on a hot summer day – yes, back then kids actually had to play outside – to turn on the nearest garden hose and guzzle has much as you possibly could during a game of tag or hide-n-seek.
However, times have changed, and many times I think we take for granted the fact that in the US we do have the safest public drinking water on the planet, but at the same time it’s rather loosely regulated. Not only that, but as with many other things, we now understand a lot more about what we put into our bodies and how they may affect our long term health prognosis. When I was a kid it was also generally considered OK to drink Coke-a-Cola all day as well.
What Are the Contaminant Guidelines for Public Tap Water?
The EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) is the guideline the used to regulate all of the over 160,000 public water service suppliers or public water system (PWS). To be considered a PWS the provider must serve water to 15 locations or 25 residents for at least 60 days per year, private water wells are not monitored by the EPA’s SDWA. The SDWA sets a maximum contaminant level (MCL) for 90 natural and man-made contaminants.
And while the SDWA does monitor the MCL for these 90 potential contaminants, we still use over 60,000 chemicals everyday in the US. Any of which could possibly enter a water supply and never be acknowledged by the EPA’s guidelines.
But even with the contaminants that are monitored, the EPA’s MCL may not be good enough for your family.
From the EPA’s website here:
Drinking water that meets US EPA’s health-based standards is generally safe. People who are not healthy as a result of illness, age, or weakened immune systems, are more likely to be at risk from certain contaminants that may be found in drinking water. Infants and very young children are also more susceptible to some contaminants. Individuals concerned about their particular situations should consult their health care providers.
On a scarier note, the CDC conducts annual surveillance on waterborne disease outbreaks and publishes their findings on their website. In their latest report released September 6th 2013 they discuss data from 2009-2010, which is the last year with finalized results. In this report they state there were 33 reported outbreaks of waterborne diseases in drinking water that put over 1000 people in the hospital and caused 9 deaths. According to the CDC the majority of theses outbreaks were linked to community water systems.
Arsenic in Your Drinking Water
One of the most common harmful contaminants that can creep into your drinking water is arsenic. Arsenic is an odorless and tasteless metal-like element (atomic number 33) that’s is known to have series long-term health effects – which you can read all about here – including many types of cancers. While the SDWA does require local water systems to monitor for arsenic, they still allow them to have a maximum contaminant level of up to 10 PPB (parts per billion), which if you ask me, just isn’t good enough for my kids to grow up on.
On top of that the current guideline of 10 PPB was just put into effect in 2006, before that time is was 50 PPB, and until 1974 there was no SDWA at all. Zero EPA regulation. How scary is that? So while the guidelines are definitely better today, there’s a good chance you and your family were consuming a lot more arsenic in the years past, and since the health effects from this element are long-term in nature and come from accumulative consumption it’s best to remove as much as possible from your drinking water now.
Not to mention that according to the Water Quality Association (WQA) there are over 700 community water systems that are out of compliance with the EPA’s arsenic guidelines. Which again, is pretty scary.
Lead in Your Drinking Water
Lead generally enters water supplies due to corrosion in the consumer’s water pipes, which makes it a little bit different from other contaminants in the way it’s regulated. The SDWA does not set a MCL for lead, but instead they set a treatment technique regulation (known as the Lead and Copper Rule) which basically requires water systems to collect tap samples from their customer sites and if 10% or more of the samples exceed the “lead action level” of 15 PPB they must take further action. This may include warning their customers of dangerous lead level and educating them on how to protect themselves, or replacing any piping they have control over that may be causing the issue.
However, the lead action level of 15 PPB and requiring over 10% of samples to fail before action is taken, seems very loose to me. Especially when we know all the dangers lead can pose, especially to young kids.
Even the EPA acknowledges that any amount of lead is bad.
This law requires EPA to determine the level of contaminants in drinking water at which no adverse health effects are likely to occur with an adequate margin of safety. These non-enforceable health goals, based solely on possible health risks are called maximum contaminant level goals (MCLG). The MCLG for lead is zero. EPA has set this level based on the best available science which shows there is no safe level of exposure to lead.
They do set the set the MCLG (Maximum Contaminant Level Goal) for lead at zero, but this does very little as it’s simply a “non-enforceable health goal”.
Ultimately Your Family’s Water Quality is Your Responsibility
Arsenic and Lead are just two of the natural occurring contaminants that are (at some level) in our drinking water, and according to some water experts man-made chemicals and pharmaceuticals can pose and even greater risk to our health.
That’s why it’s a no-brainer for me. For around $200 I can easily install a reverse osmosis water system under my sink that will almost completely remove all the arsenic & lead from my family’s drinking water.
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