UPDATED: Oct 19, 2019
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We all need water to survive. But how do we know the water we're drinking is safe and healthy? With the recent news of lead-filled water in Flint, Michigan and water contamination in places like Hoosick Falls, New York, water safety is a growing concern for all Americans.
Should you drink the tap water in your home? How can you test your water for safety? If your tap water isn't safe, how can you purify it? The resources below will help you answer all these questions, and more.
Tap Water: is it Safe?
The safety of tap water is a controversial subject. We go through fifty billion water bottles a year — creating a huge environmental problem — largely in an effort to avoid drinking tap water. But some claim tap water is safer than bottled water. Tap water goes through a disinfection and chlorination process that kills off most parasites and bacteria, but it won't catch everything. The quality of tap water will also vary widely by region. Making an informed decision about your water is the first step in staying healthy.
- What’s Actually In Your Tap Water? at Greatist
- Drinking Water Study at NDRC
- Hidden Dangers of Drinking Water at Huffington Post
- Drinking Water Quality at WebMD
- Article on legal but unhealthy tap water at NYTimes
- Drinking Water Contaminants – Standards and Regulations at EPA
- Why Tap Water is Better than Bottled Water at National Geographic
Home Water Sources & Water Safety
Do you really know where your water comes from? Many people have no idea. If you're in an urban area, you probably get your water from the public water supply — most often a reservoir or river. The further you live from a population center, the more likely it is you have a well. But does your water come from a cistern, stream, lake, or groundwater source? The answer might surprise you, and the quality of your water depends on it.
- How Water Is Supplied to Homes at USGS
- Where Household Water Comes From at USGS
- Your Drinking Water Source at EPA
- Drinking Water Sources at CDC
- Drinking Water FAQ at CDC
- Managing Water in the Home at WHO
Water Quality and Contaminants
The most common contaminants in water are nitrates, lead, pesticides, and bacteria. You may have heard the bit of folk wisdom about not drinking water from the "hot" tap, as water from hot pipes absorbs lead more easily. That's actually true — much of the lead in water is absorbed from pipes or solder. Nitrates in water usually come from septic systems, fertilizer, and animal waste. Pesticides usually come from surface water supplies and not groundwater. All these contaminants, and more, can be tested for with kits.
- Water Quality and Testing at CDC
- Groundwater Quality at USGS
- Water Treatment Contaminants at Environmental Working Group
- Contaminants in Drinking Water at the British Medical Bulletin
- Water Quality at NRDC
- Drinking Water Testing and Contaminants at Cornell University
- Contaminants in Drinking Water at Purdue
- U.S. Drinking Water Widely Contaminated at Scientific American
Health Effects of Drinking Contaminated Water
The possible side effects of drinking water contaminants are as diverse as the contaminants themselves. Many of the most common parasites and bacteria can be fended off by an adult's immune system without major issue. However, exposure to nitrates can cause more serious issues like methemoglobinemia ("blue baby syndrome") in infants. More serious effects can include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Exposure to more serious contaminants, such as lead, can be particularly dangerous to children, potentially disrupting red blood cell chemistry.
- Effects of Nitrates in Drinking Water at EPA
- Water-related Diseases and Contaminants in Private Wells at CDC
- Health Effects of Contaminants in Drinking Water at EHSO
- Water-Related Diseases at WHO
- Health Effects of Common Drinking Water Contaminants at Scott County
- Water-related Diseases in Public Water Systems at CDC
- Possible Health Effects of Contaminated Well Water at Halton
There is no single test for general "water quality." There are a number of tests for various contaminants, which must be tested for individually. Among the many reasons the EPA recommends testing your water: if you have brass fixtures, lead pipes, or lead soldered joints in your plumbing; if your water tastes or smells strange; if you're purchasing a new home; if you're pregnant or have an infant in the household. Water testing can be done at home with kits, or by state or private labs.
- Home Drinking Water Testing Fact Sheet at EPA
- Well Testing at CDC
- Testing Your Water FAQ at Oregon State University
- Testing for Water Quality at UGA Extension
- Testing Your Drinking Water at PennState Extension
- Home Water Tests at Good Housekeeping
- Three Ways to Test Water Purity at WikiHow
- Test the Water in Your Home at Lifehacker
Water Filters and Purification Solutions
Most water from a public water supply should be safe to drink. But what if you test your water and it comes up contaminated, what do you do next? Don't start boiling your water just yet. Fortunately, there are an array of treatment options for households: microfiltration, ultrafiltration, and nanofiltration, and reverse osmosis systems. With a little research, you can find the solution that's right for your home.
- Home Water Treatment Units from Minnesota Department of Health
- Guide to Drinking Water Treatment Technologies from CDC
- Purifying Water During an Emergency from Washington Department of Health
- Home Water Treatment Units: Filtering Fact from Fiction at EPA
- Water Treatment Technologies at Ohio Department of Health
Home Water Safety for Kids
- Safe Water for Kids at EPA
- Drinking Water Lessons for Kids and Educators at DEQ
- Water Lesson Plans (K-5) from Penn State University
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