Cases such as the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, demonstrate how tenuous our access to safe, clean drinking water can actually be—no matter where we live. In fact, thousands of potential contaminants can make their way into our drinking water, and the water infrastructure across the U.S. can’t always keep up with water purification needs.
That’s a tough pill to swallow, because as everyone knows we need clean water to survive.
In order for us to stay healthy, it’s critical that our water is safe to drink. If we can’t always trust the safety of the water coming out of our taps or wells, then it’s up to us to make it secure. That starts with knowing which contaminants to look out for—and how to ensure you’re drinking safe water.
The Most Common Drinking Water Contaminants
Contaminants can make their way into our drinking water in a number of ways. For example they can exist in the pipes that connect to our internal plumbing, so water gets contaminated on its way to our taps. They can also infiltrate our water sooner, in the form of industrial or agricultural run-off that gets into the water supply at the source and isn’t entirely removed during the treatment process. Finally in some cases, contaminants are naturally present in the environment prior to water even being collected.
While the Environmental Protection Agency’s Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) lays out specific standards for public drinking water, the law isn’t always well-regulated. What’s more, there are so many potential contaminants, it’s difficult for municipalities to keep up. Under the SDWA, a water contaminant is defined as “any physical, chemical, biological, or radiological substance or matter in water.” Put simply this means, anything other than an actual water molecule qualifies as a contaminant. Not all contaminants that enter drinking water are harmful. For example, if a stray piece of sand makes its way into your drinking water, it would qualify as a “physical contaminant”—but drinking it won’t harm you. Here are a variety of common drinking water contaminants that can potentially cause health issues. Consuming contaminated water can lead to mild to severe symptoms depending on how long a person is exposed, how healthy the person is, and more.
The full list of potential drinking water contaminants includes thousands of entries. This can explain why numerous studies find that drinking water across the U.S. is highly contaminated. This makes sense when you consider the sheer number of contaminants that are capable of making their way into our drinking water. The good news? You can take charge of your water consumption habits and make sure you’re drinking safe, clean water.
How to Ensure You’re Drinking Safe Water
If for any reason you’re concerned about drinking contaminated water, there are plenty of ways to gain more peace of mind about your water quality and to ensure you’re drinking safe water.
Use an at-home water analysis kit
This is a simple and affordable way to determine the quality of your water. At-home kits typically include a number of strips that change color if any of a variety of contaminants are present. You can purchase different kits test for different contaminants, which may include bacteria, chlorine, lead, nitrates, pesticides, and more. If you want to boost your water analysis consider recruiting an independent lab to conduct water quality testing at your home.
If you use well water, test it regularly
The rules that govern municipal water supplies do not apply to private wells, so it’s the primary responsibility of homeowners with wells to take the issue of water quality into their own hands. For that reason, it’s a good idea to test your well water at least once a year. Try to test more regularly if you’ve experienced prior contamination, if a member of your household is pregnant or nursing, if your family members are frequently unwell, if there’s a chemical spill near your well, if you’ve recently repaired or replaced part of your well, or if your water’s taste, odor or color changes.
In order to test your well water, reach out to your local or state health and human services or environmental departments for a referral to a state-certified laboratory. The laboratory will play a big role in helping you make sense of the results of the test. Remember to ask the lab to keep an eye out for the following:
- Coliform bacteria
- Heavy metals
- Pesticides (especially atrazine, which is linked to a number of serious endocrine and reproductive effects)
- pH levels
- Total dissolved solids
- Volatile organic compounds
Invest in water filtration systems
This is the simplest way to improve the purity of your water, giving you surety and removing any guesswork. POU water filter systems can take many forms, including free-standing or countertop carbon and reverse-osmosis filtration systems. There are a number of hi-tech solutions to filter, purify, and protect your water. No matter what type of filter you choose, it’s a good idea to look for an water filtration option that’s certified and approved by NSF and ANSI, independent organizations that develop the highest standards and test products and systems.
Replace filters when you’re supposed to
Water filtration systems are only effective when they’re properly maintained and serviced. For this reason, it’s critical to follow the care instructions for your filter—especially as they relate to filter replacement. Contaminants caught by the filter are also stored in the filter. If the filter fills up with contaminants because it isn’t replaced on time, those contaminants will eventually leach into your drinking water or clog the filter, so water isn’t able to properly pass through. Replacement guidelines vary depending on the filter, so be sure to follow the care instructions for your specific model.
Contact your local government for water quality information
Municipalities should keep track of information pertaining to local water quality and water infrastructure, such as the number of lead pipes in a given area. Some municipalities do a better job of this than others, but contacting your local or state health and human services department is a good place to start if you want to learn more about your water quality. In many cases, government representatives may refer you to your local water utility, which is legally required to issue an annual Consumer Confidence Report that addresses water quality. If you’re concerned about the results, it’s time to invest in filtration solutions.
When you first start to learn about all the contaminants that can make their way into our drinking water, it’s easy to think you’ll never drink water again. We rely on water to sustain our lives, and that means we need to figure out ways to drink safe water. The Waterlogic strategies will help you do that—so you can have clean water and drink it, too.
By Laura Newcomer in partnership with Waterlogic and Ghergich & Co