How Safe is Tap Water?

Boiling water for some pasta? Craving a tall glass of cold water after mowing the lawn? These relatively harmless things could spell trouble if you aren’t sure what is in your drinking water.

There are generally four categories of contaminants that may be present in your drinking water:

  1. Biological: Organisms in water, these contaminants are also referred to as microbes. Examples include bacteria, parasites, protozoan and viruses.
  2. Chemical: These elements or compounds can occur naturally or may be man-made. Bleach, drugs, metals, pesticides and toxins produced by bacteria are all examples.
  3. Physical: These types of contaminants impact the appearance or physical properties of water. Examples include sediment or organic material from lakes, rivers or streams. These contaminants also can come from soil erosion.
  4. Radiological: These contaminants are chemical elements containing an unbalanced number of protons and neutrons which result in unstable atoms that emit ionizing radiation. Cesium, plutonium and uranium are considered radiological contaminants.

While no one wants to think about contaminants in their drinking water, it is important to remember that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) uses the term contaminant extremely broadly. The EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Act defines a contaminant to mean any biological, chemical, physical or radiological substance or matter in the water other than a water molecule. Therefore, in most cases there will be some contaminants in drinking water and not all are hazardous.

However, the Safe Drinking Water Act regulates only 91 potential water contaminants while there are more than 60,000 chemicals used within the United States and approximately 2,000 toxins found to be present in tap water. What’s more, many municipalities transport their water in aging, corroded pipes, which allows toxic heavy metals to seep into the water even after it has been treated.

When it comes to the safety of tap water, it all comes down to the type and amount of contaminants present. In other words, the fact that there are contaminants in drinking water does not mean that tap water in a particular area is harmful. Further, some contaminants may be harmful if consumed at certain levels while others, at the same level, will be harmless.

Most people are understandably concerned about the amount and effects of contaminants present in their water supply. And these fears are not unfounded. So what is the answer? To many people’s surprise, bottled water isn’t. In fact, experts say installing a water filtering system in a home is the best option. That’s because water run through such systems is often cleaner than bottled water which is filtered tap water sold in plastic bottles that allow small amounts of BPA and other chemicals into the water they hold. Water filtering systems, however, provide clean water throughout a home.


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