Unlike bottled water which is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), tap water is monitored by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This is actually a good thing. FDA regulations overall are less strict and less controlled for bottle water than those of the EPA for tap water, but does that make your tap water safe?
What Could Be in Your Tap Water?
Chlorine is harmless, right? It’s the stuff you add to your pool in the summertime, it must be safe. It’s a very effective disinfectant and it’s very good at killing, viruses, protozoans, and bacteria, the pathogens that cause diseases. Many diseases are caused by pathogens that like to hang out and grow in public water supplies such as pools, water storage tanks, water main walls, and other areas of public water reservoirs. So what’s the risk?
Despite its effectiveness at killing pathogens, chlorine has been a point of controversy because of its connection to cancers, including breast cancer, rectal, and bladder cancer. And in fact, if you recall, chlorine gas was a deadly weapon used during WWI. Inhalation of chlorine gas, would devastate the lungs and other body tissues. So is it a stretch to think that it is less harmful if ingested in your drinking water?
The connection between rectal and bladder cancer and chlorine is has been known for many years but a link to breast cancer and a commonly used chlorine disinfectant is more recent and less well known. One study, conducted in Hartford, Connecticut, revealed that chlorine by-products were 50-60% higher in women with cancerous breast tissue than those who were cancer-free.
Many Canadians and Europeans can rest a little easier when it comes to chlorine in tap water as many cities in these countries are already using alternative methods, like ozone, to disinfect public water supplies. For the rest of us, there are ways to remove the chlorine from our tap water. Do not think that letting the water run from the tap will remove any significant amounts of chlorine. The best way to remove chlorine is a carbon
The exposure to mercury and the possible consequences on health from this neurotoxin varies based on several factors including the type of mercury, the age of the individual, how they come into contact with the mercury and the length of the exposure. The most unique wildcard when it comes to mercury is also the current health status of the individual.
One type of mercury, methylmercury, can be particularly problematic for unborn fetuses and those who are very young. Methylmercury poisoning is most commonly caused by eating fish containing mercury. It can cause a range of symptoms, including muscle weakness, problems with coordination and walking, hearing and speech impairment, vision problems especially with peripheral vision, and a “pins and needles” sensation in the mouth area and in extremities (feet and hands). An unborn fetus exposed to methylmercury can later have deficits in vision, fine motor, and cognitive thinking as well as language, memory, and attention span.
A second type of mercury, called inorganic mercury, is more likely found in drinking water. Overexposure to this kind of mercury can cause problems with the kidneys, the gastrointestinal tract, and the nervous system. Signs of overexposure to inorganic mercury include weak muscles, memory loss, mood swings, mental disturbances, as well as skin problems.
The fluoride amounts that are naturally found in surface water varies by location but typically are less than 0.3 ppm, levels in groundwater can be higher. Across the U.S., beginning in the 1940’s, chemical fluoride has been added to public water supplies for the purpose of reducing cavities. This process is called water fluoridation.
The CDC estimates that approximately 2/3 of the public water in the U.S. has been treated with chemical fluoride. The number for those utilizing community based water systems rises to almost three-fourths. Of the 30 biggest cities in the U.S., water fluoridation occurs in all but one, Portland Oregon. Residents voted against the process four times between 1956 and 2012.
The average concentration for water treated with chemical fluoride has been approximately 1ppm. But in 2015, a new recommendation from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, comes as a result of increased availability and use of other fluoride sources such as mouthwash, toothpaste, and dental treatments, and has been reduced to 0.7 ppm.
Although chemical water fluoridation is supported by many well-known and respected groups including the CDC, AMA, and the American Dental Association, there are opponents who view this as a type of group medical treatment, without individual awareness or approval. Opponents also oppose water fluoridation due to the lack of ability to monitor or control individual dosages since individuals consume water in different amounts depending on age, weight, circumstance, health condition, and other factors.
There is no doubt fluoride is harmful at certain levels of exposure. Opponents to water fluoridation believe that fluoride at high levels are connected to a variety of health problems including thyroid problems, bone fractures, and even impairment of brain function and development. The CDC also reported that over 40% of children between the age of 12 and 15 years old were victims of dental fluorosis, a known side effect of overexposure to fluoride.
Plants of all types need nitrogen to grow. Many people, including some farmers and commercial growers as well as individual gardeners, use nitrogen filled fertilizers in their soil so their plants and crops will grow healthier and produce more.
There is of course controversy over this practice, because things such as irrigation, rain, snow melt, etc. can cause nitrates to run off the soil and leach into the groundwater. Animal and human manure can also contribute to nitrate run off. Any water well is susceptible to nitrate runoff but wells that are improperly positioned, shallow, or otherwise poorly dug are at greater risk.
Testing your water for nitrates is the only way to know if its contaminated and thus residential well water should be tested once every three years minimally. Test more frequently if you know your local area has a record of increase nitrate levels or if you have family members who are at risk.
High levels of nitrate in drinking water are a signal that contaminants, like pesticides or parasites, that can cause disease may be present in your water source. People at risk from high levels of nitrates in drinking water include women who are pregnant, babies less than six months old, anyone with a history of low stomach acid or a lack of methemoglobin reductase.
Unfortunately, the standard decontamination methods like using a water softener, boiling, or filtering of water, will not reduce the amount of nitrates. Even activated carbon and other types of filters won’t work reliably on nitrates. The only way to remove nitrates is through more complicated procedures such as distillation and reverse osmosis.
Wells should also have a well-positioned, sanitary, seal for the top of the well and any openings. Potential contamination sources such as your septic system, your compost pile, your garden (if you use fertilizers), animal cages, and barns, etc. should be outside a 100-foot radius of the well location.
One of the more common parasites that can contaminate water sources is Cryptosporidium, also known as Crypto. It’s a microscopic parasite that makes its home in the hosts intestines. There are a variety of Crypto species that infect animals and humans. Crypto can be found in a variety of places including soil, food, and contaminated surfaces. But one of the most common ways Crypto is spread is through public water sources such as pools, lakes and drinking water.
Watery diarrhea is one of the most common signs of Crypto but can be accompanied by cramps, stomach pain, vomiting, dehydration, nausea, weight loss, and fever. The onset of symptoms is generally within ten days of exposure and can last several days to more than ten days for the average person. Those with compromised immune systems may need medication but most individuals will recover without treatment.
A reverse osmosis filter that is NSF Certified filter and labeled “cyst removal” or “cyst reduction can remove Crypto from contaminated water. Even water that has been filtered must be boiled before drinking as filtering does not remove all viruses and bacteria. Again, here the EPA makes things a little safer as their guidelines include methods for filtering public water systems to remove any possible Cryptosporidum.
Remember the movie, Erin Brockovich from 2000? It was a true story about a woman who fought against California company, PG&E, when she discovered that they were contaminating a local water source with Hexavalent Chromium (chromium-6). She won that case and the residents of that town were awarded a huge settlement for damages.
Unfortunately, the very carcinogen that Erin Brockovich fought against back in 1993 is still the most prevalent one found in tap water all over the country. It’s not the only one, neurotoxins and carcinogens such as trimethyl benzene, carbon disulfide, arsenic, benzene, and naphthalene, have also been found in water supplies.
The best thing you can do is pay attention to any changes you notice to the smell, taste, or appearance of your tap water. If you believe your water has been contaminated, stop drinking it immediately. Use another water source that has been filtered and have your water tested. Carcinogen or neurotoxin poisoning typically starts with dizziness, headaches, or chronic stomach pain. It then progresses further and if left unaddressed can lead to serious brain impairment and fatal cancers.
Most parents know the dangers surrounding lead paint thanks to a huge awareness campaign and due diligence by health officials several decades ago. But recently there have been several news reports about lead being found in drinking water. It is possible in older homes and business buildings for lead to contaminate drinking water. This is usually caused by corrosion, especially with older pipes and faucets or the solder used to connect the pipes. Lead is able to leach into a water supply if it sits for several hours in pipes containing lead.
The only way to know if lead has contaminated your tap water is to have it tested. Your local water provider can determine whether lead exists or if your home is served by a public water system, your local water authority may have information posted on the internet.
Exposure to water contaminated with lead is most dangerous to younger victims, especially infants but it also depends on the amount of exposure and the situation. Infants who drink formula are more at risk because of the increase amount of water they drink in relation to their body weight.
Keep in mind that boiling does NOT make lead contaminated water safe for drinking. If you believe your water might be contaminated with lead, use only the cold water tap for drinking and cooking. Run a lot of water (like the shower) for at least 5 minutes first and then run the faucet for another 2 minutes before collecting water for drinking. For additional information on water testing, visit the CDC for your state.
These are known to leach into water from plastic containers and bottles bottled water is normally packaged in. Phthalates are actually regulated by the EPA for tap water but there is no such legal limit on phthalates for bottled water.
The good news is that the EPA does have a process for monitoring and regulating contaminants that could be found in public drinking water (such as tap water). The EPA is bound to initiate a determination about contaminants based on three basic criteria:
- the potential for the contaminant to adversely impact the health of individuals,
- the chance that the contaminant is present or will be present in public water supplies frequently enough or in amounts high enough to be a concern, and
- if regulating the contaminant will provide ample chance to reduce the risk to the health of those using the water.
You can get an idea of what’s been identified in local water sources by regularly reviewing the current Contaminant Candidate List (CCL) for drinking water. The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) mandates the EPA to publish an updated CCL every five years. It is used with the above three criteria to determine future regulatory decision making. For additional details about contaminant regulations of drinking water, go to the EPA website or call the hotline for safe drinking water at 1-800-426-4791.
So overall, with proper monitoring and filtering, tap water is relatively safe to drink and to store as part of your SHTF or natural disaster preparedness planning. But with all the possible known contaminants as well as new ones being discovered constantly, hopefully you won’t ever again take the safety of tap water for granted. Do you currently filter your tap water for drinking?
Dan’s Notes:What an amazing article form Megan!
One thing I’d like to add one small thing: if you’re going to face a nuclear meltdown (cities such as New York City, Philadelphia, Dallas and San Diego are less than 50 miles from a nuclear power plant), you should NOT drink tap water. It may very well be contaminated with radioactive particles.
And if you’re eager to start your water stockpile today, here’s an eye-opening presentation I made on the topic.