Here in the good ol' USA, we believe tap water is safe to drink and healthy to consume. Water contaminant issues only affect developing countries, right? Wrong. There are many tap water contaminants in American drinking water that can affect our health -- especially if we consume it every day.
Contaminants in our drinking water have been linked to a range of health problems, from infertility in women to reproductive problems in newborn babies. The scale of the problem is immense. One study has estimated that more than 200 million US citizens may have drinking water filled with toxic chemicals that won’t break down for thousands of years, also known as PFAS exposure (forever chemicals).
How much do you really know about the contaminants in your drinking water? Although there is debate as to whether chlorine and fluoride are good or bad, it can’t hurt to give your body a break from ingredients that come in other drinks. Here are some of the most common contaminants found in drinking water across the country.
CONTAMINANTS IN TAP WATER
One of the most dangerous contaminants in American drinking water is lead. Levels of this cancer-causing found in drinking water are extremely dangerous for people of all ages. Over time, it can build up in your body. It is particularly dangerous for vulnerable people, especially pregnant mothers. This hazardous material can be detected in some American tap water – so much so that in some cities, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned against consuming the water in those areas.
Tell-tale symptoms that your tap water is contaminated include water discoloration, shrinkage of your teeth and gums, diarrhea, vomiting, and red eyes. Even just a few grams of lead can be fatal if you ingest too much of it over a short period of time. Lead is naturally-occurring in many sources, including soil, water, and air. However, cities such as Pittsburgh have had some major problems with lead seeping from pipes into drinking water.
Lead service lines are a type of pipe that should be removed if possible, as it can lead to immense health problems if particles are eaten or inhaled. By installing a water filter or using an atmospheric water generator like Spout to remove lead, you can significantly reduce the likelihood of being affected. The last thing we want is for people to be exposed to lead in their drinking water without knowing it.
Pesticides are used extensively in agriculture and can disrupt normal ecosystem functions. They've been found to be harmful to our drinking water and even linked to cancer. The American agriculture industry pours one billion tons of pesticides into the ground each year, affecting the groundwater, which half the country depends upon. Pesticides can also seep into drinking water through leaks or direct intake from treated water sources.
Studies indicate that drinking water with pesticides can cause skin irritation and infections, irritation of eyes, headaches, vomiting, muscle pain, diarrhea, and nausea. The CDC cautions pregnant women not to drink water that has been exposed to pesticides at any time.
If you’ve noticed that your tap water tastes ‘funny,’ then there’s a chance that you might be drinking highly chlorinated water. Some Americans drink chlorinated water at levels that are too high and could already be experiencing harmful effects. Chlorine is added to water as a way to prevent people from getting sick, but, unfortunately, it can also have some negative health effects.
Researchers found that pregnant women who were exposed to chlorine levels exceeding the amount in ordinary tap water were more likely to deliver babies with birth defects. Trihalomethanes are chemicals formed when chlorine reacts with water, amino acids, and other chemicals. They are believed to be harmful to both a developing fetus and an adult's health over long periods of time.
Have you ever wondered why tap water has such a high nitrate level? It's not just the chlorine from the tap that creates problems for your body, but also the bacteria and algae living in rivers or lakes. These organisms are food for certain types of fish and wildlife but can be a nutritional nightmare for humans. Nitrate contamination occurs when wastewater from treatment plants enters rivers and seas…where it can be drawn into drinking water supplies and deposited in aquifers.
Nitrate is particularly dangerous for young babies, and consuming too much of it can lead to methemoglobinemia (also known as blue baby syndrome). This condition occurs when too much nitric acid builds up in the blood, which then becomes concentrated in tissues near the heart and lungs, potentially causing damage or even death. The symptoms of methemoglobinemia may include fatigue, pale skin, and low blood pressure.
A screening test for nitrate is the easiest and cheapest way to identify potentially unsafe levels of nitrates in your drinking water. Anyone can perform this test at home, even if they don't have a car or are not familiar with how it works. Simple precautions can help lower your risk of getting sick from drinking unsafe levels of water, such as boiling water or drinking from unsafe tap water for short periods of time.
Arsenic is one of the least expected and most dangerous contaminants in American drinking water. Infections caused by drinking water contaminated with arsenic are now common worldwide, according to the CDC. People who drink water with arsenic also have a higher chance of developing lung cancer, which occurs when certain chemicals in the water turn on their cancerous cells. The CDC recommends that people who live in areas where there are significant amounts of arsenic talk with their doctors about whether they should move closer to sources of clean water or start taking steps to remove arsenic from their drinking water.
If you’re concerned about the chemicals coming through your kitchen tap, Spout can help. Check out our website to learn how you can create your own purified water from the comfort of your kitchen.
HOW DO CONTAMINANTS ENTER OUR WATER?
Apart from obvious sources of contamination like oil spills and nuclear reactor incidents, you might be surprised to learn how tap water contaminants like the ones mentioned above can get into drinking sources within the United States.
One common route is through industrial discharge, where factories, manufacturing facilities, and nuclear power plants release pollutants and chemicals into nearby water bodies. While most people affected may live near these sites, stormwater and weather events can transport the contamination much further.
Another source of contamination is the improper disposal of household chemicals and pharmaceuticals. When these substances are flushed down toilets or sinks or discarded inappropriately, they can find their way into the water system. Aging and deteriorating water infrastructure can also introduce contaminants as pipes corrode and leach harmful substances into the water.
Natural sources of pollution also include sediments, nutrients, and microorganisms that can be carried into waterways by erosion and weather events. Climate change-related effects, such as altered precipitation patterns, extreme weather, and other types of natural disasters, can exacerbate these issues.
WHAT CAN I DO TO PREVENT TAP WATER CONTAMINANTS?
Knowing that the water you drink could be harming you can be an intimidating thought, but there’s plenty you can do to keep yourself safe. While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enacts regulations and legal limits to avoid contaminants in public water systems, there is no guarantee that the tap water you drink is 100% clean.
If you’re lucky enough to directly control your water source, avoid or replace lead pipes, and consider having an inspector evaluate your systems. For many, though, we rely on the water supplied by local or regional sources, so you have a bit less control.
Having a water filter or atmospheric water generator like Spout can dramatically improve the quality and purity of your water by eliminating tap contaminants. Plus, you can use these solutions with ease, and they last for quite a while with little to no maintenance.
Lastly, it’s important to stay educated. Research your water supply, and if you’re located near farms, factories, or power plants, you should be even more aware of what regulations are in place to protect you and your family’s health. Remember, there are solutions, and you don’t need to rely on contaminated water sources.