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What Is in Your Drinking Water?

H20, the compound that makes up around 75% of your body weight, is rarely just composed of hydrogen and oxygen nowadays. From tap to well to bottled, these water sources may contain pesticides, sewage, lead, chlorine, mercury, or even hazardous waste. While some of these materials are considered to be disinfectants for drinking water (I.e., chlorine), what about those that aren’t? 

In cities across the U.S., clean water is no longer a given and the presence of hazardous materials is more and more common. Flint, Michigan, while often thought to be the only city in a clean water crisis, is far from an anomaly. A lack of oversight coupled with significant industrialization has created a major problem in numerous cities and towns throughout the U.S. The major consequence of this nationwide water crisis is that poor water quality can make you sick, whether you're at home, in the office, or using a public drinking fountain.  

Understanding Water Quality 

Understanding water quality is essential to keeping you and your family safe and healthy. In the U.S., water quality standards (WQS) set the desired conditions of a water body and how they are achieved and protected. These standards have been created by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and are used for the protection of fish and wildlife, recreation, public drinking water supply, and agricultural, industrial, and navigational purposes.  

Under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), states can enforce their own drinking water standards, as long as they at least meet the minimum requirements outlined by the EPA. The EPA, individual states, and water systems operators all work together to ensure these standards are met.  

Drinking water standards are grouped by contaminant type: 

  • Chemical Contaminants: 

  • Microbial Contaminants: 

Despite these standards, there is still an underinvestment in water infrastructure that’s left communities like Flint in jeopardy. If you live in Flint or another one of the affected communities, understanding water quality and standards is of the utmost importance.  

How to Test Water Quality 

How to test water quality is something you should know whether you live in an area affected by unsafe water or not. Knowing what’s in your water is, of course, the first step to improving its quality. You can test your water quality by yourself or hire a certified professional using the EPA’s database.  

If you choose to test it yourself, one option is to purchase a test strip. Simply fill a container with water, dip your test strip in the water, and wait. The test strip will display colors that you can then refer to a color chart included in the testing kit. A second at-home option is to purchase a testing vial. You fill the vial with tap water and then add a few drops of a testing solution. Similarly to the test strip, you will compare the color of the water to a color chart.  

These at-home methods can provide measures of pH, hardness, chemicals, and chloride. A certified professional is typically needed to measure other materials that may be found in your water supply, such as metals or microorganisms. A further solution to testing and keeping your water clean is to have a plumbing inspection performed. System maintenance or plumbing replacement services may be necessary for combating poor water quality at home. 

The specific matters you may wish to look for in a water quality test include: 

  • Microorganisms and Pathogens 

  • Giardia 

  • E. Coli 

  • Legionella 

  • Cryptosporidium 

  • Coliform Bacteria 

  • Chemicals and Disinfectants 

  • Chlorine 

  • Fluoride 

  • Inorganic Materials 

  • Cyanide 

  • Asbestos 

  • Mercury  

  • Lead 

  • Salt 

  • Arsenic 

  • Atrazine 

  • Vinyl Chloride 

  • Pharmaceuticals 

  • Organic Materials 

  • Styrene  

  • Benzene 

  • Radioactive Materials 

  • Radium 

  • Uranium 

Well Water Versus Tap Water 

There are a few differences between well and tap water when it comes to health safety. For one, most people will say well water tastes better. This is because it does not have the added chemicals found in a tap. In the U.S., public water, on one hand, is typically treated with chlorine, fluoride, and some other chemicals. The public water supply can also be inadvertently affected by more dangerous toxins, such as lead, copper, and mercury.  

Well water, on the other hand, is not treated with chemicals because you — the homeowner — own the well. Water from a well travels straight up from the ground and to your home, giving you all the benefits of clean water without the additives. Owning a well means you must conduct tests and perform treatments on it, or hire a professional to do so. An unkept well can pose serious consequences to your health. Luckily, there are various well treatment systems to choose from. 

Bottled Water Versus Tap Water 

While tap water may contain substances from fluoride and chlorine to pesticides and lead, the primary health concern associated with bottled water is microplastics. A 2018 study showed that of all the bottled waters tested, 93% of them contained some level of microplastics. The number of microplastics found was twice as much as what was found in tap water.  

A second concern associated with bottled water is the lack of consumer access to contaminant information. Compared to the disclosure requirements for tap water regulated by the EPA, bottled water is much more covert. Some may consider tap water to be the healthier of the two due to this major issue.  

All things considered, tap water is generally considered safe to consume in most parts of the U.S. Of course, how clean your tap water is depends on where you live. The water source that may be best for you may not only depend on health, but also cost, convenience, or environmental friendliness. If you have concerns about your water association with your plumbing, contact your local pros at Mr. Plumber. We can perform a complete inspection of your plumbing system to ensure it’s working properly. Give us a call at (855) 982-2028 or request an appointment online today. 

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