What's the first thought that comes to mind when you think of water? For many it evokes a sense of refreshing wellness and purity. Undoubtedly in the heat of summer, the mere thought of diving into a crystal clear pool of water could not be more revitalizing, nor the idea of taking a long, slow sip from a tall glass of the fresh liquid. There are a myriad of possible replies, considering just how many ways we use water on a daily basis. We bathe and shower in it, brush our teeth in it, infuse our stocks and other recipes with it, and rinse our colorful fruits and vegetables under it. Not to mention, Americans drink 1 billion glasses of water from their taps alone each day. Yet, an astonishing 2100 chemical compounds have been found present in U.S. drinking water, with more lingering in our rivers, lakes and the ocean. The EPA has established enforceable safety standards for only 87 of these identified compounds- that's less than 5%. Take a moment to reflect: how do you think about water now?
What happened to our water?
Though it has been a complex and integrated cycle, major culprits for the current state of water are contamination, chemical treatment and rerouting. Toxins from agriculture, industry, landfill waste, oil spills and pharmaceuticals have permeated water supplies. Environmental redirection of water to prevent flooding and supply cities has caused excessive damming and aqueduct systems. These physical blocks have hurried processes of natural filtration, while increasing the amount of vulnerable standing waters for toxin build-up. Old methods of water treatment are now also proving inadequate as more chemical threats emerge, the population grows and treatment facilities become overwhelmed. Additives are thus being poured into public water supplies to counteract the actions of contaminants, though there is little long term data to assure the safety as these chemicals either.
Unless your water comes from a well, this is typically how public drinking water gets to your home:
- Public drinking water comes from surface water (rivers, lakes, reservoirs) and ground water (pumped up from underground aquifers).
- Utility companies add chemicals that attach to dirt and other particles, making them heavy enough to sink to the bottom. They are then removed.
- Filters of sand, gravel and charcoal remove smaller particles.
- Disinfectants such as chlorine and chloramines are added to kill bacteria and other microorganisms. Additives such as fluoride may be added as well. These can be removed with a whole house filtration system.
- Water is sent to homes through an underground network of pipes to your tap.
What should you do to keep your family's drinking water free of toxins?
If you are concerned about your water supply, do not be discouraged as there are simple actions that you can take to increase its safety. Awareness is the first step, so start by finding out what's in your water. You can then decide for yourself whether you should further filter or consider purifying your drinking water.
- Read your local Consumer Confidence Report. The EPA requires water utilities to mail this report to consumers by July 1st each year. This report should include information on your water sources, pollutants detected during tests conducted that year, as well as any violations to the EPA's maximum containment levels. In many communities, this report is available online.
- Test your water yourself. This is especially recommended if the pipes bringing water through your home are older than 1986. Up until this point, lead was still used in residential plumbing. Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, municipal water supplies are typically tested for chemicals, including atrazine, four times a year. The EPA considers an annual average atrazine level below 3 parts per billion as safe for human consumption. But biweekly data collected by the EPA from 139 municipal water systems found that atrazine was present 90 percent of the time. By using a water testing kit for the water coming from your faucet, you can know exactly what is in your drinking water.
- Find a drinking water purifier. If you want purer water than what is coming out of the tap, you need to filter it. Knowing which contaminants you want to remove will help you determine which technology is best. There are many different styles and price ranges that offer different levels of filtration. From countertop filters to whole house 14-stage systems, decide which purification system is best for you. For more information on carefully selected and scrupulously researched systems, visit our water purifier resources page.
What can you do to improve your water quality long term?
In order to protect the harmonious balance of our natural resources, unified efforts are needed. Significant change does not occur instantaneously. Here are three steps you can take to improve the quality of drinking water for your children and their children:
- Protect your water source. Attend local hearings on new construction, storm water permitting, and town planning. Ask questions of both town leaders and developers about issues that may impact your community's water sources. Make sure that the land around your water is not going to be developed and that your water supply will be protected from chemicals.
- Keep pollutants out of landfills. Find recycling options for your electronics. Electronics contain heavy metals, flame retardants and plastic chemicals that can end up in your water sources.
- Support organic farming. The herbicide atrazine is one of the most commonly found pollutants found in water supplies. Atrazine has been banned by the European Union since 2004, as this chemical may be associated with disrupting hormone function as well as being linked to birth defects, premature births and low birth weights in newborns.