We’d all like to believe that turning on the tap in our home is the easiest way to get a clean, safe drink of water. Unfortunately, if you’ve been following the news out of Flint, Michigan or have seen the movie Erin Brockovich, you know that’s not always the case.
Still… your drinking water is safe. Right?
The short answer is, probably not. At least not entirely. Because bacteria, pathogens, drugs, industrial waste, and other dangerous water pollutants have shown up in the tap water in all 50 states.
The Environmental Working Group conducted an extensive five-year long, nationwide study. They found more than 250 contaminants, including pollutants that could cause cancer, neurological problems and organ damage in drinking water all over the United States.
Which means that despite going through treatment before it arrives in your home, your own tap water may be far from safe as well.
5 common tap water contaminants
Following are five common tap water contaminants you may be drinking every time you fill your glass.
1,4-dioxane is an industrial chemical that can leach into the ground and find its way into our water supply. This creepy compound is an industrial solvent used in varnishes, paint strippers, make-up, soaps and antifreeze.
In animal testing, 1,4-dioxane has already been linked to liver and kidney damage, as well as liver and nasal cancers. And the EPA has designated it a “likely” human carcinogen, and set the water limits at .35 ppb (parts per billion).
But despite that limit water testing in some states has uncovered amounts of 1,4-dioxane as high as 9 ppb. And seven million people in as many as 45 states are reportedly regularly drinking water with more than .35 ppb.
If you’re like many folks when you hear the word arsenic, you think of the poison that always seems to pop up in old-fashioned British murder mysteries. But this element also occurs naturally in the environment.
In nature, oxygen, chlorine, and sulfur combine with arsenic to form organic arsenic. But here in the USA, industries such as smelting and coal-power plants raise the levels of this toxin in our air, water and soil.
Inorganic arsenic is used to preserve pressure treated wood and as a pesticide. And as recently as 2013, many farmers used a form of arsenic in their chicken feed to promote growth and make the bird’s skin more appealingly pink in the grocery store.
As a result, the tap water of more than 70 million Americans could contain troubling levels of this confirmed human carcinogen. The World Health Organization says that exposure to arsenic increases your risk of several cancers, and can contribute to heart disease and organ failure.
And according to the International Programme on Chemical Safety, high levels of arsenic can affect many parts of the body including the skin, heart, lungs, kidney, blood vessels, gut and nervous system.
If you’re familiar with chromium-6, you can thank Erin Brokovich for her tireless work exposing the dangers of this toxin. Many American’s first became aware that this dangerous chemical was leeching from industrial sites into our drinking water because of her crusade.
But if you’re wondering what happened after Brokovich made chromium-6 a household name, we have bad news. This creepy chemical is still finding its way into our tap water.
Even in small amounts, chromium-6 can cause pneumonia, lung cancer and stomach cancer. Yet according to a report from the Environmental Working Group, they’ve found this compound at unsafe levels in the tap water supplied to two thirds of Americans.
The state of California has set an upper limit for chromium-6 of 10 ppb, with a long-term goal of reaching .002 ppb. And OSHA regulates how much of this industrial by-product can be in our air.
But the EPA still doesn’t have any regulations in place specifically limiting chromium-6. Which is why the tap water of 70 million Americans could still contain this toxin.
You already know how damaging lead exposure is for children. But the truth is lead is dangerous for adults, as well. In fact, the World Health Organization says there’s NO safe level of lead exposure, at any age.
The current EPA limit on lead in tap water is 15 ppb. But lead builds up in the body over time. So even at low levels, ongoing exposure through your tap water can become harmful. And heavy metal is toxic to every organ in the body.
Nearly 2,000 water distribution centers in the US have tested for levels of lead higher than the EPA’s limit. And older homes are at an even higher risk because of older lead fixtures and pipes.
Nitrate is a compound that forms naturally when nitrogen combines with oxygen or ozone. But while nitrogen is essential for life, high levels of nitrate in our tap water can be dangerous.
Nitrate can be especially dangerous for children and pregnant women. But like lead, it isn’t safe for adults either. The Iowa Women’s Health Study found that nitrate in the drinking water increases the risk of several cancers in older women, including thyroid, ovarian and bladder cancers.
Nitrate can occur naturally in water at levels that generally don’t trigger health problems. But nitrogen fertilizers, industrial wastes, food processing wastes and improperly handled human and animal waste can cause nitrate to contaminate our ground water. And as recently as 2015, testing revealed nitrate contamination at more than 1800 water distribution centers.
How to make your own tap water safer
The truth is when most American’s drink a glass of tap water they’re also gulping down a dose of contaminants which are linked to some serious health problems including cancer, brain damage, fertility issues and nervous system impairment. And while these contaminants are often at levels researchers say could be harmful, the Safe Drinking Water Act has labeled them safe.
If you’re concerned about tap water contamination in your area, many public water suppliers publish yearly reports. And while they won’t tell the whole story, they’re a good place to start. Check your zip code on the EPAs website here.
If you have a private well, or are simply interested in more information on testing your own water, visit the Environmental Working Groups Tap Water Database here.
Carbon water filters that you can attach to your tap, or pitchers with carbon filters, can help reduce some common contaminants in your tap water such as lead. If your budget allows for it, you may also want to consider using a reverse osmosis (RO) filtering system. RO systems tackle many more contaminants, such as arsenic and chromium-6.
Affordable under sink RO systems are available online, or at your local home improvement store. And more expensive whole house systems, which filter all the water entering your home, are available as well.