We know water as the “elixir of life” because plants, animals, and humans need fresh water to survive. As our population grows, we realize how scarce and valuable drinking water is and take necessary measures to protect it.
But what about the tap water in our homes? Is it safe to drink?
Where Does Our Water Come From?
97% of the planet’s water comes from oceans and seas while the remaining is freshwater. Out of that tiny fraction of drinkable water, 2% is locked up in glaciers of ice. So we have 1% of freshwater, which comprises surface water and groundwater.
The tap water we drink, cook, and bathe with comes from surface water sources like streams, rivers, lakes, and reservoirs, or underground sources like aquifers, permeable rocks that can store and transmit water.
However, we have to ensure this is safe water to drink, as pollutants can seep in and result in a range of health issues.
How Does My Tap Water Get Treated?
Regardless of whether we use surface water or groundwater, water suppliers must follow various treatment processes to remove any contaminants.
Common practices include:
This is when suppliers remove the particles on the water’s surface. Then, they add alum and other chemicals to extract the dirt.
The suppliers remove heavy particles created by the alum and other chemicals, so only clean water remains.
Layers of gravel, charcoal, and sand filter the remaining water to remove even smaller particles.
The suppliers add chemicals like chlorine, so it kills any bacteria or microorganisms in the water.
The water is now fully clean and transported to the reservoir so it can reach your home.
How Does Drinking Water Get Contaminated?
The Center for Disease Control says the most common sources of contamination in the US’s tap water comes from local land use and manufacturing processes. For example, fertilizers and pesticides used in farming can seep into surface waters if they’re not carefully monitored.
Further, natural disasters can have an impact, such as massive amounts of rain. Heavy rainfall can result in mudslides and flooding which could leak into rivers, a town’s potential water source.
Humans can also be a problem from inadequate sanitation to poor protection of drinking water sources. We can end up with sewage- or feces-contaminated water where bacteria and parasites thrive.
How Do I Know If the Water Is Safe?
63 million Americans, almost a fifth of the United States, live in places where water systems violate safety regulations and do not comply with protecting public health.
Even though most of the water supply is potable, major cities like San Francisco, LA, New York, Boston, and Washington DC have some contaminated water. Rural places areas are more affected than wealthy urban areas, and their water has contaminants that exceed the legal limit.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. The federal law governing public water sources known as the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) aims to provide the safest drinking water to US residents.
If any factors compromise water safety or its regulations, the local government has to inform people to stop drinking tap water. Also, the community water systems must prepare annual reports about their water.
Before Googling “is tap water safe to drink,” EWG has you covered. They’ve compiled a handy Tap Water Database that pulls 30 million records from state agencies. Just enter your ZIP code to get a report of potential contaminants that flow from your tap.
What Are the Main Contaminants?
Before you ask “is tap water safe,” we must know the contaminants ruining our clean water supply. These include:
- Pharmaceutical drugs
- Hexavalent chromium
- Radioactive contaminants
- Lead, aluminum, and other heavy metals
Unfortunately, these can cause various health issues such as gastrointestinal ailments, neurological disorders, and even reproductive problems.
Another factor of impure drinking water is the pipes in our houses.
Many homes have galvanized steel water pipes which rust on the inside, thus producing water with a yellow, red, or brown tinge. A practical way to prevent this is by using a water filter, so the water is safe to drink. These filters extract any dirt or rust and produce great-tasting water.
Further, many American homes have hard water flowing from their taps. This makes it harder to clean sinks, tubs, and showers. You can attempt to “soften” the water, but it can just add more sodium.
Even though clean and safe drinking water is scarce, the US government is developing new methods in water treatment to prevent any unsafe conditions. When we pay attention to the current systems and try to improve them, then more people will get access to this basic human right.
So How Can You Protect Your Drinking Water?
As drinking water is a valuable resource, we must protect it at all costs. Governments are brainstorming ideas because of the ever-growing population, our excessive use, and pollutants that are ruining our water supply.
We must change our lifestyle and aim to be more natural. We should avoid using pesticides or chemical cleaning agents, as they can seep into the groundwater and contaminate it. Even reducing the amount of garbage by recycling can keep our water reserves cleaner.
Tap water is something we’ve taken for granted all our lives. Now, we must pay it forward so future generations and those in rural areas can get enough clean drinking water to survive.
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