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How to Know if Your Drinking Water is Safe or Loaded with Chemicals

Most of us turn on faucets in our home and pour glasses of water without giving the action a second thought. However, a study published last year found that millions of Americans are consuming dangerous levels of PFASs (polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl) in public drinking water.

Although the effects of these industrial-strength chemicals are still not entirely certain, they have been linked to everything from hormone suppression to obesity and cancer. According to the study, the U.S. states with the most frequent occurrences of these chemicals and the highest concentrations of them are California, New Jersey, North Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, Georgia, Minnesota, Arizona, Massachusetts, and Illinois.

Photo credit: USAID via Flickr

Drinking water that comes into our homes typically comes from ground water that collects in spaces underground or surface water that collects in rivers, lakes, and reservoirs. Government and private facilities control water treatment systems to make water safe for use in homes. If you have a private well, ground water is used as the source, and homeowners must ensure that their own water is safe from contaminants.

Chemicals, germs, and other contaminants can come from naturally occurring substances like radon, uranium, and arsenic. They can also come from sewer overflow, manufacturing processes, agricultural pesticide and fertilizer use, and malfunctioning septic systems nearby.

These are some of the many health problems that can result from unsafe drinking water:

  • Gastrointestinal pain and illness
  • Reproductive issues
  • Neurological disorders
  • Lead exposure

Fortunately, there are federal, state, and local resources available to help you determine the safety of your drinking water. The first place to start is typically your county health department. But if that department doesn’t provide water testing services where you live, you can consult a state-certified laboratory instead. The Water Laboratory Alliance is a nationwide network of laboratories that respond to contamination incidents using lab resources.

Photo credit: 强 石 via Flickr

Check your local water bill and contact the company you pay to get a copy of their annual water quality report. This document is called a Consumer Confidence Report, and it details any risks that may exist in your water. The Environmental Working Group also has a national drinking water database, where you can do a search by zip code or water company.

A good EPA website to check out is called Drinking Water Tools, which is a place where you can learn about the different chemical, biological, and radiological contaminants. Then, you can learn more about what specific contaminants do in the Environmental Working Group’s database.

If you use well water in your home, you should already know that the EPA does not regulate private drinking water wells. Not only that, but some states and towns don’t require water testing after the well is installed. Review the EPA’s compilation of private drinking water well programs by state to get connected to the right resources.

Contrary to popular belief, boiling water does not rid it from all contaminants. And using bottled water for drinking and cooking is rarely a practical or cost-effective solution. However, anothe option is to invest in a reverse-osmosis water treatment device or a granular activated carbon filter to reduce chemical levels in your drinking water.

If you have questions or concerns about your drinking water, call the EPA Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791. The hours of operation for the hotline are Monday through Friday from 10 am to 4 pm EST. By calling or submitting an inquiry via online form, you can learn about the quality of your local drinking water, source water protection, public drinking water systems, and more. Just know that the cost of testing your water can be as low as around $15 or into the hundreds of dollars, depending on how many things you want to test for.

A change in your home’s water, such as a different color, taste, or smell, could mean nothing at all. Or it could mean that you have a serious problem on your hands. With something so important as drinking water, it never hurts to do some investigating and find out for sure.

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