Knowing what’s in your tap water is always a savvy idea. But if you have small children in the home, or anyone with compromised health, now is the time to find out.
Concerns about lead, mercury and other potential contaminants lurking in your water may have you thinking twice before reaching for the tap.
Lead is a particular concern for pregnant women since it can cause premature birth, low birth weight and permanent damage to a baby’s developing nervous system.
“Lead is one of the most toxic metals to children, and it’s more prevalent than we suspect,” says Mark Woodin, Sc.D., professor of environmental health in the civil and environmental engineering department at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly 900,000 children ages 1 to 5 in the United States still have elevated blood lead levels.
And while water rarely is the sole cause of lead poisoning, it can be a significant contributing factor.
Good News Bad News
On average, municipal water systems are required to ensure that tap water does not exceed 15 micrograms of lead per liter. Even so, an enormous amount of water in this country is not tested, Woodin claims.
“Piping systems in big cities can be a huge problem, and even though they’re periodically tested, you just don’t know what’s coming out of your tap,” he says.
What you should know about atrazine in the water supply
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released a new report this week announcing unexpected and unacceptable levels of the pesticide atrazine found in the water supply of the United States’ Southern and Midwest states.
The toxicity associated with atrazine has been documented extensively. The adverse reproductive effects of atrazine have been seen in amphibians, mammals, and humans-even at low levels of exposure.
Concentrations as low as 0.1 ppb have been shown to alter the development of sex characteristics in male frogs.
When exposure coincides with the development of the brain and reproductive organs, that timing may be even more critical than the dose. Also of great concern is the potential for atrazine to act synergistically with other pesticides to increase their toxic effects.
What you can do
If you’re concerned about water quality, here are a few things you can do.
Get Your Water Tested
Contact the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791 to get your water tested, which costs anywhere from $15 to hundreds of dollars.
Or you can do it yourself by using a Drinking Water Testing Kit.
According to the EPA, you also can minimize any potential exposure to toxic chemicals by running cold water down the drain for 30 seconds to two minutes before drinking it and using cold water for drinking and cooking (hot water tends to leach more lead).
Buy a good Home Water Filter
Install a good Reverse Osmosis Water Treatment System under your kitchen sink. One good one is the Watts WP5-50 Premier Five-Stage Manifold, but you’ll find several available that get the job done.
Take filtered water with you
Fill a safe container — like one of the Klean Kanteen Stainless Steel Water Bottle — with filtered water from home and you’ll have safer water wherever you go
Ask your water utility company for a copy of their annual water quality report.
“In many cities, healthy adults can drink tap water without cause for concern.” says the NRDC. “However, pregnant women, young children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems are particularly vulnerable to some contaminants in tap water.”
You can also contact NSF International, a nonprofit public health and safety group that tests and certifies home water-treatment devices. Or contact the Water Quality Association at 630-505-0160 or www.wqa.org.