Most of us have come to rely on our water supply for everything, from drinking and cooking to bathing. But the reality is that our water supply isn’t as safe as we might think. There are numerous contaminants in our local water system that can cause serious health problems if consumed over time.
A study done by The Guardian on U.S. tap water supply revealed that more than 35% of samples had per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), 8% had arsenic, and 118 out of 120 samples had detectable levels of lead.
There’s no way to tell whether or not your tap water contains any of these harmful chemicals without testing it first. And it’s fairly easy to do so using online kits that ship directly to your door.
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas. It’s released from the ground into the air, and it can seep into buildings through cracks in foundations and foundation walls. If you live near areas with high levels of radon, especially if you have a basement or crawlspace in your home, your water could contain traces of this chemical element.
Radon in water can cause lung cancer because breathing it in over time causes the body to absorb radon particles that accumulate on the lungs’ surface. To protect yourself against this risk, many states require testing for radon in public buildings like schools and hospitals.
Your local health department or state environmental agency can tell you where to get tested if they do not provide services themselves.
Trichloroethylene, or TCE for short, is a volatile organic compound used in industrial solvents and paint thinners. It’s often found in groundwater because it tends to leach into the soil from the ground above.
TCE and PCE were the toxic chemicals that were present at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Because of this, thousands of people living there were affected by illnesses such as cancer, kidney failure, and birth defects.
In 2016, a federal court ruled that the government would pay $2 billion as Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Settlement Amounts for health problems suffered by veterans who lived on base between 1953 and 1987.
The EPA recommends that homeowners test their drinking water for TCE once every three years as part of an annual well water test kit or twice annually if there are indications that they might be at risk (for example, if your home was built before 1980). The EPA also advises checking for TCE if:
- Your home has been remodeled recently.
- You have experienced recent flooding at your residence.
- You’ve had plumbing repairs done recently.
Perchloroethylene (PCE) is an organic solvent that can contain harmful chemicals, such as benzene and toluene. PCE is used in dry cleaning clothes, furniture and carpets, as a metal degreaser at carwashes and as a degreasing solvent in industry. PCE has been found in drinking water supplies across the United States.
Long-term exposure to low levels of PCE may cause liver damage. High concentrations can cause central nervous system depression and even death due to respiratory failure or cardiac arrest.
Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)
PFAS are a family of chemicals that have been used in a variety of industrial applications, including firefighting foams, nonstick cookware and stain-resistant fabrics. The most common PFAS are PFOA and PFOS.
The EPA has designated perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) as “emerging contaminants” because they now have a widespread distribution in the environment. The agency is conducting scientific research into the potential health effects of exposure to these chemicals, which may include cancer, liver damage and other serious illness.
A study published in Environmental Science and Technology revealed that PFAS has been present in 20% of private wells and 60% of public wells sampled in 16 eastern states. You can test for PFAS by submitting water samples to an approved laboratory for analysis or purchasing an inexpensive do-it-yourself kit online or at your local hardware store.
Arsenic is a naturally occurring element found in many types of rocks and soil. It can also be present in well water, surface water, and groundwater.
Arsenic can cause serious health problems if consumed regularly over time. Common symptoms of arsenic poisoning are skin rashes and lesions or hair loss. Severe cases may lead to cancer of the lungs, bladder or liver.
The EPA has adopted a new standard for arsenic in drinking water which is 0.01 mg/l or 10 parts per billion. This replaced the old standard of 50 ppb.
Lead is a toxic heavy metal that can leach into the water supply. Lead is known to cause neurological damage in children and high blood pressure, kidney damage and anemia in adults. Lead can also cause infertility and menstrual problems for women.
The EPA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that there is no safe level of lead in a child’s blood. The agency also estimates that drinking water makes up to 20% of a person’s exposure to lead.
Lead testing can be done with either a visual inspection or a chemical test kit. Still, it’s best to use both techniques together to ensure the accuracy of your results.
Nitrates are the most common contaminant in groundwater and drinking water. Nitrates can be found in fertilizers, animal waste runoff from farms, and septic systems. High levels of nitrate can result in methemoglobinemia (blue baby syndrome) which can be dangerous to pregnant women and infants.
You can test your water for nitrates by sending a sample to a lab or using a home testing kit.
Fluoride, a naturally occurring mineral, is added to the water supply in many cities. It helps prevent tooth decay and cavities. The recommended amount of fluoride is 0.7 parts per million for adults and 0.3 parts per million for children younger than 6 years old.
Testing your water is a vital step in protecting yourself from contaminants. It’s also important to know that you can do something about it if you have contaminated water.
You can test for different types of contaminants by testing for specific chemicals. You can use tools like the TDS meter or the pH indicator paper to test for alkalinity, acidity, and other properties that affect drinking water quality.
To reduce your risk of contamination in the first place, consider taking these steps:
- Use a filter on your shower head and faucets. This will remove particulate matter like rust and chlorine from the water flow.
- Consider installing a reverse osmosis system on your sink. This would help remove any dissolved minerals that might be present in your tap water as well as more harmful contaminants like lead, arsenic and chromium 6.