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Is Tap Water Safe?

Many bottled water companies put out negative statements regarding tap water in hopes that you will purchase their product instead of drinking from the tap. But some of the bad publicity that tap water gets is "spot on". Tap water can be home to many dangerous contaminants that can make you sick (either right away or in the future) and that have been linked to various forms of cancer and birth defects. Is tap water bad for you? The short answer is "maybe".

Is Tap Water Bad for You?

Your Water

The Environmental Protection Agency or EPA regulates the safety of the water supply, and this includes requiring daily testing of municipal water sources to make sure that the water coming through your tap is potable and safe for human consumption. The EPA has established what is known as Maximum Containment Level Goals, or MCLGs for common contaminants in the public water supply. All too often, the containment levels in the municipal water supply exceed these goals that are set out by the EPA. So while most municipalities do a good job in treating the water that comes into your home, according to the EPA, it may still contain a certain level of:

  • Microorganisms. Cryptosporidium, giardia lamblia, and enteric viruses are microorganisms that can cause gastrointestinal illnesses and that come from human and animal fecal waste particles. Legionella is a contaminant that can cause Legionanaire's Disease, which is a type of pneumonia. Legionella is found naturally in water.
  • Disinfection byproducts. The byproducts of water disinfection can also make it through the tap and into your drinking glass. These include bromate, chlorite, haloacetic acids, and trihalomethanes. Potential health effects from exposure to these byproducts include an increased risk of certain cancers and problems of the liver, central nervous system, and kidneys.
  • Water additives that are used to control microbes. These may include chloramines, chlorine, and chlorine dioxide. Potential health effects from exposure to these disinfectants in tap water include anemia, nervous system effects, stomach discomfort, and irritation of the eyes and nose.
  • Inorganic chemicals. Discharge from petroleum refineries, erosion of the soil, runoff from production facilities, discharge of drilling waste, and other sources of contamination can leave behind arsenic, asbestos, barium, cadmium, copper, cyanide, lead, mercury, nitrate, lindane, vinyl chloride and dozens of other inorganic compounds in municipal water supplies. These compounds can cause everything from cancer to nervous system disorders and problems with the kidneys and liver, among other ailments.
  • Radionuclides. Erosion of natural deposits can bring with it radionuclide contaminants like uranium and radium, both of which have been linked to an increased risk of cancer. Uranium can also cause kidney toxicity.

Many people that are concerned about these contaminants in their tap water buy bottled water instead. But the truth is that around half of all bottled water actually comes from the tap. Bottled water is not regulated heavily by the government, and can actually be more harmful to human health than tap water. A better option is to buy a filter for your tap, and filter your own water. You'll have the peace of mind that comes with knowing that your water is healthy, and you won't be adding to existing environmental problems by purchasing plastic bottles.