The recent and ongoing water crisis in Flint, MI, has left many people across the nation wondering if the water coming out of their home taps is actually not so safe after all. Flint’s water problems began when the city began diverting water from the heavily polluted Flint River into its system without taking the proper precautions to prevent pipe erosion. Much of the lead in the water came from the city’s own delivery system in which, like the rest of the United States, lead pipes play a major role. Residents of Flint are now dealing with major health concerns -- and future developmental issues for their children -- as a result. This would be enough to make anyone speculate about the safety of the water supply; after all, lead pipes and lead-soldered copper pipes are integral to water delivery across the country. For the majority of us, the municipal water supply more than safe enough to drink, but there are still certain chemicals in tap water that cause concern for experts.
Over 90 Contaminants Commonly Found in Water
There are actually more than 90 water contaminants that are regulated under the Environmental Protection Agency’s Safe Drinking Water Act, but when water filtration plants remove known contaminants from water, they do not remove every trace; instead, they filter to acceptable levels (often measured in just a few parts per billion). Over time, some of these contaminants can build up in your system and can create potential health hazards, especially for people with weakened or compromised immune systems.
Lead in Water
Lead is monitored closely by the EPA, since it has been proven to do great developmental harm to children. The problem, though, is that monitoring generally takes place at the treatment plant if there is no indication of a larger problem, as was the case in Flint. This is an issue because lead is also prevalent in the pipes used to deliver tap water. In fact, lead pipes from the street and copper pipes soldered with lead are quite common in older homes.
Fluoride and Other Naturally Occurring Elements
Fluoride has been encouraged as a water additive as a way to strengthen tooth enamel, making teeth healthier and easier to keep clean. While it does help teeth, it has since been called into question as an additive due to health concerns like nerve damage and, in high levels, increased risk of bone fracture and weakening of bone structure in adults. Other naturally occurring elements found in water include arsenic, lead, uranium and mercury; in the small amounts allowed in water by the EPA these elements do little to no damage to the human body, but with repeated long-term exposure, any of these elements can lead to serious illnesses, including cancer.
Drugs Found in Water
Are you on a maintenance medication for blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol, erectile dysfunction, or something else? Who hasn’t been prescribed a course of antibiotics by the doctor at one time or another? Last year, the number of prescriptions filled was a record 3.7 billion. Non-prescription pharmaceuticals added an additional 3.3 billion sales. Have you ever given any thought about what happens to pharmaceuticals after you take them? The truth is, your body doesn’t always fully metabolize the drug. Some of it passes through urine into the water supply, and treatment plants are not equipped to remove these substances from water. Another common occurrence is when expired medicines are either thrown away or flushed down the toilet; this is a direct route for pharmaceuticals to enter the water supply! A recent study involving 50 of the largest cities in America revealed that more than 41 million Americans in many of those cities are exposed to pharmaceuticals through their drinking water. Drugs are not only found in water near large population centers, either. Another study tested for caffeine in drinking water, because caffeine is a contaminant that often indicates the presence other chemicals. That study found relatively high levels of caffeine in drinking water even in rural areas. There is also concern about levels of antibiotics and other agricultural drugs given to cattle in rural water supplies, especially in well water.
What Can be Done About Water Safety?
When it comes to lead, the first step is to have your tap water tested. Lead in water cannot be seen, smelled, or tasted, so it is important to test the water and, if your water comes from a municipal source, ask your local water authority for any lead data it has on file (this is sometimes accessible online, too). For other naturally occurring and man-made substances there are other tests available, but some of them can be quite expensive. Removal can also be very expensive. One of the most effective ways to remove virtually all unwanted substances from water is through reverse osmosis; this method is not only expensive and the equipment is bulky, but it also leaves several gallons of concentrated polluted water for every gallon of pure water. For these reasons, more and more people are turning to home purification systems. A system created by the water purification company Berkey can be placed on a countertop, removes virtually all impurities (including lead and many pharmaceuticals), and costs as little as $0.03 per gallon over the life of the filters. A full list of contaminants the Black Berkey filter can remove can be found online at Berkey Test Results. Berkey filters can also be found for sale at www.gameplanpreppers.com. $299.95 includes shipping and sales tax.