As a living organism on planet Earth I require fresh water to stay alive, and because I’m a duly registered citizen of the United States – when I need water – all I have to do is turn on my tap and out flows clear water to drink.
While I consider myself extremely lucky that water is so easily accessible as compared to others in this world, I have been making one important assumption that may not be entirely accurate.
I’ve assumed I am drinking, cooking, and showering in clean water.
Since the United States has a national program in place for maintaining clean water through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and because most health issues from water diseases like diarrhea come from 3rd world countries, you might think that water quality is an issue confined strictly to developing nations.
You only have to look at the recent crisis in Flint Michigan to realize that this is, we don’t always get water that meet the EPA’s clean drinking water standards.
So in Part1 week’s Green Scene Gal article I wanted to create more of an urgency and an awareness of the issues while offering some completely doable solutions you can take to protect your family from water contamination.
Flint: the tip of the iceberg?
In 2014, when the city council of Flint in central-Michigan made the choice to change its water source from their own Sewerage Department water to the nearby Flint River, they probably never thought they’d become the poster-child example of how poorly government can manage natural resources. As of this writing (2017), Flint’s water supply continues to show unhealthy levels of lead.
While you might be lulled into thinking that this is a isolated incident, the truth is more alarming. According to a 2016 CNN report, the U.S. still has over 5,300 U.S. Water Systems current in violation of the EPA lead contamination guidelines!
Thanks to a combination of corroded water pipes, intense corporate lobbying against regulating groundwater contamination, inadequate testing, and inaction by local politicians as well as federal and state regulators, we now have an scenario where the safety of our drinking water is in serious jeopardy.
And it’s not just lead.
Other chemicals like PFASs, widely used in manufacturing and known to adversely affect your bodies cholesterol and hormone regulation (2), or pesticides like neonicotinoids (3) which affect your cognitive functionality brain, have been found at unsafe levels at the tap in many areas of the United States.
While there’s most likely no immediate danger to having a drink out of the faucet in most parts of the U.S., our family has some major concerned about the long-term effects of the water that comes out of the tap.
So how should you protect yourself and family?
Testing At The Source
Before running out and buying a year’s-worth of water bottles or a whole-home water filter system, you’ll need a reliable method of testing your home’s water for contaminants. While this is an absolute must for households on well-water, I highly encourage you to test your water even if you get your water from a public water supplier.
If you live in the United States, the water from your faucet comes from two places, either a well or a Water treatment facility. The methodology for testing will be different depending on which one you have.
Water Supplier Testing
About 85% of the population relies on water from water treatment facilities. These treatment plant can be large or small, but as long as they supply at least 25 people, they need to comply with regulations outlined in the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act (FSDWA). As part of these guideline, the water will need to be tested regularly and be accessible to the public in the form of a Consumer Confidence Report (CCR). You should be able to get a copy of this report by calling the number on your water bills. If there are any potentially harmful contaminants in the water, the water supplier will have to issue a public alert.
As of March of 2017 you can now check the safety history of the water system in your area with a nifty online portal called the “Drinking Water Mapping Application to Protect Source Waters (DWMAPS)”
EPA Drinking Water Mapping Application
Run by the US Environmental Protection Agency, simply click on your state and county and then choose your water system from the list provided. Note that water facilities that serve more than 100,000 people are required to post their results online, while smaller treatment plants may either post online or have it available upon request. The resulting report will give you the contact information for
It is important to note that these federal standards will not be applied to private wells. If your water supply is from a private well, read on…
Well Water Testing
As federal standards do not apply to well water, it is up to you whether or not you test your water.
If you are going to have the water tested, you should look for a lab on the EPA listing. Your state extension service or local health department should also be able to advise you on which tests you should have done based on your location.
The annual test that you complete will also measure all of the total solids dissolved in the water. However, it will generally not tell you which solids they are or the amount in the water. This is why it is recommended that you test your water every 3 years for manganese, iron, sulfate and chloride. You should also consider annual checks for radon, copper, lead and other substances.
If you live in an agricultural area, you should test your water for common pesticides. Additionally, if you live where oil and gas are drilled, you need to test for chemicals such as methane, bromide, ethane, total petroleum hydrocarbons and barium. Regardless of where you live, you should have your well water tested every year for coliform bacteria, pH, nitrates and inorganic salts. These tests are particularly important if your well is fairly new or you have recently had it repaired.
Testing From The Tap?
While public water suppliers in the U.S. are required to test and provide access to the water quality they produce at their facilities, these tests won’t always capture the quality of the water to your home after it passes through the underground pipes to your home.
This was the underlying cause of the crisis in Flint where the water treatment facility tests the water plant tests came back OK from the water treatment plant, it was actually a combination of a oxidization agents in the new water that rusted the old lead-based pipes that created the contamination.
While there’s plenty of reliable test data at a water treatment facility,
If you have specific concerns such as nitrate or lead contamination this is not a bad idea. Nitrate is a chemical that is found in animal manure, synthetic fertilizers and sewage. It is possible for the water from your tap to be contaminated on route from the treatment plant to your home.
If you want to test your water, you should contact your local water agency and ask if they will complete the test for you. It is also possible to contact your county health department for testing. Country health departments will generally only conduct tests for certain contaminants such as lead and nitrate and will generally charge a fee for the test.
If you are unable to get the water supplier or health departments to test your water, you can have the test completed by a state-certified lab. The EPA has a listing of certified labs that can test water for you and you will need to find one within your area. The lab will generally have recommendations of the tests that should be carried out depending on where you live and if you have specific concerns.
The lab will also instruct you about how to collect a sample of the water and you may be provided with sterile containers to use. The lab may require you to get first-draw water or the water which comes from your tap when you first turn it on in the morning. For certain tests, you may have to get a sample of water after it has run for a set amount of time.
It is important that you choose a lab close to you because you may have to deliver the sample to the lab. The water sample may also need to be kept on ice depending on the tests that will be carried out. The water may also have to be tested 24 to 30 hours after it has been collected.
The costs of these tests can vary from $30 to $500 depending on the number of tests and screens being done. You could also use a home kit to test the water yourself. The primary problem with these tests is that they are unable to test for everything and are not as accurate as lab tests. However, these tests are able to detect lead, bacteria, arsenic and pesticides while only costing between $10 and $165.
Testing Tap Water For Copper And Lead
You should consider testing your tap water for lead if you have brass faucets or lead pipes, and likewise for copper if you have any copper pipes.
Copper pipes are easy to determine as they will be brown and the same color as an old penny.
It is generally harder to determine if your pipes are lead, but you should be able to determine this with the help of a plumber. Lead pipes are usually gray in color and will generally be found in homes that were built before the 1980’s. However, it is important to note that some older homes will have galvanized steel pipes which are also gray. Galvanized steel pipes will generally have magnetic and threaded joints while lead pipes are not magnetic and will have a bulb fitting over the receiving pipe.
When measuring water contaminants, it will be one by the number of particles present in a billion water particles. Lead can be very dangerous to children at 15 parts per billion. It is recommended that all lead pipes are replaced immediately.
Copper is not as toxic as lead, but can be very harmful if found in high concentrations. This is generally an issue if the water is acidic. In these cases, the copper from the pipe could dissolve and enter the water which sits in the pipes.
Testing your water annually is the only way that you will be able to definitively determine if you have a problem with copper. You may need to have a neutralizing system in place to make the water less acidic depending on the level of copper and the water pH level. You may also need to replace all of your copper piping.
In the next article we’ll cover