Is my water safe to drink?
A definitive answer for countries as large as the United States and Canada is impossible, of course, but for the most part, yes. Nearly all public water supplies in the United States meet the US Environmental Protection Agency's standards for safe drinking water.
What are water standards?
Standards are typically numerical limits on the concentrations, or amounts, of a particular contaminant. In cases where a contaminant cannot be readily measured, such as particular microbiological organisms that can sicken humans, water supplies must provide specific treatment, such as disinfection and filtration, to ensure safe water. Small water systems generally have more trouble meeting these standards than do larger cities. Smaller utilities frequently have a small rate base, so they can have difficulty raising money if corrections are needed. Such standards do not usually apply to private wells used by individual households.
Should I buy bottled water?
You don't need to buy bottled water for health reasons if your drinking water meets all of the federal, state, or provincial drinking water standards (ask your local supplier.) If you want a drink with a different taste, you can buy bottled water, but it costs up to 1,000 times more than municipal drinking water. Of course, in emergencies bottled water can be a vital source of drinking water for people without water. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires bottled water quality standards to be equal to those of the US Environmental Protection Agency for tap water, but the quality of the finished product is not government-monitored. Bottlers must test their source water and finished product once a year. Currently, any bottled water that contains contaminants in excess of the allowable level is considered mislabeled unless it has a statement of substandard quality. Regulations require bottlers to inform consumers of "bottled water" contents. Although recent tests have not found any lead in dozens of brands of bottled water, studies have shown that microbes may grow in the bottles while on grocers' shelves.
What is a Boil Water Order?
A Boil Water Order is issued by public health officials when there is a concern that a disaster or other event has the potential to contaminate the water supply. Boiling your water is an effective way to ensure that your water is safe to drink. When a Boil Water Order is issued, you should make sure that any water used for drinking is boiled at least three minutes (five minutes at higher altitudes) to make sure that the water is safe. If you still have power, refrigerate the water after boiling.
Where does my drinking water come from?
There are two major sources of drinking water: surface water and groundwater. Surface water comes from lakes, reservoirs, and rivers. Groundwater comes from wells that the water supplier drills into aquifers. An aquifer is an underground geologic formation through which water flows slowly. Most large cities in the United States use surface water, and most small towns use groundwater. Some water suppliers buy treated water from others (wholesalers) and then provide water to their customers, often without further treatment.
What is the major source of water pollution?
The major source of water pollution is rain. The same rain that helps fill reservoirs, swells rivers, and makes plants, trees and crops grow washes over cattle feed lots in the Midwest, over dirty city streets, over piles of industrial waste, etc. Eventually the fallen rain, now called `runoff,' goes directly into surface drinking water sources or seeps down through the ground into underground water sources called "aquifers," carrying germs or chemicals - or both - with it.
How do chemicals get into my water?
Many of them, such as calcium, magnesium, iron, and others, occur naturally in water, and most of these "natural" chemicals are not harmful to your health. However, rain seeping through a hazardous waste dump eventually carries unwanted chemicals into underground sources and surface runoff pollutes reservoirs and rivers. But people are also responsible for a lot of the problem. For instance, if you paint your house with an oil-based paint, clean your brushes with paint thinner, and dump the paint thinner in the backyard, you can contaminate an aquifer that may be someone's water supply.
Can I test my own water at home?
Not in a meaningful way. Simple kits are available to test for hardness and some chemicals like chlorine and lead, but a thorough analysis is not possible. Your local water utility can provide you with information on water quality and may test your water if you have a question or complaint. The local and state health departments can also provide water quality and testing information.
Why does my drinking water taste or smell "funny"? Will this smelly water make me sick?
The four most common reasons for bad tasting water or smelling water care:
A noticeable taste can come from the chlorine that is added to the water to kill germs. Heavily chlorinated water may contain "reaction products." These products cause no taste and odor and are limited by the US Environmental Protection Agency's rules.
A rotten-egg odor in some groundwater is caused by a non-toxic (in small amounts), smelly chemical- hydrogen sulfide - dissolved in the water.
As some algae, bacteria, and tiny fungi grow in surface water sources, they give off nontoxic, smelly chemicals that can cause unpleasant tastes in drinking water. Different algae cause different tastes and odors - grassy, swampy, and pigpen, as examples - and the little fungi can cause an earthy-musty taste.
Metallic tastes can come from copper that has dissolved from copper pipe and from iron from rusting on iron pipes. Copper can cause short-term health problems like diarrhea and cramping. Iron has no effect on health.