Following high profile episodes such as lead in the drinking water in Flint, the quality of the nation’s water supplies has come under scrutiny. “Until recently, only a few have questioned the quality of our water supply,” explains Dr. JoAnna Shimek, clinical assistant professor at Indiana University’s School of Public Health. In America, she adds, we assume our supply is safe.
Poor water quality can impact your health, ranging from a malady as mild as an upset stomach, but also so severe that exposure can result in lower IQ and learning disabilities—with the most susceptible being children and pregnant women.
1. Learn what may impact the quality of your drinking water
First, based on your water supply (city vs. well) you should understand what contaminants you are most susceptible to. The Environmental Protection Agency says there are both natural sources of contamination, such as nitrates or heavy metals like lead, as well as contamination from human activity including agriculture operations and fertilizer runoff.
2. Learn how your water can become contaminated
For public water supplies, most contamination occurs after the water leaves the treatment facility through lead service lines or parts or lead lines in your own home. Understanding what your water travels through to arrive at your tap is critical to understanding where contamination occurs.
If you’re on a private well, your water is not regulated by the EPA nor tested by anyone but you. Regular testing, at least once a year (and more if you’ve ever experienced an issue) is necessary to ensure contaminants aren’t leaching into your wells.
3. Understand the rules and regulations
Safe Drinking Water Act applies to every public water system in the U.S. (more than 170,000), sets contamination levels, as well as provides annual consumer confidence reports.
Lead and Copper Rule 1991 –because most lead and copper contamination occurs after the water leaves the treatment facility, public water systems are required to monitor a select number of consumer taps every three years to ensure that lead levels do not exceed 15 ppb or copper exceed 1.3 ppm in more than 10 percent of customer taps sampled. If results are higher than this threshold, the system must undertake a number of additional actions to control corrosion. The EPA does not regulate private well supplies.
4. Learn how to read your water report
Every public water supply is required to make public a consumer confidence report. Shimek says people need to understand the water quality reports they receive. “It’s important to recognize that technology allows us to measure contaminants in our drinking water at very low concentrations. However, we many not fully understand the significance of the results. When our health is at risk, we need to ask questions and get answers to ensure that our public water supplies are safe,” she says.
5. Test your water
Without regular testing you can never be sure what’s in your water supply. While Megan Glover, co-founder and chief executive officer of 120WaterAudit, a water testing service, believes there will be a push to invest more in the nation’s infrastructure to eliminate outdated lead service lines and parts, it will take time and a big investment.
“In the meantime, I think we’re going to see an increase in consumer outreach by utility companies and organizations such as 120WaterAudit that help the average consumer and business navigate this important issue, providing easy testing options and recommendations when high levels of contamination are present,” adds Shimek. “We will also see greater scrutiny and more legislation around testing our school systems, daycares—really any institution where water is being consumed.”
Faye Brookman, [email protected]