WATER CONTAMINATION – What You Need To Know To Protect Your Family

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Water On Tap - What You Need To Know To Protect Your Family

As development in our modern society increases, there are growing numbers of activities that can contaminate our drinking water. Improperly disposed-of chemicals, animal and human wastes, wastes injected underground, and naturally occurring substances have the potential to contaminate drinking water. Likewise, drinking water that is not properly treated or disinfected, or that travels through an improperly maintained distribution system, may also pose a health risk. Greater vigilance by you, your water supplier, and your government can help prevent such events in your water supply.

Contaminants can enter water supplies either as a result of human and animal activities, or because they occur naturally in the environment. Threats to your drinking water may exist in your neighborhood, or may occur many miles away.

Microbial Contamination:

The potential for health problems from microbial-contaminated drinking water is demonstrated by localized outbreaks of waterborne disease. Many of these outbreaks have been linked to contamination by bacteria or viruses, probably from human or animal wastes. For example, in 1999 and 2000, there were 39 reported disease outbreaks associated with drinking water, some of which were linked to public drinking water supplies.

Chemical Contamination From Fertilizers:

NitratesNitrate, a chemical most commonly used as a fertilizer, poses an immediate threat to infants when it is found in drinking water at levels above the national standard. Nitrates are converted to nitrites in the intestines. Once absorbed into the bloodstream, nitrites prevent hemoglobin from transporting oxygen. (Older children have an enzyme that restores hemoglobin.) Excessive levels can cause “blue baby syndrome,” which can be fatal without immediate medical attention. Infants most at risk for blue baby syndrome are those who are already sick, and while they are sick, consume food that is high in nitrates or drink water or formula mixed with water that is high in nitrates. Avoid using water with high nitrate levels for drinking. This is especially important for infants and young children, nursing mothers, pregnant women and certain elderly people.

Lead Contamination:

Lead, a metal found in natural deposits, was commonly used in household plumbing materials and water service lines in old times. The greatest exposure to lead is swallowing lead paint chips or breathing in lead dust. But lead in drinking water can also cause a variety of adverse health effects. In babies and children, exposure to lead in drinking water above the action level of lead (0.015 milligram per liter) can result in delays in physical and mental development, along with slight deficits in attention span and learning abilities. Adults who drink this water over many years could develop kidney problems or high blood pressure. Lead is rarely found in source water, but enters tap water through corrosion of plumbing materials. LeadVery old and poorly maintained homes may be more likely to have lead pipes, joints and solder. However, new homes are also at risk: DId you know that pipes legally considered to be “lead-free” may contain up to eight percent lead. These pipes can leach significant amounts of lead in the water for the first several months after their installation.

How Safe Is The Drinking Water In My Household Well?

EPA regulates public water systems; it does not have the authority to regulate private wells. Approximately 15 percent of Americans rely on their own private drinking water supplies ( Drinking Water from Household Wells, 2002), and these supplies are not subject to EPA standards. Unlike public drinking water systems serving many people, they do not have experts regularly checking the water’s source and its quality before it is sent to the tap. These households must take special precautions to ensure the protection and maintenance of their drinking water supplies.

How Much Risk Can I Expect?

Water contaminantsThe risk of having problems depends on how good your well is—how well it was built and located, and how well you maintain it. It also depends on your local environment. That includes the quality of the aquifer from which your water is drawn and the human activities going on in your area that can affect your well. Several sources of pollution are easy to spot by sight, taste, or smell. However, many serious problems can be found only by testing your water. Knowing the possible threats in your area will help you decide the kind of tests you may need.

Get Your Water Tested Periodically

The best answer is to test your water every year for total coli-form bacteria, nitrates, total dissolved solids, and pH level.

If you suspect other contaminants, test for these as well. As the tests can be expensive, limit them to possible problems specific to your situation. Local experts can help you identify these contaminants. You should also test your water after replacing or repairing any part of the system, or if you notice any change in your water’s look, taste, or smell. Often, county health departments perform tests for bacteria and nitrates. For other substances, health departments, environmental offices, or county governments should have a list of state-certified laboratories. Your State Laboratory Certification Officer can also provide you with this list. Call the Safe Drinking Water Hotline for the name and number of your state’s certification officer. Any laboratory you use should be certified to do drinking water testing.

Save water at home

How Can I Conserve Water?

The national average cost of water is $2.00 per 1,000 gallons. The average American family spends about $474 each year on water and sewage  charges. American households spend an additional $230 per year on water heating costs. By replacing appliances such as the dishwasher and  inefficient fixtures such as toilets and showerheads, you can save a substantial amount each year in water, sewage, and energy costs. There are many ways to save water in and around your home. Here are the five that might get the best results:

  • Stop Leaks.
  • Replace Old Toilets with models that use 1.6 gallons or less per flush.
  • Replace Old Clothes Washers with EPA Energy Star certified models.
  • Plant the Right Kind of Garden that requires less water.
  • Provide Only the Water Plants Need.

Nearly 14 percent of the water a typical homeowner pays for is never even used—it leaks down the drain.

Sources: www.epa.gov/safewater

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