Safety of Drinking Tap Water

Goals

To obtain information about the safety of drinking tap water.

Early Findings

Contamination of Tap Water

  • There have been concerns about the safety of drinking tap water in the U.S., especially because there have been cases of contaminated water affecting people in different places.
  • In 2015, citizens of Plainfield Township, Michigan were exposed to high levels of lead in tap water. It was found that 25% of Americans were drinking tap water that was not compliant with the Safe Drinking Water Act.
  • In 2016, 33 states had tap water that was contaminated with perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) (i.e. unsafe levels).
  • In 2017, 15 million Americans were drinking tap water that contained perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) contaminants which can cause thyroid disease as well as cancer.

Safety of Drinking Tap Water

  • Although there have been cases of contamination of water in the public systems, the consensus is that it is safe to drink tap water in the U.S. However, it is also acknowledged that, tap water is not completely free of contaminants.
  • According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "[t]he United States has one of the safest water supplies in the world". In fact, tap water is compared with bottled water as having similar safety standards.
  • Tap water is considered better than bottled water because it is "less expensive, more environmentally friendly, and less likely to contain microplastics".
  • The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates community water systems that are the sources of tap water for 286 million Americans. The EPA's standards include testing for more than 90 contaminants, to ensure tap water is properly treated. Customers are also given an annual Consumer Confidence Report about water quality.
  • Tap water may have contaminants from sewage, chemicals, minerals, heavy metals, and wastewater treatment systems. However, water from public water systems "[doesn’t] pose any serious health risk" and suppliers have the responsibility to inform customers if there are concerns for major health issues.
  • Signs that show that water might be contaminated include cloudiness, the color (if it's yellow, orange, brown, green, or blue), the smell (if it's like bleach, rotten egg, fish), or the taste of metal.
  • Tap water from private wells is not regulated by the EPA and would require testing, to ensure it is not contaminated.
  • To increase the safety of tap water for drinking, one could filter or boil it before use, especially if one has a compromised immune system.
  • Persons with health conditions such as HIV/AIDS, or those who are undergoing chemotherapy, received transplants, children, infants, and pregnant women, should consider taking additional steps to increase the safety of the water.

Reassurance that Drinking Tap Water is Safe

  • The EPA is confident that tap water is potable and has been encouraging persons living in the U.S. to continue drinking it, even during COVID-19. While there may be concerns of contamination relating to the virus, the EPA and CDC have stated that tap water is safe to drink.
  • Under the EPA's regulations, tap water is usually treated to kill viruses as well.

Summary

  • In our first hour of research, we found that it is safe to drink tap water in the U.S. but one should be mindful of the presence of contaminants in the water, which are usually not harmful.

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