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What's in My Tap Water and is it safe to drink?

What's in My Tap Water?

Let's discuss tap water for a moment. At home and cafes, many people in the United States have direct access to tap water. What is, however, in our tap water? Is it safe to consume, and where does it originate from? In this article, we'll go over all you need to know regarding tap water, one of your most underappreciated dietary essentials.

What Is the Source of Tap Water in the US?

Lakes, rivers, and groundwater are the primary sources of tap water in the United States. The source of your tap water is completely dependent on your location. There are approximately 100,000 lakes and 250,000 rivers in the United States, as well as hundreds of reservoirs, providing a wide range of water supplies for Americans. Some cities, such as Boston and San Francisco, depend entirely on reservoirs for their drinking water, while others rely on rivers and lakes or a mix of both. Let's have a closer look:

  • The Potomac River provides Washington DC with all of its drinking water.
  • New Orleans collects water from the Mississippi River.
  • The city of Chicago is reliant on Lake Michigan.
  • The Owens River provides half of Los Angeles' water.
  • The Catskill/Delaware Aqueduct provides 90 percent of New York City's water.

Some water is sourced from newer sources, like seawater in San Diego County, but this is uncommon. While the seas contain the bulk of the world's water, only a few cities turn saltwater into drinkable water. Desalination (the process of turning saltwater into drinking water) is expensive, and most towns find it difficult to invest in due to a lack of technologies. A desalination plant's cost per gallon may cost customers up to 2.5 times more each month.

What is the Treatment Process of Tap Water?

Your water is transported from the source to a treatment facility, where it is treated and sterilized before being delivered to your faucet. Flocculation and coagulation, disinfection, filtration, and sedimentation are the four stages in the treatment process.

Flocculation and coagulation is the initial stage, which involves adding chemicals to the water to clump tiny particles together. This procedure helps in the formation of bigger particles that can be readily filtered. Activated silica, talcum, activated carbons, iron, polymers, and aluminum salts are typical reagents used in this procedure. The term “floc” refers to the way they bond together. When the floc collects at the bottom of the tank, the sedimentation process begins. After the floc settles, the water is filtered to eliminate any fine dust particles, parasites, germs, bacteria, and pollutants. 

Lastly, the water is purified to eliminate any residual microbiological pollutants. Chemicals such as chlorine dioxides, chlorinates, and chlorine are added to the water to accomplish this. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), disinfecting water using these chemicals is a fast method to avoid epidemics of waterborne illnesses and parasite disorders. This is also when some cities apply fluoride to prevent tooth decay — don't worry, we'll go over it in more detail later.

What Is in My Tap Water and Is It Safe to Drink?

Tap water is generally considered to be safe. Uranium, herbicides, pesticides, lead, iron, copper, arsenic, aluminum, and other contaminants are some of the most prominent contaminants that stay in our tap water after treatment. Each of these pollutants has potentially fatal consequences. Too much copper, for example, may damage the liver and cause renal disease. Lead, on the other hand, is often found in water pipes and may have serious consequences for growing children (slowed development, anemia, lower IQ, and more), pregnant women (causing preterm delivery and fetal growth reduction), and adults (reproductive problems, reduced kidney function, and cardiovascular problems). 

Several cities have lead-contaminated water, including the now-famous example of Flint, Michigan, where municipal leaders blatantly ignored the public health issue. Other cities, such as Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, have had problems with lead in their water supply infrastructure. As per the New York Times, some of the most polluted water may be found in low-income rural regions, including parts of Oklahoma and Texas.

Pharmaceuticals have also been discovered in water sources that enter the sewage system via human feces (in the toilet), or medication flushed down the toilet. We don't know the long-term consequences of ingesting trace quantities of pharmaceuticals, according to the WHO, and it's definitely not something we should do regularly. According to WHO, the chlorination treatment procedure that most tap water goes through eliminates only approximately half of the pharmaceuticals from public water supply, although this varies depending on the kind of drug, according to Harvard research.

It's not only foreign pollutants that cause problems in our tap water; byproducts of the treatment process can cause problems. When chlorine is added to our water supply, it creates halogenated disinfection byproducts (DPS), which have been linked to bladder cancer, as well as reproductive and developmental consequences. Every city has a different mix of pollutants in its water supply, and you may verify your local report by entering your zip code into the EWC's Tap Water Database. You can also review the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) complete list of regulations for known contaminants and their permissible levels.

Finally, the EPA regulates tap water via the federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), limiting 90+ pollutants in our water supply. However, the regulation only applies to public water systems that serve more than 10,000 people. The SDWA does not apply to communities with populations under 10,000 people; instead, the EPA monitors them every five years for just 30 pollutants under the UCMR (Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule).

Is There Anything Good in My Drinking Water?

Even though “mineral water” is available in bottled form, your tap water typically contains tiny quantities of naturally occurring minerals. These include salt, magnesium, and calcium, all of which were detected in sufficient amounts to sustain a healthy diet. According to a research study from Washington University in St. Louis, such minerals are occasionally stripped and differ from city to city.

For optimal cellular and critical organ function, clean water remains a need. Ultimately, only you and your family can choose which choice is best for you and your family, as well as which risks and advantages are compatible with your health goals.

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