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Common Contaminants in Tap Water

tap water contaminants

We’ve talked about the effects of fluoride and chlorine in our drinking water. Here we will take a look at a number of common contaminants that are found in tap water samples. Keep in mind, contaminants are found in varying amounts and with many of them, the EPA allows what they consider to be “safe levels.” In our opinion, trace amounts or not, it is best to avoid these contaminants altogether if you can help it.

Cryptosporidium – Cryptosporidium is a microorganism that comes in a cyst form. It’s small size and the hard shell of the cyst make it very hard to remove from water on the municipal level. It can withstand high temperatures as well as chlorine. As a result, every now and then, crypto causes people to get sick (typically two weeks of awful diarrhea).

Arsenic – Arsenic in our drinking water has its origins in mining and other industrial activities in addition to pesticide use. Arsenic is toxic to humans and it is a cancer causing agent. Currently, the EPA allows arsenic in quantities of 10 parts per billion (ppb), but many organizations like the National Resources Defense Council, believe that number should be 3ppb or less. This was a controversial political issue in the early part of the 2000’s as President Bush and many industry leaders wanted the number to go back to the pre-90’s level of 50 ppb. Due to public outcry and a damning study by the EPA that admitted to underestimating the cancer risk of Arsenic, the Bush administration kept the number at the 10 ppb set by President Clinton.

Lead – Lead is not considered safe in any quantity. Lead poisoning can cause brain damage and more generally lead can have harmful effects on blood pressure, the nervous system, and kidney function. Lead is easily removed by municipal water treatment centers, but it can reenter the water supply through old, corroding pipes on the way to your faucet. This is why it is critical to have some sort of water filter installed in your home!

Nitrates – Nitrates come from fertilizers and human and animal waste (think large factory farms). Infants and pregnant women are especially vulnerable to nitrate contamination. In fact, nitrate poisoning causes blue baby syndrome, which prevents the blood from absorbing oxygen. For a pregnant or nursing woman, nitrate exposure can cause a number of negative health consequences, including complications with infant brain development. The EPA allowed amount is currently set at 10 ppm, but many environmental groups and health experts believe that this should be lowered. According to the National Resources Defense Council, the current number leaves no room for error “since blue baby syndrome has been observed in infants who drink water containing nitrates at 12 parts per million or possibly lower concentrations.”

Pharmaceuticals – In recent years, small amounts of pharmaceutical drugs have been found in tap water samples. These residual quantities include antibiotics, sex hormones, and mood stabilizers, among other things. What’s more, many water treatment centers do not test for pharmaceuticals nor are they required to by law. While small trace amounts of pharmaceuticals may not have a one-off effect, the concern is that prolonged exposure to these substances will, over time, have negative effects on our body chemistry. For on this story, please read this probe from CBS News.

These are a few of the more common contaminants found in water. As disturbing as it may be, know that you can purify your water from within your home by using the proper products. Even if municipal water treatment becomes more stringent and efficient, it is a good idea to filter your own water, considering that the investment required is relatively low. At the very least, look into getting a dispenser or pitcher water filter to purify your tap water.

Feel free to share you thoughts on tap water contaminants in the comments below. If you have any specific recommendations for filters or products, please let us know. Sharing the most up to date and current information on this topic is our priority.


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