Threats to our drinking water are increasing due to our aging water system infrastructure and increased pollutants invading our water sources. Because the source of our drinking water varies, the treatment it receives before coming to our tap also varies. For these reasons, we can no longer take the safety of our drinking water for granted.
Some of the more common natural sources of pollution include:
microorganisms; underlying rock; nitrates and nitrites; heavy metals found in underground rock that contains arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, and selenium; and fluoride. Human Activities causing pollution include: bacteria and nitrates from human and animal wastes, septic tanks and large farms; heavy metals from mining construction, and older fruit orchards; fertilizers and pesticides; industrial products and wastes from local factories, industrial plants, gas stations, dry cleaners, leaking underground storage tanks, landfills and waste dumps; household wastes such as cleaning solvents, used motor oil, paint, paint thinner, pharmaceuticals (discarded medications flushed down the toilet); lead and copper; hormones passed into the system through waste.
Most of us are familiar with problems caused by ecoli in the water or problems caused by lead poisoning, but not much is heard about problems from hormones or medications that make their way back into our drinking water. In truth, little is known about the long term effects of pharmaceutical contamination.
Hormones fed through the system can create a variety of problems. A study done in the UK found that high concentrations of female hormones (from women using contraceptive pills) were changing the sex of approximately half of all male fish and possibly affected male fertility. Other studies have shown antidepressants can trigger premature spawning in shellfish while drugs designed to treat heart ailments block the ability of fish to repair damaged fins.
If a water supplier determines that drinking water has been contaminated, they are required to inform their customers of any violations within 24 hours. It should be noted that in 2001, one out of every four community water systems did not conduct testing or report the results of testing which could lead to problems that are undetected.
The EPA uses a generalized standard for measuring contamination of our water which can put some groups in jeopardy. Children and infants, the frail and elderly, and pregnant women and their unborn babies can face a greater risk to infection. Others who are undergoing chemotherapy, living with HIV/AIDS, and transplant patients also faced an increased risk.
One contaminate that concerns me the most is nitrate. Nitrate is generally found in fertilizer and puts infants at immediate risk when it exceeds the national standard levels. An excess of nitrate in an infants system can cause “blue baby syndrome” which can be fatal without immediate medical attention. It has been recommended that infants, young children, nursing mothers, pregnant women and certain elderly people use extreme caution.
Families using well water as their primary water source are not subject to regulation by the EPA and therefore face a considerably greater risk. Although a water filtration system can be helpful, many serious problems can only be found by testing and go unnoticed.
What can you do about it? Using a home water filtration system can help, but you will need to do your homework. There are many different types of filtration systems available and each has it’s advantages and disadvantages. In June of 1998, CNN published an article referencing a study done by The Center for Environmental Health which used 16 different brands of water filtration systems which showed that six brands produced water that exceeded the limit for lead, with two (one made by Franke Inc. of Pennsylvania and Omni Corporation of Indiana) generated water with readings substantially higher than the limit.
If you are considering purchasing a home filtration system reference on Consumers Guide (http://www.consumersearch.com/www/kitchen/water_filters/reviews.html) before going to the store. Families using well water should read “Alternative Considerations” Consumer Guide (http://www.consumersearch.com/www/kitchen/water_filters/fullstory.html). A general reference for qualities to look for can be found at World Wise(http://www.worldwise.com/watpur.html).
The same holds true for buying water. FDA’s rules completely exempt waters that are packaged and sold within the same state The FDA also exempts carbonated water and seltzer, and fewer than half of the states require carbonated waters to meet their own bottled water standards. The NRDC tested 103 brands of bottled water and the results can be viewed at SUMMARY OF NRDCs TEST RESULTS (http://www.nrdc.org/water/drinking/bw/appa.asp)
Anyone concerned about the quality of their drinking water can take call their state drinking water program or the EPA Safe Drinking Water Hotline (800 426-4791) for a list of state certified labs, or purchasing filters certified by NSF International (800 NSF-MARK) to remove the contaminants of special concern to the consumer (NSF certification is not, however, a complete guarantee of safety).
(c)2004 Karen Zastudil
Sources: Water Magazine – Contaminants in Water, EPA book “Water On Tap”, Water Conditioning and Purification Magazine June 2003: Volume 34, Number 6, Friends of the Earth O’Magazine., NRDC