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Drinking Water Quality: What You Need to Know

Water Quality: What Contaminants Are in Water?

Water can be contaminated in several ways. It can contain microorganisms like bacteria and parasites that get in the water from human or animal fecal matter. It can contain chemicals from industrial waste or from spraying crops. Nitrates used in fertilizers can enter the water with runoff from the land. Various minerals such as lead or mercury can enter the water supply, sometimes from natural deposits underground, or more often from improper disposal.

The EPA has set minimum testing schedules for specific pollutants to make sure that levels remain safe. Still, some people may be more vulnerable than others to potential harm caused by water contaminants, including:

  • People undergoing chemotherapy
  • People with HIV/AIDS
  • Transplant patients
  • Children and infants
  • Pregnant women and their fetuses

By July 1 of each year, public water suppliers are required to mail their customers a drinking water quality report, sometimes called a consumer confidence report or CCR. The report tells where your water comes from and what’s in it. If you don’t get one, or have misplaced it, you can ask for a copy from your local water supplier. Many reports can be found online. If you have any questions after reading your report, you can call your water supplier to get more information.

You can also call the EPA's Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 1-800-426-4791 to get information and ask questions about the quality and safety of drinking water.

Well Water: Safety and Quality

For almost one out of every seven Americans, a private well is the primary source of drinking water. Private wells are not regulated by the EPA. Well water safety can be affected by many factors, including:

  • How the well was built
  • Where it’s located
  • How it’s maintained
  • The quality of the aquifer supplying the well
  • Human activities in your area

The EPA recommends that you talk with local experts, have your well water tested regularly, and not let problems go untended.

Bottled Water: Safety and Quality

According to the International Bottled Water Association, Americans drank 9.1 billion gallons of bottled water in 2011, a 4.1% increase over the previous year.

One argument advanced for the use of bottled water is its safety, yet there isn't the same guarantee of safety with bottled water as there is for the water in your tap.

The FDA oversees the standards that apply to bottled water, but it doesn't have the ability to oversee a mandatory testing program like the EPA does with public water suppliers. So, although it can order a bottled water recall once a problem has been found, there is no guarantee that the bottle of water you bought is safe.

WebMD Medical Reference

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