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Drinking Water Quality: What You Need to Know

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Water Quality: Is Tap Water Safe? continued...

When drinking water leaves a treatment plant on its way to your house, it must meet strict safety standards. That doesn’t mean that your water is free of all contaminants, but that the levels of any contaminants don’t pose any serious health risk.

Of course, accidents can happen. If the water supply becomes contaminated by something that can cause immediate illness, the supplier must promptly inform you. Suppliers also need to offer alternative suggestions for safe drinking water. In addition, they have 24 hours to inform customers of any violation of standards that could have major impact on health following a short-term exposure.

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 (800) 426-4791 to get information and ask questions about the quality and safety of drinking water.

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