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Drinking Water Quality: What You Need to Know

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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 Beverage Marketing Corporation, Americans drank 9.7 billion gallons of bottled water in 2012, a 6.2% 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 regulates bottled water as a food. That means it requires identification of the source (spring, mineral), regulates allowable levels of chemical, physical, microbial and radiological contaminants, requires Good Manufacturing Practice standards for boiling and bottling, and regulates labeling.

However, the FDA 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.

Water Quality: Contaminants in the Pipes

Occasionally, your tap water can become contaminated as a result of breaks in the water line, although one of the biggest problems is lead getting into the water from pipes. Even ''lead-free'' pipes can contain as much as 8% lead.

The best way to avoid consuming lead from tap water is to only use water from the cold tap for drinking, cooking, and making baby formula and to let the water run for a minute before using it.

Health Effects of Drinking Contaminated Water

How contaminated water effects your health depends on the type of contaminants. For example:

  • Cryptosporidium is a pathogen that sometimes gets into water supplies. It can cause a gastrointestinal disease that could be fatal.
  • Nitrates can contaminate water and pose an immediate threat to infants. In the intestines, nitrates are converted to nitrites, which prevent blood from transporting oxygen. An enzyme present in the system of older children restores the blood's ability to carry oxygen.
  • Lead can cause both physical and mental developmental problems in infants and children. Adults who have been drinking lead-tainted water for a number of years can experience kidney problems and high blood pressure.

Does boiling contaminated water make it safe to drink? It depends on the contaminant. Boiling water can kill germs, but things like lead, nitrates, and pesticides aren't affected. And since boiling reduces the volume of water, it increases the concentration of those contaminants.

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