Most of us don’t think too much about what’s in our water, despite the fact that we know that drinking water is key to our health. If it’s the public water supply, then it’s regulated, right? And even if we don’t have the best tap water, there’s always the bottled option.
But as the water crisis in Flint, Mich., has proven, the water we’re being supplied isn’t always good for us. In fact, it can be downright dangerous to our health, and it can take years to turn things around. Of course, the regulations in place are also affected by industrial, military and pharmaceutical lobbies as well.
And bottled water isn’t necessarily a better option. Aside from the fact that these plastic bottles are terrible for the environment, bottled water isn’t well regulated either.
That’s why it’s important to know what is actually coming out of your kitchen faucet, and how tap water toxicity might be affecting you and your family.
Tap Water Toxicity
Tap water toxicity is the presence of toxins in our water supply — things like dangerous chemicals, compounds and metals. In fact, in 2009, a three-year study conducted by the Environmental Working Group found 316 chemicals in tap water throughout the country. Of these, 202 of the chemicals weren’t regulated, while others don’t pass guideline levels.
Guidelines are tricky, too. For instance, water utility companies who serve only a few thousand customers aren’t obligated to treat water to prevent lead contamination until after lead is discovered. A ground-breaking report from USA Today found that about 4 million Americans receive their water supply from these small utility companies annually. Many of them miss the annual testing for harmful chemicals, meaning water goes for another 365 days — at least — without anyone knowing whether tap water toxicity is an issue or not.
Bigger cities aren’t immune, though. As our nation’s infrastructure and pipes that are contaminated with things like bacteria, copper and lead aren’t replaced, it’s likely that we’ll see more Flint-like cases around the country.
In fact, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the country a “D” on its 2017 Drinking Water Infrastructure Report Card. Among the reasons cited were the fact that, at the rate that utility companies are replacing outdated pipes (0.5 percent a year), it would take nearly 200 years to replace our aging system, well beyond the 50–75 years they’re built to withstand. They also pointed to the lack of funding and investment in the quality of American drinking water and its infrastructure.
So, What’s In Your Tap Water?
So what exactly are the toxins that you might find in your water supply?
Atrazine is a major one. It’s the second-most widely used herbicide in the country. But it doesn’t stick to just crops; atrazine winds up in our ground and surface water, where it later winds up in our water supply, and often at levels much higher than what’s considered safe.
Atrazine is known as an endocrine disruptor, or a chemical that after enough exposure, messes with our hormonal systems. Having just one hormone out of whack can cause serious developmental, neurological, reproductive and immune effects. The chemical has been linked to birth defects during pregnancy and raised levels of estrogen in women, which can increase the risk of both breast and ovarian cancers. It’s also been found to feminize frogs, turning once-male frogs into females.
Lead is a heavy metal that leaches through lead pipes and corroded infrastructure. It is toxic to almost every major organ in the body and acts as a poison in the body. What’s scary is that it’s absorbed by the bloodstream, affecting different parts of the body as it reaches them. It’s especially dangerous for children, because their bodies are more susceptible to both absorbing and retaining the metal.
Arsenic is another chemical that’s found in our tap water. In 2001, the EPA finally lowered the drinking water standard from 50 ppb to 10 ppb. Sadly, the agency had advocated for the limit to be 5 ppb, but water companies argued it would too expensive to implement. Arsenic has been linked to cancers of the prostate, liver, kidneys, lungs, skin and nasal passages, among others. While arsenic levels have decreased since the EPA’s standards changed, it’s still a concern in tap water.