The United States enjoys one of the safest water supplies in the world, but you’d never know it judging by the number of us slogging bottles of designer water with us everywhere we go. Given that Americans shell out more than $7 billion each year for bottled water products, it’s safe to say that some of us plunking down our money are just plain skeptical about what’s coming out of the tap at home.
Recent newspaper headlines offer little reassurance: microscopic critters sending people to emergency rooms, fertilizers and factory-farm manure seeping into ground water, lead leaching from pipes in older homes, recent reports that researchers are finding traces of pharmaceutical drugs in our water supplies … small wonder that turning on the faucet can sometimes seem like a game of Russian roulette.
The long-term consequences of drinking water containing traces of so many chemicals are almost impossible to determine. “The impacts of our continual exposure to a multitude of toxicants at low or trace doses is a hotly debated issue,” says Christian Daughton, Ph.D., chief of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Chemistry Branch in Las Vegas. His research on pharmaceutical drug residues in the environment has helped bring the issue to the forefront. But remember, he says, not all water problems are human-made. “There’s a universe of naturally occurring chemicals, many of which have their own profound toxicity.”
Because our bodies are 50 percent to 65 percent water (children’s bodies are about 75 percent water), it certainly makes sense to try to drink water that’s as free from harmful contaminants as possible. Many people have sought to protect themselves by switching from tap to bottled water, but this can be expensive and inconvenient, and the improvement in quality is debatable (See “Is Bottled Better?” Page 70). Depending on what contaminants you need to remove, a range of home water-treatment options is available; all of them are much cheaper over time than buying bottled water.
In order to find out which system is right for you, you’ll need to find out what’s in your water. If you’re connected to a public water supply, you can obtain a copy of your municipality’s Consumer Confidence Report by calling (800) 426-4791, or by visiting the Web site www.epa.gov/safewater (click on Local Drinking Water Information). Public water suppliers are required by federal law to provide consumers with information on where the water comes from and whether the water exceeds the limits for any of the 80 contaminants regulated by the EPA. You also can request a printout of the levels of all the regulated chemicals. People on private wells can visit the EPA’s Safewater Web site to locate state-certified water testing labs. Local health departments and cooperative extension offices may offer low-cost testing for certain problems.