According to Unicef, lack of access to clean water kills children at a rate equal to a deadly jumbo jet crashing every four hours. You may be thinking, “Thank goodness, that’s not something I need to worry about here in the U.S.!”
But hold on a sec; before you assume your own tap water supply is safe, don’t forget there may be real risks in your own water supply – risks that don’t make the evening news but that could make you sick.
Common problems with tap water additives
Fluoride in water – good or bad?We all know the reasons that municipalities add fluoride to water supplies; as we’ve been told for decades, the fluoride helps prevent tooth decay. But is fluoride served up via tap water safe for us? Doubt grows in the scientific and healthcare communities. Here’s why:
- Fluoride is naturally dangerous to humans, only considered safe in miniscule quantities. But when it reaches us by tap water supply, the amount we consume is controlled by the amount of exposure we have to fluoridated water. Not only do people drink different amounts of water, but we get it in other beverages, in foods, and in fluoride-containing toothpastes and mouth rinses, which can add up.
- We are also being exposed externally to fluoride when we are bathing, showering, or doing dishes. Long-term exposure to higher levels may cause skeletal fluorosis: a buildup of fluoride in the bones, which can lead to joint stiffness and pain, or even to weak bones or fractures in older adults. Some reports show that up to 41 percent of American children between 12 and 15 have some form of dental fluorosis.
- A 2012 Harvard study confirmed several dangers from fluoride, including neurotoxicity, negative impacts on memory and learning, and adverse affects on cognitive development in children.
- The ADA reports a connection between fluoridation and cancer.
- The US National Toxicology Program found evidence of fluoridated drinking water causing osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer.
- As many as 25 studies indicate that fluoride can reduce your IQ.
While not all study results agree, enough show evidence of risk that it’s becoming increasingly hard to disregard the concerns.
Chlorine – added for your good, but also presenting health risksTo protect drinking water from disease-causing organisms, water suppliers often add chlorine to drinking water. But is it safe?
- The EPA states that chlorine can react with naturally-occurring materials in the water to form byproducts that may pose health risks.
- Researchers have linked chlorine in drinking water to increased risk of bladder, rectal and breast cancers.
The cancer risk from drink chlorinated water is 93 percent higher than those who don't drink chlorinated water, according to U.S. Council of Environmental Quality.
Not all Contaminants purified at the plant
Drugs get through municipal water treatment
An Associated Press investigation found a number of pharmaceuticals in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans.
According to the report, these can end up in your tap water because most treatment plants are not capable of removing all drug residue. When we take pills our bodies absorb some of the drugs, but the rest passes through and is flushed down the toilet. Even though the wastewater is treated before it is discharged into reservoirs, rivers or lakes, the treatment doesn’t catch all the contaminates, which can then end up back at drinking water treatment plants.
- Does your home have copper pipes? Studies show that copper pipes can be a risk to your health. Excess copper in your body can produce stomach or intestinal distress. And if you have the genetic disorder Wilson’s disease, you are even more sensitive to the effects of copper. Newer pipes present the greatest risk because, over time, mineral scale linings will coat the copper pipes, reducing copper dissolution in water. But the mineral lining can take years to form. Read more about copper health risks from the EPA.
If you don’t have copper pipes, you may still be at risk if there are any pipes between the water plant and your home with lead. The EPA says lead is often used in household plumbing materials and water service lines. Homes built before 1986 are more likely to have lead pipes, fixtures, and solder. Lead health risks include delays in physical and mental development and measurable deficits in attention span and learning abilities in babies and children. In adults, it can increase blood pressure or cause kidney problems.
Other Water Contamination IssuesOther tap water contamination issues include:
- Septic system ground contamination
- Methane contamination from gas fracking
- Multiple existing municipal drinking water pollution issue found in 19 cities.
- Drinking water contamination connected to leukemia
Study relating public drinking water contamination and birth outcomes
Solutions to Avoid Tap Water RisksWith so many known potential dangers within your tap water, here are actions you can take to protect you and your family:
- Bottled water. While bottled water reduces risk, its problems include high cost and the pollution impact of the discarded bottle.
- Water supply services. Though not as cheap as tap water, getting large jugs of water from a local supplier is cheaper than small bottles and produces less waste. Be aware that water has a shelf life, and can develop mold over time.
- Purify your tap water. A simple carbon-based water filter, though not able to remove all contaminants, will absorb chlorine and other contaminants. A more expensive reverse osmosis filter in your home is much more effective at contamination removal. Both types require maintenance to stay functional.