Let’s be honest: With the exception of those living in places like Flint, Michigan, most Americans like us don't think twice about drinking tap water. We assume every faucet supplies safe and clean drinking water—and why wouldn’t we? Water is part of our everyday life; we drink it, shower in it, cook with it, and more. Unfortunately, tap water isn’t as trustworthy as it may seem.
We don’t say that to scare you—we say it to inform you. If you’re unfamiliar with the hidden dangers of tap water, then this short blog is for you. Here are the facts, presented in an easy-to-understand manner.
Where Does My Tap Water Come From?
Unless you have your own well, almost all tap water comes from your local public water system. There are more than 148,000 public water systems in the United States; some serve water to as few as 25 people, while more immense systems serve millions. Your water system depends entirely on where you live.
No matter the faucet, your tap water comes from the same system. In other words, the water that shoots out of your showerhead also pours into your kitchen sink. Therefore, water quality relies entirely on your local water supplier.
Protection Is Limited
The majority of public water systems collect surface water from streams, rivers, lakes, and reservoirs. As you can imagine, this water poses tons of health risks as is. That’s why public water suppliers are legally required to “treat” water before it flows into your home.
Water treatment is the process of improving water quality by reducing or removing dangerous substances that can have negative health effects on humans. This is typically done by adding disinfectants like chlorine as well as chemicals like fluoride to water. The goal of treatment is simple: Ensure drinking water meets nationwide quality standards set by the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), as well as any additional standards set by your state or territory.
Water treatment is a necessity—but that doesn’t mean the process makes your tap water safe. Even after treatment, public water supplies are often littered with dangerous substances we call “contaminants.”
What Are Contaminants?
Contaminants is a catch-all term often used for anything that pollutes drinking water, including specific toxins, chemicals, heavy metals, pharmaceuticals (yes—pharmaceutical drugs and discarded medications can end up in public water systems), and more.
The truth is hundreds of contaminants can be floating in your tap water at any given time.
Where Protection Falls Short
Several regulated contaminants are legally allowed in drinking water at worrisome levels.
The majority of national tap water regulations do not require complete removal of contaminants. Instead, contaminants are allowed in your tap water up to a specific level established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These levels are often referred to as legal limits and are measured as MCLs, or Maximum Contaminant Levels.
Studies show many regulated contaminants remain dangerous to human health even at levels far below legal limits. Even more frightening, the vast majority of legal limits haven’t been updated in almost 50 years, despite ongoing evidence depicting serious health problems associated with them.
Hundreds of unregulated contaminants have been detected in tap water.
More than 160 unregulated contaminants have been found in our public water systems.
In other words, there are no laws preventing them from being there (at any level). In many cases, public water systems don’t even have to test for them.
For example, perchlorate (a known thyroid-disruptor) and PFAS (cancer-linked “forever chemicals”) remain unregulated today, even though they’ve been detected in public water systems from coast to coast.
New contaminants can emerge at any time.
By treatment or by accident, new contaminants can make their way into our public water supplies (and private wells) at any time. Remember, contamination can come from a variety of sources; from mismanaged water treatment and unregulated chemicals to aging infrastructure, natural disasters, and contaminated water sources such as groundwater and surface water. Even clean water can collect contaminants while traveling from municipalities to your home.
The truth is we’ll probably never be familiar with every contaminant imaginable, which is why new ones can emerge seemingly out of nowhere.
How Contaminated Water Affects Your Health
Contaminants detected in public drinking water supplies have been linked to everything from cancer, thyroid conditions, and bone disease to liver, kidney, and reproductive problems in pregnant women. But that’s not all: Contaminants can also damage your hair, skin, nails, etc.
For example, arsenic has been linked to bladder, lung, and skin cancer, lead poisoning can slow childhood development and cause permanent intellectual disability, and HAA5 has been associated with cancer as well as liver and kidney issues. Meanwhile, Chromium 6 exposure can cause skin ulcers and skin burns; and pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizer can lead to allergic reactions, blistering, and rashes.
Alternatives to Tap Water: The Pros & Cons of Other Water Sources
Bottled water isn’t all it's cracked up to be.
The water floating inside plastic water bottles can be just as dangerous to public health as drinking polluted tap water. Tap water is regulated by the EPA. Bottled water is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Though they are different governing bodies, they share plenty of the same standards. That’s why, in many cases, drinking bottled water is no different than drinking tap water.
Plus, plastic has its own dangers. Harmful shreds of plastic, known as microplastics, often float around bottled water and end up in your stomach. As plastic breaks down over time and in heat, it can leach chemicals into the water it holds. Plus, unkept and overused plastic water bottles are breeding grounds for bacteria.
Boiling water can make contaminants more concentrated.
Before you bring your water to a boil, read this. The fact is, under normal circumstances, boiling your water can do more harm than good. Sure, it kills viruses, bacteria, and parasites that can’t handle heat. However, hundreds of common water contaminants aren’t affected by heat, and concentrations of these contaminants can actually increase as water evaporates.
If there is a boil water advisory for your area, always follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) guidelines. If no advisories are issued, there are more effective ways to protect yourself from the dangers of tap water than boiling it.
What about well water?
Just like our public drinking water systems, wells collect groundwater that can be littered with fuel, pesticides, nitrates, and many more hazardous contaminants. While the EPA provides resources to help private well owners maintain water quality, well water is not regulated by any government agency. In other words, you need to trust the owner to trust the well. And even a savvy owner can’t completely prevent contamination.
Filtered water quality depends on the quality of the filter.
Typical carbon or charcoal filters touted by leading brands focus only on removing unpleasant odors and tastes. Their basic technology leaves you vulnerable as hundreds of harmful contaminants that can’t be seen, smelled, or tasted remain in your water.
The advanced filtration technology inside our cutting-edge pitcher filter targets and removes up to 73x more dangerous chemicals, metals, and toxins than the competition. Typical carbon filters remove just 5 contaminants. Our pitcher filter removes 365+. Point is: Your water is only as clean as your filter is powerful.
Wondering What’s In Your Water?
Our free database linked here compiles all of the test results from U.S. public water supplies so you can see exactly what’s in your water, how it can affect you, and how to best protect yourself and your family. As you’ll see, we’ve included the legal limit for each regulated contaminant to give you a complete and transparent assessment of your water. It’s like having a localized water quality report at your fingertips.
The Bottom Line: Protect Yourself
Think about all the ways you use tap water: You drink it daily. You shower and bathe in it, too. You wash your hands with it. You make ice with it. You rinse fruits and veggies in it. You pour it into your humidifier. And the list goes on and on. You ingest, absorb, and inhale water—constantly. Don’t you want that water to be of the highest quality?The best thing you can do to protect yourself and your family from the dangers of tap water is to invest in a water filter or filtration system certified to remove common and covert contaminants known to plague our public water supplies. Click here to find the right filter for you.