Is My Tap Water Safe to Drink? Here’s How to Tell.

Is My Tap Water Safe to Drink? Here’s How to Tell.

Access to clean and safe drinking water is fundamental for health, well-being, and the planet. In our homes, we often take the safety of the tap water that flows from our faucets for granted. Yet, knowing the quality of your water is essential for optimal health and to ensure you're refilling to make an environmental impact. At PATH, we're dedicated to reducing single-use plastic pollution. We encourage people to rethink their water consumption habits by providing refillable bottled water. We're empowering individuals to refill their water bottles on the go or at home to stay hydrated and minimize single-use plastic waste. This article aims to guide you through the process of assessing your tap water and choosing a filtration system, so you have the best refilling experience.

Understanding your tap water 

Tap water in the United States generally meets high standards of safety, largely due to the regulations set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These standards ensure that the majority of American households have access to safe drinking water. The EPA's guidelines are designed to limit the levels of various contaminants in public water systems, contributing significantly to public health and safety​.

However, despite these regulations, some areas in the country have experienced less than ideal tap water quality conditions. Surveys and studies have shown that a significant portion of the population believes tap water is unsafe, and some choose not to drink it due to these concerns​.

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), as referenced on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website, empowers individual states in the United States to establish and enforce their own drinking water standards, provided these standards are at least as rigorous as the national standards set by the EPA. This act encompasses a broad range of regulations, categorized by the type of contaminant. Additionally, the SDWA includes 'Right-to-Know' rules, like the Consumer Confidence Report Rule and the Public Notification Rule, ensuring that consumers are well-informed about the quality and safety of their drinking water. This comprehensive framework demonstrates the EPA's commitment to protecting public health by ensuring the safety of drinking water.

Sources of tap water

Millions of people in the United States receive tap water from public water systems. These systems typically source water from natural bodies like rivers, lakes, and reservoirs. In some regions, water is also drawn from underground sources through pumps​​.

The safety protocols for public water systems are stringent, involving the treatment and testing of water for a wide range of contaminants. These include agricultural and manufacturing chemicals, as well as naturally occurring substances. Public water systems are regulated to ensure that the water they provide meets safety standards​​.

In contrast, the EPA does not regulate well water, which serves a significant portion of the population, especially in rural areas. The responsibility for testing and ensuring well water safety falls on the well owner. This means that individuals using well water need to be more proactive in testing and treating their water​​.

Testing Your Tap Water

The first step in testing tap water is identifying its source. A basic drinking water test kit, which detects impurities like chlorine and lead, may suffice for city water. A more comprehensive kit is needed for well water, as it should test for common well water impurities like nitrate, bacteria, iron, and sulfur​. You can purchase water quality test kits, or you can contact your state to find a water quality testing facility that serves your area.

There are two primary methods for testing drinking water: using home test kits and professional laboratory testing. Home test kits offer a quick and easy way to check water quality, using test strips that change color to indicate the presence and concentration of various contaminants. However, there is professional laboratory testing for more accurate and detailed results. This method can take longer but provides a thorough analysis of water quality​​.

The purpose of testing plays a crucial role in deciding the method and the specific contaminants to test for. For example, in areas with a history of agricultural runoff, testing for pesticides or fertilizers might be necessary, while testing for typical public water system contaminants like chlorine might not be as relevant​​.

Choosing the best water filters

A wide array of water filters are designed to serve specific functions. Filters vary in their capabilities; some are effective in improving taste, while others are designed to filter out harmful chemicals or germs​​.

When considering a water filter for your home, it's crucial to understand how different filters cater to different needs, lifestyles, and budgets. Here's a breakdown to help guide your decision.

Understanding Filter Capabilities

  • No filter removes all contaminants, so knowing what each filter type does is important.
  • Check if the filter is NSF-certified and review the NSF's database for specific contaminant protection.
  • Labels usually state which contaminants are reduced. Verify manufacturer claims independently, as sales representatives might not be fully informed.

Water treatment device overview

  • Activated Carbon Filter: Good for organic contaminants, taste, and odor issues but doesn't remove nitrates or bacteria.
  • Ion Exchange Unit: Effective against hard water minerals but might not work well with iron-contaminated water.
  • Reverse Osmosis Unit: Reduces nitrates, sodium, and some organic compounds but not all contaminants.
  • Distillation Unit: Effective against a wide range of contaminants but might not remove certain organics and could have bacterial regrowth issues.

Types of Filters and Their Cost

  • Costs vary significantly, from under $20 for simple systems to hundreds of dollars for complex systems needing professional installation.
  • Remember to factor in maintenance costs, like changing filter cartridges.
  • Filters range from slow to fast. Your need for filtered water speed (just for drinking or for entire household use) influences your choice.

Different Types of Filters

Water Filter Pitchers

  • Pros: Affordable, no installation, easy to use.
  • Cons: Slow, need regular filter replacements, effectiveness varies.

Refrigerator Filters

  • Pros: Common in refrigerators, improve taste, easy to use.
  • Cons: Regular filter replacements are needed.

Faucet-Mounted Filters

  • Pros: Switch between filtered/unfiltered water, which is relatively affordable.
  • Cons: It may only fit some faucets and can reduce water flow.

Faucet-Integrated Filters

  • Pros: Easy switch between filtered/unfiltered water.
  • Cons: More expensive, requires installation.

On-Counter Filters

  • Pros: Convenient.
  • Cons: It can be expensive and requires space.

Under-Sink Filters

  • Pros: Filters large amounts, saves countertop space.
  • Cons: More expensive, may need plumbing modifications.

Whole-House Water Treatment

  • Pros: Treats all incoming water, good for hard water and VOCs.
  • Cons: Expensive, may need professional maintenance, could increase germ growth in pipes if chlorine is removed.

Not all filters use the same technology, so always read the label carefully. Getting the most out of your tap water is vital for maintaining health and well-being. It requires understanding the local water supply and choosing the right methods for testing and filtration. Proactive steps in assessing and improving water quality contribute to individual health and align with broader environmental sustainability goals.

PATH is committed to helping people reduce single-use plastic pollution by making a lifestyle from refilling. 

Additional resources

Here are some additional resources and guidance on assessing your tap water and implementing water treatment solutions.

PATH supports healthier habits for people and the planet with every refill. Join us in the REvolution!

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