Even if your water supply is amongst the cleanest in the country, it could still be harmful for your health. Yes, you read write. Even if your water source continually meets or exceeds the requirements for both federal regulations and non-enforcable health standards, it could still be filled with prescription drugs and other contaminants.
How do water suppliers get away with this? Because many chemical contaminants found in the drinking water are entirely unregulated. “It is certainly possible that there are many contaminants in the water, even though it meets federal regulations” said Leeann Brown, press associate for the Environmental Working Group
(EWG). “We know, for example, pharmaceuticals are not a regulated contaminant for tap water. Therefore, utilities are not required to test or report findings of pharmaceutical contamination,” she explained.
According to EWG reports, the number of chemical contaminants that drinking water systems test for has improved. There were 363 contaminants tested for in the year 2000, but this jumped up to 446 in 2007. However, 201 of the 315 chemicals that have been found in drinking water over the past five years are unregulated. These include bromochloroacetic acid, a disinfection byproduct which is legal at any level although it’s been associated with DNA damage and induces gene mutations. It includes perchlorate, a rocket fuel ingredient which is harmful to the thyroid gland. It includes MTBE or methyl tert-butyl ether, a gasoline additive and groundwater pollutant. And it includes Di-n-butylphthalate, a polycarbonate which is an endocrine disrupter linked to both reproductive toxicity and birth defects.
Can you drink easy knowing that at least regulated pollutants in your water are within legal limits? Not so fast. Just because the drinking water meets standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t mean that it meets health-based limits. The EPA has enforceable drinking water limits, but the non-enforcable health guidelines (often set by governmental agencies) are often far more stringent than the EPA limits. Although Minneapolis was below the legal limit for these chemical contaminants, in many cases they exceeded the health standards in chemicals including trihalomethanes (such as chloroform, bromodichloromethane, dibromochloromethane and bromoform), dichloroacetic acid (formed when disinfectants such as chlorine or chloramine react with organic and inorganic matter in the water), n-Nitrosodimethylaminen (a carcinogenic water contaminant), Tetrachloroethylene (a common soil and groundwater contaminant used in drycleaning and various industries) and atrazine (an herbicide which is an endocrine disrupter with negative affects on the reproductive and immune system).
Lobbying for stricter government regulations--enforcable ones--is certainly called for. I don't want to drink water that is unhealthy, and I'm sure nobody else would either. Having regulations based on health effects rather than what water systems can get away with, and continuing to increase the amount of contaminants that are regulated, these are the only ways I can think of to assure that we don't get sick from drinking what comes out of our tap. Recognizing that this is an uphill battle that could take years, I've always sought to at least find ways to protect myself (and pass the information on to others). At first I thought bottled water was a good solution. Expensive and environmentally unfriendly, at least the water seemed safer. But then I learned that bottled water is even less regulated than tap water. Not such a good choice after all.
It appears that a good water filter is the best alternative. A simple carbon filter (such as Brita) can take care of most common contaminants, but my personal preference is the Multi Pure filter because it is certified by an outside organization, NSF, to remove a very high level of contaminants including chlorine, chloramine, particulate mater, asbestos, certain endocrine disrupters, cysts, lead, mercury, MTBE, trihalomethanes, turbidity and VOCs. Unlike distilled water, a good filter will leave trace minerals in the water while removing contaminants.
No matter how pure you think your water is, unregulated contaminants may be seeping in and contaminants well within federal guidelines could still exceed health standards. To get specific information on what’s in your water look up your own local water system report at the Environmental Working Group website
Filter your water and drink up!