Most Americans, about 90 percent, get their drinking water from public water systems, which are monitored and regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The remaining 10 percent rely on private wells for their water, which is not regulated by the EPA.
The EPA has identified and set legal limits on more than 90 contaminants that can potentially enter our water system and harm human health. They are grouped into two main types.
Chemical contaminants can include arsenic, lead, copper, chemicals from herbicide runoff on our farms, chemicals added during sewage and wastewater treatment, discharge from factories, leakage from underground storage tanks, and corrosion of household plumbing tanks.
The potential health effects from long-term exposure to some of these chemicals includes increased risk of cancer, reproductive issues, liver or kidney problems, cardiovascular issues and nervous system effects.
Microbial contaminants are microorganisms (really, really, really, small living organisms) that come primarily from human and animal waste. These are some of the nasty little suckers that can cause severe stomach issues such as nausea, cramps, diarrhea and vomiting.
Protect your well
If you get your drinking water from a private well, you are responsible for testing your water at least annually to make sure its free from contaminants. The EPA also recommends that you test your private well immediately if any of the following conditions occur:
- There are known problems with ground water or drinking water in your area
Conditions near your well have changed significantly because of flooding, land disturbances, new construction or industrial activity
You replace or repair any part of your well system
You notice a change in your water quality such as an odd odor, color or taste
Water purification vs. water softening
Water purification is the process of removing the bad chemicals and microorganisms from your water. Water purification is done for the public water system to create clean drinking water, but it can also be used to produce water for other purposes, such as water that would be used for medical or industrial purposes.
Water softening addresses the problem of hard water. Hard water is water that has an excess of minerals in it. It’s not necessarily dangerous to drink, but it usually doesn’t taste as good to most people and it can make washing your hair, body, clothes and dishes more difficult.
Protecting our drinking water
We are extremely lucky to live in a country where we have one of the most reliable and safest supplies of drinking water in the world. You can do your part to protect our drinking water with some commonsense steps, such as never dumping hazardous waste products on the ground where it could potentially seep into the ground water (things like motor oil, pesticides, paint, flea collars, mothballs, medicine, household cleaners). And limit your use of pesticides and fertilizers on your lawn.