When most of us turn on our water at home, most of us assume that the water that flows from the tap is safe for drinking, cooking, bathing, etc. In the U.S., which reportedly has one of the safest water supplies in the world, we rely on local and federal governments to keep our water clean and safe. Worldwide, however, 783 million people do not have access to clean water. In fact, approximately 3.5 million deaths each year are related to inadequate water supply, sanitation and hygiene. Countries in the greatest need of clean water include Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Chad, Cambodia, Laos, Haiti, Ghana, and India. On the flip side, New Zealand, Germany, Sweden, The United Kingdom, Italy, Austria, France, Luxembourg, Norway and Switzerland are thought to have the best tap water in the world. However, even those of us with protected water supplies can be put at risk by contaminants, such as naturally occurring chemicals, agricultural practices, industrial waste, sewer overflows, and so on. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “the presence of contaminants in water can lead to adverse health effects, including gastrointestinal illness, reproductive problems, and neurological disorders.” Other health issues have recently been tied to drinking water with unsafe levels of industrial chemicals known as polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances or PFASs. PFASs have been linked to obesity, immune response disruption and even cancer.
How do you know if your water is safe? By law, every water supplier is required to publish a yearly report detailing contaminants or violations of water quality standards, and to alert the public of any potential health risks. You can find information at the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) water systems directory. That said, EPA testing can’t tell you about any problems that may be occurring in your home. The best way to find that out is to have your water tested. If contaminants are found, you can take steps to remove what’s possible by installing a filtration system, ideally certified by the National Sanitation Foundation. To find out more about testing your water, contact the Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791 or visit www.epa.gov/safewater/labs.