Ways Your Water is Making You Sick, Say Experts
You use it to brew your coffee, make your kid's mac and cheese, and even soak in it with some bubbles after a long day. You assume your tap water is perfectly healthy because…aren't there regulations for that? The government does have solid legislation in place that prohibits water companies from providing the public with tap water that doesn't meet certain standards. The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) was passed by Congress in 1974 and enforces drinking water standards by setting limits on levels of harmful contaminants, such as lead and disinfectants.
But "the Safe Water Drinking Act only tests for 91 chemicals," according to Dr. Scott Michael Schreiber, DC, DACRB, DCBCN, MS, LN, Cert. MDT, CKTP, CNS, Maine, "so many go undetected and end up in drinking water." Your pipes, faucets, or other equipment may also expose you to some nasty chemicals that can negatively affect your health. Here are 30 ways your tap water could ruin your health. Read on, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.
You can get metal poisoning
Heavy metal isn't just a type of music you banged your head to in the '80s. According to a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, a heavy metal is "…any metallic element that has a relatively high density and is toxic or poisonous even at low concentrations." While heavy metals are naturally occurring in the earth, they can easily seep into our groundwater and cause major health problems if consumed in large quantities. Common heavy metals include:
According to Caleb Backe, Certified Health & Wellness Expert for Maple Holistics, hard water with traces of these metals is normal. However, he warns, "In large amounts, tap water contaminated with these substances could cause metal poisoning." The symptoms of poisoning can vary based on the type of metal you were exposed to, but may include nerve damage, diarrhea, memory loss, or muscle cramps.
The Rx: Backe suggests adding a point-of-entry filter to the faucets you use daily if you're concerned about the heavy metals in your water supply. You can also install a whole-house filter, which is designed to remove sediment, rust, and chlorine from your water.
Nearby chemical plants can contaminate your water
Dr. Schreiber states, "If you live near chemical plants, refineries, or other industries, chemicals can contaminate drinking water." Your local chemical plant produces industrial waste, which may be affecting the country's water supply. According to the Center for Public integrity, manufacturing plants, mining and waste disposal companies have been contaminating the water supply across the country for decades. A 2013 study by the National Research Council found that there were over 126,000 plants throughout the country that tested positive for groundwater pollution. Some of the worst offenders that are seeping into our supply include arsenic and lead, which can create a host of negative health effects.
The Rx: The EPA monitors most industrial chemical releases to ensure they don't negatively impact the water supply. However, if you live near a potential offender, it's important to pay attention to the quality of your water and review the annual water quality report provided by your water company. If you have a private well, you're responsible for the quality of your water. Test your water annually and more frequently if you notice any changes in taste, odor, or color.
Exposure to chromium-6 could cause cancer
According to the EPA, chromium-6 is present in soil, volcanic dust, rocks, plants, and animals. However, when this chemical leaks into our water supply, it can cause problems. Backe warns that this specific chemical is a known carcinogen. For chromium, the EPA has a drinking water standard of 0.1 milligrams per liter (mg/l) or 100 parts per billion (ppb), which is upheld by the SDWA.
The Rx: Chromium is an odorless and tasteless metal so it can be hard to detect yourself. However, Backe states, "Yellow water signifies the potential presence of chromium-6." If your water develops a yellowish tint, report it to your water company immediately so they can test for the presence of chromium. In most cases, however, this yellowish tint can be attributed to rusty pipes.
Lead can change your child's behavior
If you live in an older home, chances are your pipes have corroded if the home hasn't been re-piped. Lead from corroding pipes can enter your tap water in small amounts. Small amounts of lead in water is usually not especially harmful for most people. However, Dr. Lina Velikova, MD, PhD, from Disturb Me Not warns "…if you are constantly exposed to it, you may notice some symptoms." She also points out that children are more susceptible to negative health effects from lead. Dr. Velikova says, "Kids and infants are at the biggest risk. Some of the symptoms include behavioral changes, learning problems, lower IQ, and even slower growth."
The Rx: If corroded pipes are the cause of the presence of lead in your tap water, it may be time to invest in new pipes. If this is too big an investment for now, Dr. Velikova suggests, "Alternatively, you can flush your pipes with cold water before drinking it. Always leave the water to run for a few seconds and then use it. Make sure to use only cold water, since hot melts the lead and mixes with it." You can also install a reverse osmosis filter for your faucet or entire home, which is proven to be the most effective at eliminating lead.
You could be exposed to asbestos
"As a health investigator that specializes in asbestos exposure, I find that many people are unaware of the dangers that may be present with tap water," says Bridget Rooney of Mesothelioma.com. Asbestos cement pipes were used prior to the 1980's and if you've never re-piped, they could still be present in your home today. Since these pipes have been used for years, they may become brittle and begin to deteriorate. If these pipes are disturbed by nearby construction or simply begin to naturally corrode, asbestos fibers can begin to enter your tap water.
Rooney states, "Asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma cancer, a very aggressive disease." The Mayo Clinic confirms that there are treatments for mesothelioma cancer, but there is no cure and more often than not, this disease is deadly.
The Rx: Even the smallest exposure to asbestos is dangerous. The SDWA requires water companies to notify customers of exposure to this chemical within 30 days. However, if you're worried about your own pipes, ideally, you will have your home re-piped. Ms. Rooney also suggests that you install "…a filtration system with a filter that is one micron or less." This will filter out asbestos fibers from your home's tap water.
You could get Legionnaires disease
The Mayo Clinic defines Legionnaires disease as a severe form of pneumonia. An infection causes lung inflammation, which is often accompanied by a fever, muscle pain, headache, and chills. Additionally, coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain, and other symptoms may be present after the first day of infection. In most cases, elderly residents, smokers, and those with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to contracting Legionnaires disease.
This disease is contracted after exposure to a bacterium called legionella. According to Dr. Anthony Kouri, M.D. from the University of Toledo Medical Center, "It is usually spread through aerosolized water, but can be present in ice machines, water filters, water heaters, or in a shower head."
The Rx: The EPA ensures that SDWA regulations are met in regards to legionella bacteria. If this contaminant is present in your water, you will be notified by your water company. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), water management program teams are responsible for monitoring water quality and the presence of bacteria in the public water supply and in apartment complexes or other housing facilities.
Excess fluoride could cause neurological damage
According to Michelle Miller, MSACN from Physio Logic, "Fluoride has been added to public water supplies in order to prevent tooth decay. However, recent research strongly suggests that water contaminated with fluoride is linked to neurological, immune, and gastrointestinal damage. The CDC states that two out of three Americans are supplied with fluoridated tap water." A study conducted by Harvard Public Health concluded that countries that don't fluoride their water have experienced large drops in the number of cavities residents had.
The Rx: If your water supply includes fluoride, Miller suggests obtaining a Berkey water gravity filter for your home. This filter is proven to eliminate many contaminants from water, including fluoride. This type of system can be set up independently of your home's plumbing and will still leave essential and healthy minerals in your tap water.
Your baby could get "blue baby syndrome" from nitrates
Methemoglobinemia, also known as "blue baby syndrome," occurs in infants when they simply aren't getting enough oxygen in their blood. Hemoglobins are responsible for carrying oxygen in our blood. However, with excessive exposure to nitrates, the hemoglobin is converted into methemoglobin, which prohibits it from carrying oxygen to the blood.
Adults have mature enzymes that are able to convert this methemoglobin back to hemoglobin. However, infants don't have these enzymes and methemoglobin can be dangerous if left untreated. Infants with "blue baby syndrome" can develop cyanosis, a bluish tint to the skin. If nitrate levels continue to escalate, infants can develop permanent brain damage or die.
According to Dr. Kouri, "Nitrates originate primarily from fertilizers and can get into the drinking water. Babies drink a large amount of water relative to their size. Even short term exposure to nitrates at the level or just above the acceptable level can pose a threat to infants."
The Rx: If you get your water from a public water company, it is responsible for testing for nitrates. However, if you have a private well and suspect your water supply contains nitrates, get it tested with help from a local state certification officer. There are several ways to treat water that contains nitrates, including distillation, reverse osmosis, and ion exchange. Keep in mind that mechanical filters and chemical disinfection do not remove nitrates from the water. You can contact your local health department for advice on the best method to remove nitrates from your well water.
You could get Giardiasis
Giardia is a microscopic parasite that causes an illness called Giardiasis. The CDC concludes that the most common symptoms of this illness include:
- Abdominal cramps
The disease affects infects nearly 2% of adults and 6% to 8% of children in developed countries worldwide and is the most common intestinal parasitic disease in the U.S. An infected person has Giardia parasites in his or her feces. If these feces bacteria become present in drinking water, the disease can easily spread. Sewage overflows, agricultural runoff, stormwater runoff, or nonfunctioning sewer systems can cause the spread of this bacteria to other people.
The Rx: Avoid drinking tap water after a flood or if you know a sewage system isn't working properly. If you suspect your tap water is infected with Giardia, bring it to a rolling boil before using it. You should consider installing a reverse osmosis filter in your home. A filter that has a pore size of 1 micron or smaller or is certified by NSF Standard 53 for cyst removal or reduction can also eliminate these parasites from your water.
You could be drinking Volatile Organic Compounds from nearby dry cleaners
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are present in dry cleaning chemicals. They contain carbon and can vaporize into the air at normal air temperatures. As vapors, groundwater is susceptible to absorbing these VOCs. Once the VOCs leak into the groundwater, they can easily also become present in the water supply. According to a study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey, the group of VOCs that was most commonly found in groundwater was trihalomethanes (THMs), which includes chloroform. Exposure to these VOCs can cause various symptoms for many people, including nausea, headaches, fatigue, dizziness, sore throat, or other irritations.
The Rx: Nearby dry cleaners and other industrial businesses may be contaminating your local area's groundwater, which can lead to VOCs in your water supply. According to Keith Bernard, CEO of CLEAR2O, "Filtering water at home can alleviate many harmful contaminants before they reach your glass." Consider installing a water filtration system in your home, or even just using a filtered water pitcher for your tap water before you drink it.
You could die from lead poisoning
Older water systems may be constructed from lead piping and as these pipes age, small particles of lead can enter the water. The EPA warns that exposure to lead in your tap water can bioaccumulate in the body. You may not feel any symptoms from exposure to this contaminant at first, but consistent exposure can lead to decreased kidney function, cardiovascular effects, such as hypertension, and reproductive issues. According to Dr. Kouri, "Lead poisoning can be deadly if not treated." Therefore, it's important to know if your water supply contains lead and if it does, to pinpoint and fix the problem.
The Rx: If your water comes from a private well, have it tested by a professional at least once every year so you can ensure your water quality stays above SDWA standards. If you want to use a filter to ensure lead is removed from your tap water, the EPA advises that you only buy a filter that's certified by NSF International to remove lead.
You could ingest radioactive substances
Construction, drilling, or other disruptions to the earth's surface can release radioactive substances, such as radon, uranium, and radium. These radioactive contaminants can get into the groundwater and eventually seep into your water supply. The EPA concludes that there are varying levels of naturally occurring radioactive substances in different areas throughout the country. The SDWA limits the contamination level of these substances in water and in some cases, public water companies must treat their water to ensure these levels are acceptable.
However, it's important to know the radioactive substance levels of your own home's tap water to ensure it's safe. According to Dr. Kouri, "Exposure to these substances can lead to different types of cancer including bone, skin, kidney, liver, and lung cancer."
The Rx: Tina Marinaccio MS, RD, CPT, an Integrative Culinary Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, suggests that you visit the Environmental Working Group site and type in your zip code to learn about potential water contaminants in your area. You can also use the site for advice on the best water filter to remedy the issue. If you're dealing with a less-than-ideal water quality report, Marinaccio says, "You will likely need a whole house reverse osmosis filter to deal with what your water company is throwing at you."
Too much copper can be bad for your body
Copper is another naturally occurring substance that can be found in the environment. At low and manageable levels, copper is essential to the proper functioning of your body. However, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), exposure to copper at excessive levels can trigger negative side effects, including:
- Stomach cramps
- Irritation of the nose, mouth, and eyes
In some cases, ingestion of too much copper can even lead to death. The ATSDR warns that you may be exposed to high levels of copper if your home's plumbing is made of copper piping and your water is especially acidic.
The Rx: If you feel your pipes may be exposing you and your family members to too much copper, you should consider repiping your home. Additionally, the ATSDR recommends running your water for at least 15 seconds in the morning before using it. This can allow high levels of copper in the pipes to decrease before you're exposed to it.
Bacteria or parasites could make you sick
A breach in one of your pipes or corrosion can expose you to harmful bacteria or parasites through your water. There are many common bacteria found in tap water but in most cases, the public water companies meet the standards set through the SDWA. If you live in an agricultural area, your water may be more susceptible to bacteria from animal feces. For example, the Minnesota Department of Health warns residents that e. Coli and coliform bacteria may be present in their tap water due to the abundance of wildlife and farms in the area.
Exposure to these bacteria can lead to unhealthy symptoms, such as nausea, stomach cramping, vomiting, fatigue, fever, and cramping. Residents with already compromised immune systems may face more serious health consequences if exposed to these bacteria or parasites, including chronic illness or death.
The Rx: If your water is provided through a public water company, the EPA has strict guidelines that prohibit the presence of bacteria such as E. coli. If your water supply is contaminated, your water company must notify you within 24 hours. If you have a private well, have your water tested annually to ensure these bacteria are not present. Maintain your household septic system regularly with the help of a professional and disinfect your well and equipment as advised.
Marinaccio says, "You can have your water tested, but if you are showing symptoms of toxicity, you would need to have blood and stool testing done by a qualified healthcare practitioner to determine a treatment plan to express whatever contaminants are being harbored in the body." Once you learn which contaminants are present in your water, you can buy a filter that specifically addresses this particular bacteria or parasite.
You could get Hepatitis A
Hepatitis A is a liver disease that can be easily spread and can result in illness for several weeks or death, depending on the severity of the case. An unvaccinated person can contract this disease after ingesting microscopic fecal matter bacteria from an infected person. In most cases, well water is safe from a contagious virus like Hepatitis C.
However, according to the CDC, "When any water source, including private wells, is contaminated with feces from infected humans, the water can potentially spread the Hepatitis A virus." If a sewage system stops functioning properly or backs up, it can contaminate a well line, leading to tap water that may contain feces from infected persons. Improper maintenance or function of the well can also lead to this contamination.
The Rx: Always maintain your well and ensure the sewage system is also up and running properly. If you suspect your well has been contaminated, bring your water to a rolling boil for at least one minute before using it to kill any active bacteria. Keep in mind, a pinpoint filter will not help to eliminate the spread of this disease in an infected well. You may need to disinfect your well with chlorine but you should consult a water quality professional before using your tap water again.
You could ingest pharmaceutical drugs
When pharmaceutical drugs are no longer needed, it's common for their users to flush the remaining product down the toilet. Pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, and other medical providers may also discard unused pharmaceutical drugs into the water system or into the dumpster, which is returned to the earth. However, this can allow these drugs to become present in our water treatment plants and eventually in our water supply.
There are no regulations within the SDWA that directly address pharmaceutical residues in water supply. According to a U.S. Geological Survey study, "Effluents from two wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) that receive discharge from pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities (PMFs) had 10 to 1000 times higher concentrations of pharmaceuticals than effluents from 24 WWTPs across the nation that do not receive PMF discharge." In most cases, only trace amounts of these drugs are found in the water and are not enough to produce negative health effects for users.
The Rx: If you want to ensure your home's tap water doesn't contain any trace amounts of pharmaceutical or illegal drugs, you can use a water filter at home. The Natural Resources Defense Council is encouraging pharmaceutical companies to produce more "eco-friendly" drugs and to dispose of their excess product responsibly. The EPA has also added 10 pharmaceutical compounds to its watchlist to investigate potential harmful effects. Eventually, legislation may be passed that sets maximum contamination levels in the public water supply.
You could experience gastrointestinal problems
While the CDC confirms that the U.S. has one of the safest public water systems in the world, it's still possible to get sick from your tap water. The presence of e. Coli or salmonella bacteria in the water you ingest can give you flu-like symptoms that include stomach cramps, diarrhea, or vomiting. These two bacteria were among the top 10 most common outbreaks in the U.S. water system. In most cases, the symptoms of these outbreaks go away on their own but pregnant women, elderly residents, and children are more susceptible to serious side effects that may warrant hospitalization.
The Rx: In most cases, the only way you'll be exposed to bacteria like e. Coli or salmonella in your water is if there was a flood or natural disaster. If sewage somehow seeps into the system due to an improperly functioning system, you and your family can be affected. Don't use your water if your well or public water system after a natural disaster or during a power outage. Consider getting a whole-house filter or even just a faucet filter for your water.
Your water could contain harmful pesticides
Farmers use pesticides to protect their crops, which allows them to ensure they grow food that will sell. However, these pesticides can easily seep into our groundwater and become present in our water. Even if you're buying organic foods at the grocery store, your tap water may be exposing you to these pesticides anyway. The effects of exposure to these pesticides may vary, depending on the type and level of pesticides in the water source.
If you get your water from a private well, you're responsible for getting your water tested to ensure there aren't pesticides. If your water supply comes from a public water system, the EPA sets some regulations on these companies to ensure pesticide levels stay low. However, keep in mind, not all types of pesticides are monitored in our public water.
The Rx: The National Pesticide Information Center suggests that you install a point-of-use charcoal filter or reverse osmosis treatment to your water source. This will remove or reduce the amount of pesticides in your water. If you live near a heavy agriculture area, consider testing your water for pesticides more frequently than once a year. You can ask a local health department professional for assistance in this testing.
Excess chlorine could make you sick
Many water treatment facilities use chlorine in their water filtering process to kill bacteria and germs. However, when it's combined with other compounds, it creates chemicals as byproducts that can be harmful to your health. According to Backe, "An example of one of these chemicals is THMs, which is linked with an increased risk of cancer and kidney issues." If you're a dialysis patient, the chlorine used to treat your water may also negatively affect the functionality of your machine and equipment. You should consult with your medical professionals about proper maintenance and chlorinated water.
The Rx: The CDC states, "Chlorine levels up to 4 milligrams per liter (mg/L or 4 parts per million (ppm) are considered safe in drinking water." If your water supply has excessive levels of chlorine, you should be notified by your public water company immediately. However, if you're worried about exposure to chlorine from your tap water, consider getting a whole-house water filter.
You could get Norovirus
Norovirus refers to all "Norwalk-like viruses" (NLV). These are contagious viruses that cause diarrhea and vomiting. In most cases, Norovirus is spread by touching a person who's infected or touching a surface that was already touched by an infected person. However, in some cases, Norovirus can be spread through your private well water source.
A sewage overflow or non-functioning system can cause human feces to enter the water source. This is more likely to occur after a natural disaster, such as flooding. If contaminated feces bacteria are present in your water and you consume it, you can be sick with Norovirus for several days and chances are, your family members will also be infected.
The Rx: Don't drink water after a natural disaster or sewage system failure until you get the all-clear from your water company. Keep your private well maintained and disinfect it when suggested. Keep in mind, norovirus is tolerant to chlorine so you may need to use a different disinfectant if you suspect your well is contaminated. Get your private well water tested at least once a year and get advice from a professional on how to disinfect it. You can contact your local health department for a list of professionals who can test your well water for contaminants.
You could be drinking arsenic
Certain rock formations and other natural environments create an element called arsenic. But just because it's naturally-occurring doesn't mean it's safe. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), long-term exposure to high levels of arsenic can increase your risk for skin cancer, bladder cancer, lung cancer, and heart disease.
If your water comes from a private well, you may be at risk for ingesting arsenic every time you take a sip. The EPA has strict guidelines and limits on arsenic in tap water distributed by public water companies. However, as a private well owner, it's your responsibility to ensure the levels of arsenic in your water are acceptable.
The Rx: The CDC warns that heating or boiling your water will not remove arsenic. You should consider installing water treatment equipment that performs reverse osmosis, ultra-filtration, distillation, or ion exchange in each faucet in your home. It's also important to test your well water annually for arsenic and other contaminants. If the levels are unacceptable, consult a professional on recommended procedures to increase the quality of your water.
Viruses could live in your water
According to Bernard, "Most tap water is contaminated with a variety of pollutants that may increase your risk for serious health conditions. Inadequate sanitation, poor protection of drinking water sources, and improper hygiene often lead to sewage and feces-contaminated water. This can create an environment that is ideal for harmful bacteria, parasites, and viruses." The EPA has strict regulations on the levels of bacteria and parasites that can be present in the public water supply. However, your own pipes and water system may be what's to blame for excessive bacteria in your water. Depending on the types of bacteria you're exposed to, you may experience symptoms that include nausea or diarrhea.
The Rx: "If you're showing signs of a bacterial infection and you suspect your water supply, you'll need to have it tested. If high levels of bacteria are present, you may need to install a filter that addresses the specific bacteria in your water. According to Robert Weitz, a certified microbial investigator and founder of RTK Environmental Group, "If you do have contaminated water, there are usually water purification systems to fix your specific issue. Purification systems can vary based on contaminants, so it's important to know what's in your water."
Hard water can irritate your skin
The water supplied to many areas through the public water system is considered "hard water." This simply means the water is high in mineral content, including calcium and magnesium. While hard water is harmless and won't make you sick, it can be frustrating when using it to bathe or wash your hands. This water is known to create a "soap scum" on your skin that's impossible to wash off. According to the USGS, "In hard water, soap reacts with the calcium (which is relatively high in hard water) to form 'soap scum.' When using hard water, more soap or detergent is needed to get things clean, be it your hands, hair, or your laundry." Not using enough soap can make your washing ineffective and doesn't kill bacteria on your skin properly. If you're careful to use enough soap but you don't wash it off properly, it could lead to skin irritation or itchiness.
The Rx: If hard water is bothering you, you can opt to install a water softener in your home. This machine connects directly to your water supply and filters out the minerals that make your water hard. In most cases, these systems use salt to remove these minerals. Keep in mind, water softener systems require maintenance and you should consult a professional for installation.
You could get sick from blue-algae bloom
Blue-green algae bloom, also referred to as cyanobacteria, naturally occurs in lakes, rivers, and other surface waters. Warm water causes these bacteria to grow and in some cases, they can produce cyanotoxins, which can cause health risks in humans and animals if ingested. In some severe cases, this ingestion can lead to death. If these cyanobacteria do not contain toxins but are present in water, they can adversely affect the taste and smell.
Public water systems use chlorine and other disinfectants to ensure blue-green algae bloom doesn't affect the water quality. However, if a severe bloom event occurs in your local area, the public water company's treatment facility may have trouble keeping up with the removal of these bacteria and toxins.
The Rx: If you know your area is experiencing an algae bloom, follow the instructions given by your water company. You may be required to boil the water before use or you may be advised not to use your tap water at all for a period of time. According to the EPA, nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus may encourage cyanobacteria to grow. Excessive nutrients like these can leak into water from local agricultural facilities and industrial centers. Ensure your water doesn't have high levels of these bacteria by reviewing your water report. You can also install a whole-house filter that targets these nutrients and bacteria.
Your stagnant tap could breed organisms
Most bacteria love to grow in moist, dark places so what could be a more perfect environment than your home's pipes? If there's a breach in your pipes or they haven't been used in a while, bacteria and organisms can begin to grow and breed. If you use this contaminated water, you may begin to see negative health effects. According to Weitz, "Drinking and bathing in contaminated water can cause chronic health issues, including joint pain; damage to the brain, kidneys, and neurological system; skin rashes and other dermatological problems; body numbness; gastrointestinal illness; hair loss; and immune deficiencies. If you or a family member has any of these symptoms, your water may be to blame."
The Rx: Old or corroding piping may be what's causing an influx of bacteria in your water. Consider repiping your system if it's old and showing signs of wear and tear. Pipes that have remained stagnant for a while may also produce this bacteria. Dr. Nikola Djordjevic, MD from MedAlertHelp.org, says, "When you come back home from vacation, you should let the water run from all the taps for a few minutes before drinking it. In case there is organic infestation or your plumbing system is old, this precaution should flush the contaminated water out."
You could be drinking raw sewage
If your well water equipment fails or your public water company's sewer system backs up or stops functioning properly, it can spell disaster for the water supply. Seepage from a septic tank into your well can cause sewage to be present in your water. A natural disaster that caused flooding in your area can also negatively affect your water quality. This sewage may contain e. Coli or coliform bacteria, which can cause sickness, including diarrhea, stomach cramping, and vomiting. If you have recurrent gastrointestinal problems, your water may be contaminated with sewage.
The Rx: Heed all warnings about water quality after a natural disaster and follow the instructions provided by your water company. Review your water company's annual water quality report to ensure your water is safe to drink. Have your well water tested annually and have all components tested and maintained properly. If your water's odor or color changes drastically, contact your water company to investigate.
A nearby coal mine could mess with your water's pH level
If you live near an abandoned coal mine, you may assume that since the earth is no longer being disturbed, you don't have to worry about chemical exposure. However, the ground around a coal mine is laden with some nasty chemicals, like sulfuric acid and dissolved iron. According to the USGS, "The acid runoff further dissolves heavy metals such as copper, lead, and mercury into groundwater or surface water." Not only does this contaminated water negatively affect the nearby wildlife, it can also seep into the public water supply and cause problems with your home's drinking water.
If your water's pH level isn't balanced and your water is acidic, it can quickly corrode your pipes. This can give your water an unpleasant odor, color, or smell. These metals can also make you sick, causing symptoms like diarrhea or vomiting.
The Rx: According to the Water Systems Council (WSC), if you suspect your water has been contaminated by a nearby coal mine, it's important to test its pH level. Your local health department can help you find a professional to test your water. If the pH level is under 7, you'll need to take action. You can install a pH neutralizing filter and chemical feed pump to filter out these heavy metals and to inject a neutralizing solution into the water.
Your pipes could be corroding
Whether or not you're near a coal mine, your pipes could be experiencing corrosion, which is also dangerous to your health. If your pipes are old, dealing with acidic water, or damaged in any way, they may begin to corrode. Not only can this eventually lead to a big leak, it can also expose you to lead, copper, bacteria, and other contaminants that can make you and your family sick. Dr. Kouri says, "Many old water systems utilize pipes made with lead. As these age, they may seep lead into the water supply." Lead can cause a host of health issues, from sickness to death.
The Rx: Your water company's annual water quality report will not be helpful if it's your home's pipes that are causing the problem. If your water has a different taste, odor, or color, pipe corrosion may be the culprit so you'll need to test it from your faucet. A local health department professional can suggest a water tester in your area. If there is a problem, you should repipe your home. You could also get a whole-home water filter, preferably one with solid-block carbon.
A nearby fuel leak could seep into your tap water
When you fill up your car's gas tank, do you ever wonder where the gas is stored? It's stored underneath the ground in underground storage tanks (USTs). Other industries also use these USTs to store gasoline and other chemicals underground so they're easily accessible. According to the Sierra Club, "There are 680,000 USTs and a backlog of 130,000 cleanups; 9,000 new leaks are discovered annually."
When these chemicals or gases leak from their containers, they spread quickly through the ground and become present in groundwater. This eventually contaminates the public water supply. In addition to gasoline, some of the chemicals that can leak from USTs and seep into groundwater include:
The Sierra Club warns, "One pin-prick sized hole in an UST can leak 400 gallons of fuel a year." While most of the gasoline in water is quickly filtered out by the public water company's system, some of it can still be present when it reaches your tap. If nearby USTs are leaking toxic chemicals, there is no safe amount for ingestion. Exposure to these chemicals through tap water can lead to cancer. Children exposed to these chemicals through water can experience developmental issues.
The Rx: If you feel your well water has been contaminated with gasoline or other chemicals, stop drinking it. You may need to connect to a public water supply instead or obtain a water treatment unit specifically designed to remove the chemical from water. If you receive water from a public water company, follow the instructions provided by the company and don't use the water until the company confirms it's safe. Warm and hot water is more likely to expose you to these contaminants, so if you use water to shower or wash clothes, always keep it cold.
PFAs could wreck your immune system
Derek Mellencamp from Aquasana defines polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOs) as "chemical compounds that have been used in many products for their fire retardant, non-stick, and water-proof characteristics." Since these harsh chemicals are used in fire retardant foam and in other industry manufacturing, they've become present in our groundwater and in our public water supply. A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) was detected in the blood of more than 98% of the U.S. population.
Mellencamp warns that exposure to these chemicals is known to have, "detrimental impacts on infant and childhood growth; women's health and pregnancy; cholesterol levels, the kidneys and liver; the immune system and more." The EPA and CDC have also linked these chemicals to certain types of cancer.
The Rx: Your public water company is required to inform you if your water is contaminated with unacceptable levels of these chemicals. The company may suggest that you use an alternative water source if the water isn't safe for a period of time. However, if you're concerned about PFAs and PFOs in your water, Mr. Mellencacmp suggests installing a water filter. A filter that meets the NSF Standard P473 is designed to remove these chemicals from water. If you're not sure, you can visit the NSF website to verify that the filter in question has been certified to remove these chemicals from tap water. And to get through this pandemic without catching coronavirus, don't miss this essential list: Most COVID Patients Did This Before Getting Sick.