30 Ways Tap Water Could Ruin Your Health
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. And to ensure your house is safe for you and the entire family, don't miss this essential list of 100 Ways Your Home Could be Making You Sick.
You can get metal poisoning
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 Remedy 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
The Remedy 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
The Remedy 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
The Remedy 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
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 Remedy 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
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 Remedy 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
The Remedy 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
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 Remedy 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
- 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 Remedy 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
The Remedy 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
The Remedy 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
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 Remedy 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
- 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 Remedy 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
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 Remedy 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
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 Remedy 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
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 Remedy 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
The Remedy 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
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 Remedy 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
The Remedy 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
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 Remedy 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
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 Remedy 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
The Remedy 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 Remedy 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
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 Remedy 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
The Remedy 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
The Remedy 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 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 Remedy 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
The Remedy 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 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 Remedy 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
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 Remedy 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 live your happiest and healthiest life, don't miss this essential list of the 50 Unhealthiest Habits on the Planet.