The human body is approximately 60 percent water. All of your cells, organs, and tissues rely on water to regulate temperature and keep bodily functions working. You lose water when you breathe, digest food, and sweat. In hot climates you need approximately 16 L of water a day to stay hydrated.
Sadly, most people don’t drink enough water. Ninety-five percent of Americans drink one liter or less of water each day, even though they should drink between two and three liters. Drinking water protects your spinal cord, your joints, your brain, your blood, your bones, and your tissues. Still, we don’t drink enough.
In the United States, tap water is available everywhere. However, recent news reports about lead and contaminants in water might have you asking, is tap water safe to drink?
In this article, we will discuss the benefits of filtering tap water. If you are accustomed to drinking tap water in your home, you probably already use filters. But are you using the right filter for the water in your area?
Drinking Tap Water – Is It Safe?
Let’s first address the question, is tap water safe to drink? And then we will look at some technologies used for filtering water. Finally, we will help you decide which water filter is best for your home.
The quality of tap water varies by location. The Environmental Protection Agency states that all tap water contains small amounts of contaminants. The EPA has created enforceable standards known as the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations. These set the limit for contaminants, including bacteria, chemicals, fertilizer, and other substances that might be harmful in drinking water.
There is another set of guidelines known as the National Secondary Drinking Water Regulations. These limit the level of contaminants in water that can cause cosmetic effects, such as skin or tooth discoloration. The contaminants regulated by these guidelines may affect the taste and color of the water. It’s important to note that not all states have adopted these as enforceable standards.
Every July 1st, you should receive an annual water quality report from your water supplier letting you know where your water comes from and what contaminants are in it. The EPA should monitor all public water systems, enforcing standards for contaminants in drinking water.
Is Tap Water Safe to Drink If It Has Been Purified by Government Agencies?
All of this sounds good, but it does not mean that the water you are drinking is necessarily safe or clean. The EPA and other government organizations test the water right after the municipality has filtered it. This is before it travels through municipal feed lines. What government authorities are not accounting for is the age of feed lines and their length.
Most water treatment facilities are at the edge of the town. The water has to travel through miles of municipal pipes before it reaches your home. It is not uncommon for these pipes to be decades old. By the time the filtered water travels from the purification plant to your faucet, it has absorbed microorganisms, viruses, and bacteria.
Most municipalities use chlorine to treat water. Chlorine kills microorganisms but also adds a foul taste to the water. Chlorine can interact with organic materials in water.
Tap water can carry parasites, including cryptosporidium. This parasite is resistant to chlorine. The only way to filter it is via mechanical means.
Something else to consider when asking is it safe to drink tap water is that if you live in an agricultural area, your water may be contaminated with pesticides, heavy metals, and chemicals. Pesticides used in the 1940s and 1950s were comprised of heavy metals. Some of these may still be present in the soil and in water pipes.
If recent news reports from cities like Detroit are to be believed, old lead pipes are still contaminating water with deadly chemicals. The only way to be sure about the quality of the water in your home is to use a water filter.
What Are Water Filters Made Of?
Water filters can be divided into four categories. Filters use a combination of chemical and physical techniques to purify water.
Most water filters used in the home employ activated carbon granules. These are made from charcoal. Charcoal has a large internal surface area. This area is full of crannies and nooks that can trap and attract chemical impurities via absorption. Absorption is where gases and liquids get trapped by solids or liquids.
Carbon does a great job at removing impurities like pesticides, chlorine-based chemicals, and industrial solvents. However, it cannot treat hard water or water with limescale and heavy materials. The primary downside of activated carbon is that eventually the filters clog up and need to be replaced. This entails an ongoing expense.
Reverse osmosis filters forcibly push water through a membrane or a fine filter that only allows water to pass through but leaves contaminants behind.
Ion Exchange Filters
These filters are good at softening water and removing limescale. They work by splitting apart the atoms of a contaminant and then trapping those ions and releasing different, less troublesome ions of their own. They exchange bad ions for good ions. These filters are made from the zeolite beads that contain sodium ions.
One of the simplest ways to purify water is to heat it to a boil. Boiling water kills bacteria. However, it does not remove limescale and other contaminants. Distillation is a step beyond normal boiling. When you distill water, you boil it until you make steam. Then you capture the steam and condense it back into water in a separate container. Toxic heavy metals boil at a higher temperature than water. As the steam boils off, it leaves behind heavy, toxic metals. One limitation of distillation is treating volatile organic compounds. These boil at a lower temperature than water, so they can evaporate with the steam and will not get removed during distillation.
What Is the Right Filtering Solution for Your Home?
There are several options when choosing water filters. Each one of them can remove some contaminants, but not others. The best way to know what filter is right for your home is to test the water quality.
Water quality is multidimensional. If you do not know what you want to test for, you could start by contacting a reputable local lab and describing your concerns to them.
They will have knowledge of the water in your area and can recommend what type of testing is right for the situation. Once you have had a thorough test done, you will be able to decide what you should test for going forward.
Use a Test Kit
You can purchase a test kit from a hardware store or online. Test kits have packages of strips that react or change color when certain contaminants are present in your water. Kits are not always accurate, and they are not able to test for each harmful contaminant.
If there are high levels of a particular contaminant in your water, a water testing kit will probably flag the problem. You should never base the cleanliness of your water on the results you get from test strips alone.
Determine Water Quality Using Sensory Determination
Even professionals use their smell, sight, and taste to judge the quality of water. Water should not have a smell. Foul smells could show particular contamination.
Smelling rotten eggs could mean that bacteria have grown in the water on the way to your faucet. If your water smells like bleach, a water treatment facility may have used chlorine to disinfect the water.
If your water has a musty or earthy smell, this could show organic matter, decay, or decomposition. We recommend that you fill a glass of water, smell it, and then take it to another room and let it sit for a minute. Smell the water again. If the smell persists, there’s an issue with the water. If the smell has dissipated, it may mean that bacteria have grown in your drain or in your faucet and you need to clean them.
You may detect water contaminants by the way your water looks, smells, tastes, or makes you feel. For example:
- Bacteria in the water can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, and other intestinal issues.
- Iron in the water may change the color of the water to orange or yellow and cause water to have a bitter taste.
- Manganese can turn water black or purple and give it a bitter taste.
- Sulfur can make water smell like rotten eggs. This may be naturally occurring or caused by bacteria.
- Hard water leaves visible residue on fixtures, dishes, and other surfaces.
Water Filtration vs. Purification
Filtration systems use filters to remove some contaminants from water. Some contaminants may remain, so we do not consider the water pure. Conversely, a purification system can remove up to 99 percent of contaminants in the water. We consider this water pure, but it lacks helpful minerals as these are removed during the purification process.
Do I Need a Water Filtration System?
If you plan on drinking tap water, then you should filter the water you drink. There are several benefits of using a water filter.
- Filtered water tastes better, and it smells better. Water that comes from a well or the municipality can have a terrible taste. Most of the filters we discussed can address these issues.
- Filtered water is healthier. Chemicals, bacteria, and other contaminants are removed from the water. Your body can cleanse itself as you drink water.
- Filtered water is environmentally friendly as it prevents you from buying bottled water. Plastic bottles damage the environment, putting plant life and wildlife at risk.
- In the long run, using filtered water is cheaper than buying bottled water.
- Children benefit from drinking filtered water as they are susceptible to lead poisoning and nitrate poisoning and are affected by many of the pollutants found in water.
- Even though chlorine is used to disinfect water, it has been linked to several illnesses. Water filters help remove the chlorine from the water before you drink it.
Water is essential for life. You owe it to yourself and to your family to learn how to drink tap water safely.
Water filters have become a must in our society. It does not matter if you get your water from a well or if you get your water from the city. Your drinking water carries contaminants that you do not want in your body.
The initial investment of purchasing a water filter might seem expensive. But over the course of their life, you can save money. You won’t spend money buying bottled water. And you may protect yourself from expensive issues that come from either not drinking enough water or that come from drinking water that is contaminated.
Filtering your water is not only good for the water you drink, but it’s good for the water that you used to wash your face and bathe in.
Water filters are important if you have kids in the home. Your body may ward off certain bacteria, viruses, and trace amounts of chemicals. Children are susceptible to contracting bacteria and chemicals. Purchasing a water filter will reduce your children’s exposure to chemicals, bacteria, and poisons.