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Household Water Watch
October 2011
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Testing and Filtration Options

waterThe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets legal limits on contaminants, including chemicals, animal wastes, pesticides and human wastes, in drinking water nationwide. But tests by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) have found that many communities skirt the line of what’s safe. In 2003, NRDC found that several of the U.S. cities they studied delivered tap water that was sufficiently contaminated to pose potential health risks to some consumers; outdated pipes and weak regulations were cited as major factors.

New contaminants are entering water systems all the time, including traces of pharmaceuticals that have never been tested or regulated. The Water Quality Association (WQA) works with the EPA and universities to catalog the new offenders. WQA Executive Director Peter Censky says, “In 10 or 15 years, everyone is going to need filtration devices.” Until then, individuals will want to regularly stay abreast of the status of their tap water.

Start by finding out if local municipal water is filtered. Unfiltered water has a higher risk of containing harmful particles or contaminants. Also, utility lines may contain old plumbing materials, so it is important to check for lead and copper. Home testing kits for metals such as lead are available at most hardware stores, while the types to use for a broader range of biological and chemical contaminants are identified online at Amazon (tinyurl.com/3daw5mg).

For public water systems serving more than 100,000 people, information can be found on the EPA website at tinyurl.com/3jbgsxh. Otherwise, contact your local water company directly for an online or printed copy of its Consumer Confidence Report.

Well water should be regularly tested every year or two, especially for farming and rural residents, to check for E. coli and nitrates common in runoff. Local county health departments or university extension offices can direct homeowners to testing labs.

Home filtration systems can range from point-of-use, often attached to a kitchen faucet and icemaker or under the sink for drinking and cooking purposes, to a whole house system. Even a carbon-filtering water pitcher in the refrigerator can be a cost-effective way to ensure water quality, although it only filters a small amount of water at a time.

Find more information at nsf.org/consumer/drinking_water.

Martin Miron is a freelance writer in Naples, FL.