Tap water: Are you getting more than you bargained for?
By Kate Crosby, BS, CNP
August 21, 2016
Have you made some health changes this year? Maybe you're eating more veggies or you cut out the sugar. These are all great things, but if you're still drinking and bathing in unfiltered tap water there is another component to your health that you need to know about.
How safe is tap water? Read on to find out.
"Legally safe" doesn't mean healthy
There are many sources of water contamination including manufacturing processes, use of fertilizers and pesticides, or sewer overflows. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates drinking water quality and has set maximum allowable levels of about 90 contaminants as part of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) to try and prevent contamination leading to illness. All public water systems in the U.S. are required to follow the standards set by the EPA, however, there are violations in all states. In addition, many prescription medications are flushed down the toilet and end up in the water supply. The federal government currently has no testing requirement for prescription drug contaminants.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), contaminants in water can lead to gastrointestinal problems, fertility issues and neurological disorders. Children, pregnant women, people who are elderly, and those with compromised immune systems, are more vulnerable to illness from some of the contaminants.
It's not just what you drink
Another disturbing fact about unfiltered tap water is that the contaminants in it can affect you even when you're not drinking it. A morning shower or bath puts you in contact with chlorine compounds that are toxic when consumed, inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Research has shown that cancer risks associated with chlorinated water may be due more to the bathing in it rather than drinking it.¹
Take steps to protect yourself
Although there are standards and protections in place to try and keep the drinking water safe, there is much evidence to show that bottled water and water straight out of the tap is still not 100 percent safe.
The first step you can take is to have your water tested by an expert to see what's in your water. Then take steps to remove some of the harmful contaminants in your water:
Whole-house water filter and RODI system
By far the best thing you can do to protect you and your family is to buy a whole house water filter and multi-barrier RODI (reverse osmosis with deionization) pure water system. Not only will this provide you with safe drinking water, it will also give you contaminant-free showers and baths. This will remove all known contaminants, including viral and bacterial microorganisms, lead, asbestos, nitrates, heavy metals, prescription medications and volatile organic chemicals.
Reverse osmosis under-sink or countertop system
A whole-house water filter and RODI system is your best bet for quality drinking (and bathing) water. But if this type of system is out of your budget, you may want to consider using an under-sink water filter or countertop system for safer drinking water. Reverse osmosis systems like these are effective in removing some, but not all impurities. They do not remove viral and bacterial microorganisms. Reverse osmosis systems don't provide the same level of protection as a RODI, but it's typically safer than drinking water directly from the tap.
Bathroom shower filter
If a home filtration system is out of your budget, another step you can take is to purchase a vitamin C shower filter. Vitamin C is a de-chlorinating agent, able to remove 99 percent of it from the water.¹ Each shower would need to be outfitted with the filter.
Change your shower routine
Another option would be to make it a point to take shorter showers and avoid super-hot showers. The shorter time frame cuts your exposure, and the cooler temperature will cut down on the steam that can transport harmful, chlorinated vapor into your system. To cut contaminant exposure even more, try turning off the shower while you soap up.
If you choose to use a filtration system of any sort, it's important to ensure you give it regular maintenance. A filter that's built-up with contaminants will become less effective and can actually make your water worse by releasing the build-up back into your water.² Always follow the manufacturer's maintenance instructions.
It may seem overwhelming to think about how your water sources may affect your health, but there are plenty of things you can do to start protecting yourself and your family.
For more information on the topic of water quality, listen to The Quality of Water episode of Dishing Up Nutrition.
1 Kresser, Chris. "Is your daily shower making you sick?." Criskresser.com. N.p., 2/24/12. Web. 15 May 2012.
2 "Home Water Treatment Devices." NSF. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Jun 2012.