How To Drink Tap Water Safely
Confused about whether you need to filter your tap water? And how
to do it? We all know that drinking plenty of good, clean water
is important for a healthy body. Learn how to stay hydrated while
cutting down on your exposures to common drinking water pollutants.
1. Identify the contaminants in
your home tap water
Tap water quality is local. To know what's flowing from your
tap, you need to know what contaminants your local water supplier
found when testing. The good news is that contaminant testing
data is readily available because EWG compiled millions of state
water reporting records to create a national
tap water quality database. It makes it easy for you to identify
and understand the contaminants in your water -- and find the
right filter -- all in one place.
What's the problem with tap water?
For the chemicals that EPA regulates, water utilities complied
with EPA's mandatory health standards 92 percent of the time.
The problem is we also know that there are many unregulated contaminants
in our nation's drinking water. We recently identified 316 chemicals
in tap water throughout the country, 202 of which aren't regulated.
EPA's failure to protect drinking water sources from pollution
and to develop enforceable standards for scores of common tap
water contaminants leaves the public at risk.
For an in-depth look at this issue, see the top-notch 2009 New
York Times series Toxic Waters.
Ready to search for your water?
You can quickly find out what contaminants are in your tap water
by searching our interactive, user-friendly database. It covers
48,000 communities in 45 states and the District of Columbia.
Just enter your zip code in the search box to the right, after
which you'll be asked to select your local water utility (since
more than one utility often serves a single zip code).
Can't find your system in our database? Call your local water
utility and request a copy of its Consumer Confidence Report,
which contains information on water testing (it may be available
online as well).
Have a private well? Get it tested regularly. The New Jersey
Department of Health has an excellent guide
to private well testing.
2. Find a filter that works
Once you know what contaminants you have in your tap water, you're
ready to take the next step and find a filter. Just follow these
1. Know the style that best matches
your household needs and budget. There are six kinds
of filters: pitcher/large-dispenser, faucet mounted, faucet integrated,
on-counter, under-sink, and whole house. We
spell out their pros and cons -- including relative cost -- in
a user-friendly chart.
2. Understand the technology.
Although there are hundreds of brands of home water filters, they
all rely on a small number of technologies to remove contaminants.
Some common ones are: carbon/activated carbon, deionization, ion
exchange, mechanical filters, ozone, reverse osmosis, ultraviolet,
and water softeners. We explain how each works in our tap water
report. Two of the most common technologies are:
- Carbon filters (pitcher, tap-mounted or large dispenser)
are affordable and can reduce many common water contaminants,
like lead and byproducts of the disinfection process used to
treat municipal tap water.
- Reverse osmosis filters remove contaminants that carbon filters
can't eliminate, like arsenic and perchlorate (rocket fuel),
but can be costly.
3. Pick one that filters the contaminants
you want it to:
- Just want a decent filter at a decent price? Get a carbon
filter. (Pitchers, faucet mounts, and large dispensers are popular
types. Effectiveness varies widely.)
- Want to remove as many contaminants as possible? Use reverse
osmosis (RO) combined with a superior carbon filter. (Note --
many brands use only minimally effective carbon filters.)
- Interested in removing a specific contaminant? You know from
our database or your local water supplier what's in your tap
water and you want to remove one or more specific contaminants.
EWG's on-line guide to filters to find one that removes one
or more contaminants.
- Want extra protection? Some whole house carbon filters will
remove contaminants from steamy vapors you and your family inhale
while showering and washing dishes. Contact your local distributer
to find a model that meets your needs.
4. Change your water filters on time.
Old filters aren't safe -- they harbor bacteria and let contaminants
SPECIAL NOTE FOR INFANTS! Always use filtered tap water for your
baby's formula. If your water is not fluoridated, you can just
use a carbon filter. If it is, use a reverse osmosis filter to
remove the fluoride, because fluoridated water can damage an infant's
developing teeth. If you choose bottled water for your infant,
make sure it's fluoride-free. Ready-to-eat canned formulas don't
require added water, but they're often contaminated with bisphenol-a
(BPA) that leaches from the can lining.
3. Skip the bottled water
- whenever possible
Despite the pure-sounding brand names and images of pristine
streams, bottled water is not necessarily any safer than tap water,
and it can cost up to 1,900 times more! In fact, some reports
show that up to 44 percent of bottled water is just tap water
-- filtered in some cases and untreated in others. And because
bottled water manufacturers aren't required to disclose the level
of any contaminant found in their supply, you're often not sure
exactly what you're getting.
Bottled water may also be contaminated with plastic additives,
many of which have not been fully assessed for safety and have
been shown to migrate from the bottles into bottled water -- and
then into you. You can read more about the bottled water problems
we've documented in our recent Bottled
Water Quality Investigation and Bottled
Water Label Scorecard.
There are few times when bottled water makes sense:
- If your tap water contains fluoride and you can't filter
it out to mix infant formula; be sure the bottled water is fluoride
- If your employer provides on-site bottled water because workplace
water isn't available or safe. Be aware that many of the large
plastic bottles used to provide such water are #7 polycarbonate
plastic, which can contain and leach BPA.
- You're traveling in a country where drinking tap water might
4. Choose safer reusable
water bottles -- for that filtered tap water
Carry stainless steel or other BPA-free bottles. Skip aluminum
and the hard plastic bottles that still contain BPA (#7 plastic,
aka polycarbonate). Aluminum bottles have an inner plastic lining
that can contain BPA (read
all about it on Enviroblog). Don't reuse single-use bottled
water bottles; the plastic can harbor bacteria and break down
to release plastics chemicals.
January 21, 2010