What's in your H2O? Experts share how to identify contaminants, drink tap water safely

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, AccuWeather staff writer


As recent research shows that both bottled and tap water can be tainted with contaminants including microplastics, many consumers may wonder about their safest option for consuming H2O.

No matter the water source, it’s likely to contain some type of contaminant, said Dr. Eric Roy, founder of water filtration company Hydroviv, which was developed in response to the lead contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan.

A study conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council revealed that tap water in every state has potentially harmful contaminants, including arsenic.

Water contamination comes in two main classifications, according to Roy. These include biological contaminants, including living organisms like bacteria or viruses, that can cause illness if ingested.


“There’s also chemical contamination, which are things that you may not realize are even in the water,” said Roy. “However, by drinking it over time, it can increase your risk of cancer and things like that.”

“It really comes down to what people are willing to tolerate for risk,” Roy added.

Fortunately, water supplies in most homes in the United States are biologically safe, according to Roy.

Most contaminants aren’t considered to be harmful at low levels by the Environmental Protection Agency or the World Health Organization, according to NSF International (formerly known as the National Sanitation Foundation).

However, some contaminants can pose significant health threats. Some cities in the U.S., including Portland, Oregon, and Pittsburgh, continue to experience rising lead levels exceeding the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) action level.

The EPA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) consider no level of lead exposure to be safe, particularly for children.

“When you have old pipes, that’s just kind of what happens,” Roy said. “In fact, in a lot of places in the country, it’s actually getting worse.”

It’s important to keep in mind that there isn’t a magic wand solution for making a water supply completely contaminant-free, Roy said.

“You can’t just be like, ‘If I run this through a Brita pitcher, it’s going to get rid of stuff,’ because it’s not,” he said.

Experts say that customers should figure out and understand what types of contaminants may be lurking in their water supply before determining the best method of filtering them out.

Finding out what’s in your water

One way for homeowners to find out about what kind of contamination could be present in their water supply is to obtain a copy of their water quality report, or consumer confidence report, according to NSF International.

The detailed report can reveal the possible cause of any undesirable taste, color or smell in your water. It also helps to identify contaminants present in tap water and the impact they pose to human health.

A report can include essential information on detected contaminant levels, the contaminant’s potential source and if water in your community exceeded the maximum contaminant level.

It’s required by the EPA that most community water systems provide the report to customers each year, NSF International reported.

More than 15 million American households rely on private wells for their drinking water, according to the CDC.

“Private wells are completely unregulated by the EPA,” Roy said. “It’s up to the homeowner to test their water for things like arsenic [and other contaminants].”

What to know about water treatment

Once your water’s contaminants are identified, consumers can work to find the best treatment options for their concerns. However, not all filters can reduce all contaminants, according to NSF International.

Filters and water treatment devices bearing certification marks from an independent third party are a quick and easy way to ensure safer drinking water,” said Rick Andrew, a drinking water treatment and filtration expert at NSF International.

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“This certification means that the product’s claims to reduce contaminants such as arsenic, lead, perfluorooctanoic acid, microcystin and radium have been validated, and homeowners can be confident the system will do what it says it will.”

When it comes to home water treatment systems, consumers have multiple options, Andrew said.

“Point-of-use (POU) systems treat the water where you drink or use your water, and include water pitchers, faucet filters and reverse osmosis (RO) systems,” he said.

Consumers also have the option of whole-house/point-of-entry (POE) systems, which treat the water as it enters a home, according to Andrew.

“They’re usually installed near the water meter for municipal water or the pressurized storage tank for well water,” he said.

Whole-house systems include UV microbiological systems, water softeners or whole-house filters for chlorine, taste, odor and particulates, Andrew said.

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