Is It Safe To Drink Tap Water in The US? Some Facts You Need To Know

Is It Safe to Drink Tap Water in the US? Some Facts You Need to Know

In 1974, the Environmental Protection Agency established standards for safe contaminant levels in the nation’s drinking water, governed by the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). But if you’re reading this article because you’re concerned about the quality of your tap water, you may have reason to be.

Tap water quality varies enormously between states and even between municipalities within the same states, due to varying conditions. For example, New Jersey is rated as being among the worst regions in the USA for tap water because of its status as a highly industrialized state. It pays to be informed, so use your zip code to see where your tap water stands with this online tool.

What the SDWA Does

The SDWA was the first legislation of its kind, establishing national standards to be applied by state and local authorities as well as suppliers, ensuring that they monitor water quality in their jurisdictions. Federal standards under the SDWA regulate the permissible levels of 90 known contaminants according to its National Primary Drinking Water Regulations (NPDWR).

Every 5 years, the list of known contaminants is subject to amendment via a review of a Contaminant Candidates list kept by the Agency. All public water authorities must produce an annual report to the public, detailing the state of local drinking water. This information allows water consumers to make important decisions about managing potential hazards in household water by taking mitigating actions to purify their home’s water supply. But the question I know many of you are asking is, “How effective is enforcement?”

Mileage May Vary

Like New Jersey, as mentioned above, there are regions in the US being underserved in terms of water quality. Some 25 million Americans live in these regions. In each region of concern, public water systems have seen more than 15 violations for exceeding the EPA’s permissible contaminant levels, according to a 2021 report conducted by the Guardian in conjunction with Consumer Reports.

While many may not be aware of the foregoing, it’s indisputable that most Americans know the story of Flint, MI, and how the water system there was compromised to a perilous degree by lead and then, by legionella. And it’s not only drinking the water that may be a problem if contaminant levels are regularly being exceeded. Water may be compromised to the degree that it’s no longer safer for showering and bathing. And Flint is only one of many places in the USA where water supplies have been compromised. Jackson, MS is just one recent example.

2008 Compliance Audit

In 2008, an audit to gauge compliance with federal standards was conducted. This was part of a series of reviews by the Obama administration concerning how well jurisdictions complied with the EPA on a variety of fronts, from air quality to usage of wetlands and the safety of drinking water.

The audit found that 92% of violations concerning contamination from copper and lead pipes were not reported, leading water researcher Dr. Upmanu Lall to call EPA reporting “a mess”. Through his own research, Dr. Lall discovered that 38% of violations were never reported to the Agency. But in 2018, the EPA found common ground with 47 states who agreed to reduce noncompliance by 50% over the following 5 years. This has resulted in a significant decrease in non-reporting and non-compliance.

2008 Compliance Audit

What You Can Do

Because of the fractious nature of the political landscape, it’s often the case that incoming administrations undo the work of their predecessors, hobbling agencies like the EPA. It’s therefore incumbent on water consumers to do their homework, find out what’s in their water, and take action to reduce their exposure to contaminants in household water.

If you’re remodeling your bathroom or kitchen, it may be time to think about adding an effective water filtration system. Even if your water source is a well, you’re not safe from potential contamination, so regular testing is necessary to protect your family.

But you should also be keenly aware of the age and status of pipes in your home and in the water supply that serves it. Old pipes in either instance can be the source of contaminants like lead and rust. Homes built before 1986 are very likely to have lead pipes, for example, So know what’s going on in your home’s water delivery system.

While government agencies do their best to protect us, numerous factors impact the efficacy of regulatory frameworks designed to achieve that. Compliance is one of them. Another factor is the ability of jurisdictions to replace compromised infrastructure.

Your best line of defense is being aware of potential dangers and addressing them intelligently. Install that filter. Use a filtration pitcher for drinking water. Water is life, so be an aware ratepayer who’s ready with a solution to the problem.

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