Many average Americans take clean drinking water for granted. We turn on our faucets and never consider what dangerous chemicals or pathogens might be lurking in our pipes or water supplies. Until a widespread public health crisis like the water contamination scandal in Flint, Michigan, acts as a wake-up call to the dangers of lead toxicity and its long-term health consequences, most Americans believe they have access to clean and safe drinking water. But common water contaminants come in all shapes and sizes. Many harmful substances aren’t even monitored or regulated by the EPA, and the substances that are monitored are often underreported.
Is the Glass Half Full or Half Empty?
When it comes to the potential dangers that may or may not be lurking in your drinking water, it’s best to err on the side of caution. In other words, clean water is a glass half empty scenario. According to the NRDC (National Resources Defense Council), nearly 77 million Americans got drinking water from systems that violated federal protections in 2015. There are widespread inequalities between and within states and counties, and while the water disaster in Flint, Michigan, made national headlines, there are hundreds of cities and towns serving toxic tap water. In 2015, one in ten people drank water from unprotected sources, according to the Guardian.
There's Something in the Water
Thousands of harmful substances can be found in drinking water. Lead and other heavy metals, nitrates, arsenic, pathogens, pesticides, algae, mold, pharmaceuticals, and a host of other dangerous chemicals and pollutants find their way into U.S. water supplies. These substances can cause a wide range of serious illnesses and health problems, from gastrointestinal issues and reproductive complications to neurological disorders. Young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems are at the greatest risk of being affected by water contamination and waterborne illnesses.
So how does water get contaminated? Old pipes and plumbing fixtures are a leading cause of lead contamination. Agricultural run-off and industrial pollution play a significant role in contaminating U.S. waterways and water supplies. In addition, cities and towns with limited funds and resources often cut corners when it comes to water treatment.
U.S. drinking water is considered the cleanest on earth, but potential dangers still lurk beneath the surface. Before you turn on the tap, be sure you know what's in your water.