How Do I Know If My Water Is Contaminated?
The tragedy that unfolded in Flint, Michigan has opened the public’s eyes to a dirty secret – the old, decaying water infrastructure in the United States is leaching toxic material into our water supply and poisoning us. Many other cities, from Cleveland to Newark, discovered that their water supply contains high levels of lead and other contaminants as well.
While we don’t have control over the public water supply, we do have control over our own homes. Buying bottled water to drink does not solve the overarching issue of contaminated water. Every day, we use our tap water to brush our teeth, bathe, wash clothes and dishes, water our vegetable gardens, and more. If your water contains lead or other toxins, your health is at risk. So what can you do? Here are 4 tips to help ensure your water is safe.
1. Have Your Water Tested By A Professional
A water testing kit is not going to give you accurate results or peace of mind that your water is safe, especially if the sample is not taken correctly, which happens often. Whether it’s your home, office, school, gym, or a public facility, only a comprehensive water test conducted by an independent testing company can produce reliable results by using state-certified (licensed) laboratories. Your local health department sometimes offers to test your water for free for bacteria or nitrates, but it’s far from a comprehensive test and involves some work on your part. Choose a professional service that performs only testing so that you get thorough, unbiased results. If they find a problem, they will help you determine what your next steps should be. Comprehensive water testing will confirm whether your water supply contains:
- Lead or other heavy metals
- Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
- Dozens of other contaminants
These environmental hazards can cause serious health issues.
2. Watch For Health Symptoms From Contaminated Water
Drinking and bathing in contaminated water can cause chronic health issues, including joint pain; body numbness; skin rashes and problems; damage to the brain, kidneys, and neurological system; gastro-intestinal illness; hair loss; and immune deficiencies. If you or a family member starts to have any of these symptoms, your water may be to blame.
3. Know If the EPA Regulates Your Water
The EPA regulates public water systems, but it does not regulate private water wells. Yet, nearly 25% of private wells contain harmful contaminants, according to the U.S. Geological Survey Water Science School. In the New York tri-state area, high levels of arsenic, radon, and heavy metals are a major issue. Arsenic, radon, and heavy metals can seep into the water supply from rock, not just industrial pollution. Water in areas that have experienced flooding can also become contaminated.
Although the Connecticut State Department of Public Health does not require private well owners to test their water for known toxins, other communities are taking steps to protect us. Westchester County in New York implemented the Westchester County Private Well Water Testing Legislation, Local Law 7 – 2007, which requires that water testing be conducted upon the signing of a contract of sale for any property served by a private well. New Jersey also has similar testing laws.
4. Test Your Water Annually – From All Faucets
At a minimum, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention) recommends that you check your well every spring to make sure there are no mechanical problems, and have it tested once each year for total coliform bacteria, nitrates, total dissolved solids, and pH levels. Every few years you should test for additional contaminants. If you get your water from a municipality, take the time to read the quality report on water, which must be published annually.
Unfortunately, even if the report is excellent, that does not mean your pipes or fixtures are free from harmful lead or bacteria. Pipes traveling from the road to your home can deteriorate, sometimes with parts disintegrating down to dirt, which the water flows through to get into your home. The only way to know for sure is to have a licensed professional test water from each faucet in your home. There may be a problem in one faucet, and not the rest.