Water and soil: Two of Mother Nature’s most magnificent and nurturing gifts. Without either, we couldn’t survive. But how safe is the water you drink and the soil that surrounds your home? Unfortunately, both can contain all manner of environmental hazards, any of which can cause serious health issues.

Here are some answers to our most frequently asked questions about water and soil safety:

Q. Why should I have my water tested?
A.
A comprehensive analysis of your drinking water is important. Heavy metals in pipes, arsenic that naturally occurs in groundwater, radon that is naturally produced when uranium decays in soil and water, and pesticide contamination are just some of the things that can taint the water you are drinking.

Q. How often should my water be tested?
A.
If you have well water, annual testing is preferable since bacteria can enter wells from surface water or from the ground. 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 are free from harmful lead or bacteria. The only way to know for sure is to have your water tested.

Q. Are there any signs to look for in my water?
A.
In most cases, there are no clues that your water is tainted. But if you notice a change in the color, taste or smell of your water, even if the water was recently tested, it should immediately be tested again.

Q. I test my soil each year to find out if it is lacking nutrients to make my fruits and vegetables grow. But recently I have been thinking I should test for contaminants. Your thoughts?
A.
Yes! Test! Your soil can be harboring a host of contaminants, including PCBs, radon, asbestos and lead. Unfortunately, lead in the soil is very dangerous and far more common than most of us imagine, especially if you live in a pre-1978 built home or in a neighborhood of pre-1978 built homes. In 1978, lead-based paint was banned in the United States. Today, 33 years later, simply opening and closing a window can disturb lead paint, sending lead dust flying through the air, landing in your soil. According to the Centers for Disease Control, a speck of lead dust, as small as a grain of sand, is enough to poison a child. If you live in a pre-1978 built home, or in a neighborhood that has older homes, it’s important to test your soil for lead. But even if your home was built last year, soil testing for PCBs, radon and asbestos just makes sense.

Part 2: How contaminated water and soil affects our health

Testing for lead isn’t required in the US — and so doctors miss children exposed to the toxin. (Vox)

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