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Is Drinking Tap Water Safe

Is Drinking Tap Water Safe in the USA?

According to many sources, the tap water quality provided in many states is of high international standards and healthy and safe to drink. But some studies have claimed that in some areas especially the low-income rural areas, the tap water supply violates the Safe Drinking Water Act.

According to CDC, around 85% to 90% of Americans get their drinking water from a public water system. A water economist from the University of California said that “the US has safe water”. But she also mentioned in a study that problems with drinking water arise every year in different areas of the United States and these complaints are most common in small, rural areas.

Millions of Americans Drink Potentially Contaminated Tap Water

For a long time, millions of Americans have been drinking water from a source that is not in compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act, which was established by the US government to protect the quality and standards of drinking water in the US.

According to a study conducted in 2015, during the Flint water crisis around 6% of the American population was getting water from systems that violated health standards. The violations included the presence of lead, flint, and a group of microbes called the coliform bacteria in the water. These violations were most common in rural areas. According to the study, the reason for that was, the small water systems present in the said locations couldn’t afford the latest technologies used to purify water. The study also identified counties that purchased water from larger utilities. Such counties had relatively fewer cases of violation.

Another reason for people drinking contaminated tap water may be due to the limits set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The contaminants some water sources contain are unregulated, or the drinking water source itself is too small to fit under EPA regulations.

Tap Water Contaminants in America

According to the EPA, there are a variety of contaminants that can be present in drinking tap water. These include inorganic chemicals like arsenic, nitrate, and lead, byproducts like chloroform, organic chemicals like glyphosate, tetrachloroethylene, and atrazine, and also microorganisms like Giardia, and noroviruses. These contaminants may cause diseases and health issues like gastrointestinal illness, learning disorders, endocrine disruption, and cancer.

Where does tap water come from? How is it treated?

The drinking tap water in the United States comes from natural reserves like lakes and rivers and then for most Americans, the water flows from intake points to large treatment plants where the water is purified and stored in storage tanks, and from there it goes to the houses through various pipe systems underground. According to the CDC, nearly all the community water system following four steps to treat the drinking tap water:

  • Coagulation and flocculation:

In this step, chemicals are added to the water. These chemicals must have a positive charge to cancel out neutralize the negative charge present in dirt and other contaminants. When the chemicals are mixed in the water, the particles present in the water bind with the chemicals and form bigger particles known as floc.

  • Sedimentation:

Floc is much heavier so it settles to the bottom of the tank. This step is referred to as sedimentation.

  • Filtrations:

Once the heavy floc has settled in the bottom the filtration process begins. The clear and relatively cleaner water on top will pass through filters of different pore sizes composed of sand, charcoal, and gravel to get rid of dissolved particles such as dust, parasites, bacteria, viruses, and chemicals.

  • Disinfection

This is the last step that happens after filtration. Disinfectants like chlorine or chloramine are added to the water to kill any remaining bacteria or parasites.

Which state has the best tap water in the U.S?

The cleanest drinking tap water is available in Rhode Island, South Dakota, Minnesota, New Hampshire, California, and a few other states where the infrastructure and healthcare system is the best and the overall economic progression is great too. These factors being positive and progressive have an indirect positive impact upon the natural cleanliness and less pollution in these states. These areas have advanced systems in place that help purify and clean the water.

Is tap water as safe as bottled water?

There are two separate regulatory bodies responsible for tap water and bottled water. The FDA is responsible for bottled water whereas the EPA controls and regulates tap water, while the process may be slightly different the main aim of both of the regulatory bodies is to provide safe drinking water to the public.

The EPA sends a detailed report to the consumers of the water from sources under their regulation. This consists of the water source and levels of contaminants in the water. If you are getting your water from a private well, it doesn’t come under EPA, so it is recommended to test the water frequently every year.

The FDA has a detailed process in place that all the private bottled water providers must follow. This process ensures the cleanliness and quality of the water.

Final Word

Clean water is the basic need of any individual. While the US is amongst the few countries where safe drinking water is available, there are still some areas where clean drinking tap water is not available due to the lack of proper infrastructure and advancements.

Some people may be more prone to getting sick from drinking tap water. This is common amongst individuals who have HIV or women who are breastfeeding or pregnant. In cases like these consult a primary physician near you to know the additional precautions that you must take if you are drinking tap water. 

– Disclaimer –
This blog is for informational & educational purposes only, and does not intend to substitute any professional medical advice or consultation. For any health related concerns, please consult with your physician, or call 911.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by Dr. Syra Hanif, M.D. on 05/17/2021

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  • About The Author

    Dr. Syra Hanif M.D.

    Board Certified Primary Care Physician

Dr. Syra Hanif is a board-certified Primary Care Physician (PCP) dedicated to providing compassionate, patient-centered healthcare.

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