Is your drinking water safe? How to test your tap water before drinking

Is Your Drinking Water Safe? How To Test Your Tap Water Before Drinking

Is your drinking water safe? You need to know how to test your water before drinking. Recent reports from Flint, Michigan, and other areas have led to questions from all over the country. Americans were collectively horrified at what the people of Flint have gone through with their contaminated water and its continued presence over a period of time. We all asked ourselves if it could happen to us, and how it might affect us if it did.

People are asking if their own drinking water is safe, and might be surprised at the answer. Municipal water supplies have been found, on multiple occasions, to contain lead, says a report from CNN. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, between 10 percent and 20 percent of our exposure to lead comes from contaminated water. Sadly, babies are the most vulnerable. Infants can get between 40 percent and 60 percent of their lead exposure by drinking formula mixed with water that contains lead. In a report from Time, it is revealed that your local water supply is more likely to be contaminated if you live near certain industrial plants or wastewater treatment plants.

Most of us aren’t familiar with the process by which lead even enters our water supply in our homes. Lead plumbing materials, including faucets, pipes, fittings, and even the soldering the connects them can become corroded over time. Eventually, it can start to release lead into the water. Water that’s highly acidic, or with a lower mineral content that sits inside pipes for several hours, is most likely to become contaminated, according to the EPA.

Most homes built since the late 1980s are typically less likely to have lead plumbing, but it has been known to happen. In the past couple of years, the legal limit for “lead-free” pipes has restricted newly-installed faucets, fixtures, pipes and fittings 0.25 percent. Prior to that, up to 8 percent lead was allowed. Existing fixtures can often still contain up to 8 percent lead, including not only older homes, but also municipal water systems.

These statistics leave us wondering if our own water is safe, and most of us don’t know where to even begin finding out. First, it’s important to determine whether or not you’re at risk. Contact your city water department. You can request a copy of their Consumer Confidence Report, which contains a list of contaminant levels. These suppliers are required by federal law to run these tests on a regular basis. Your municipal water supplier may be found by visiting the EPA’s website listing and entering your zip code. Many suppliers list their findings, but some don’t. (If your water supplier is a private well, you can visit this site from the EPA for more information.) If your water contains a lead level at or above 12 parts per billion, you should contact your water supplier and ask if the service pipe on your street has lead in it.

Is your drinking water safe? How to test your tap water before drinking
Water analysis [Image by science photo/Shutterstock Images]

If you learn that the service pipe to your home does have lead in it, the CDC advises certain steps that you should take immediately. Before using water in your home, run your shower or other high pressure faucet at full force on its highest level for at least five minutes. When you have the water turned on hot or warm as it comes through the pipes it increases lead levels. Then turn your kitchen faucet on cold and let it run for an extra two minutes. You can then use your tap water. This water can be poured into clean containers to use for cooking and drinking. A lot of people believe that boiling water for a period of time will suffice, but that’s not true. Boiling may reduce other contaminants but it will not remove lead from the water.

If you discover that the service pipes on your street do not contain lead, it’s possible that the lead exposure is from the pipes and plumbing in your home. Since lead has no odor or taste, the only way you can find out for sure is to have your home’s tap water tested. Ask your municipal water supplier if they’ll come and test it; some will even come to your house and do so for free. If they won’t, you can contact the Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791 for other options.

Another option is to go to your local home improvement store and buy a kit for lead testing. You’ll need to follow the enclosed instructions meticulously when collecting the samples. You’ll next send the samples in to a lab for analysis and wait for the results. The instructions enclosed with your kit should include the names and addresses for labs that can analyze the results. According to the EPA, it’s best to use a state-certified lab for the most reliable results. The EPA lists them on their site. While you’re waiting for the results on your home’s tap water, you’ll want to take measures to avoid drinking lead-containing water in the meanwhile.

Is your drinking water safe? How to test your tap water before drinking
Collecting a tap water sample for testing [Image by science photo/Shutterstock Images]

One possible solution is to filter your water. Be very careful when choosing this route because not all water-filtration systems block lead. There are three main types of methods of treating your water: reverse osmosis, filter systems and distillation. Many of the pitcher-type filters on the market today may filter other contaminants, but not all of them actually reduce lead content. Consumer Reports offers a guide to finding the best water filtration systems to meet your needs.

Many people have turned to bottled water as a solution to their problem. Unfortunately, however, some bottled waters are merely untested tap water. The CDC recommends NSF International, a nonprofit water certification organization. You can visit their site and check out the brand of bottled water you prefer there.

While all of the recommendations above are important for everyone, they are absolutely crucial for children, particularly infants. Very little exposure to lead contaminants can cause damage to a baby or child in comparison with an adult. Even very low levels of lead exposure can cause damage to a child’s blood cells and central nervous system, and have been linked with learning disabilities and impaired growth, as well as other potential complications. The EPA refers to lead poisoning as the top environmental health threat for children in the U.S. who are 6 years of age or younger. Your pediatrician or your county health authority can answer your questions about having your children’s lead levels tested.

If you’re unsure whether or not your drinking water is safe, it’s important to learn how to test it before drinking it.

[Featured image by science photo/Shutterstock Images]