Tap Water Contamination - What Does It Really Contain?
According to a recently released report from News21, nearly 20% of the United States, or 63 million people across the entire country, could have used an unsafe drinking supply at least once in the past 10 years.
Journalism students examined 680 000 problems regarding tap water safety that had occurred since 2007 and were recorded by the Environmental Protection Agency’s information system. They found numerous health-based violations, where the supply was found to contain contaminants, along with monitoring concerns, where there was a failure to either carry out a test or to report their findings.
It’s likely that sixty years of environmental damage from farming, pollution and industrial waste dumping, coupled with an ageing distribution system in need of repair, has led to the current situation.
According to information gleaned from the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Information System, even when problems are identified, they can take more than two years to be put right, with some violations stretching back decades and others remaining unresolved with polluted supplies still flowing into people homes.
Pipes that are past their prime can start to disintegrate...
creating expensive leaks and flourishing colonies of bacteria, or even tainting the supply with lead.
In rural communities, the problem is compounded by underfunded treatment plants that cannot afford to keep their equipment and supply pipes updated. Without the necessary care, these facilities can start producing a supply which includes traces of naturally occurring arsenic from the rocks surrounding the pipes, and sewage, as well as chemicals from farming and industry.
All of these toxins have different effects on the human body, but some of the most widely recognised by leading experts include developmental delays during childhood, cancer and diseases of the stomach.
Of course, the supply could be cleaned up, but if it’s to be done properly, the cost will be enormous. Estimates from the EPA sit at $384 billion spread over the new few decades, just to keep the supply safe and drinkable. Most of that amount will be directed toward smaller, more remote towns where the infrastructure is increasingly fragile. Here, the majority of plants and pipework were installed during the mid-twentieth century and are well overdue for an upgrade.
found that low-level ongoing issues are most common in poor and minority communities, or run down urban areas. Sadly, people who lack the wealth to improve their supply, have very little assistance from their state or the federal government. However, the good news is that when issues do arise they can become high-profile. One such event occurred in Flint, Michigan, where lead was escaping into the supply for months before an official response was made, similarly, failures in East Chicago, Indiana, also angered residents. Both stories were reported on the national news, as was a supply issue in Corpus Christi, Texas, where chemicals from a local asphalt plant ripped through the water system, causing businesses and schools to close for a period.
Another report, carried out by the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit making organisation, which campaigns to protect human health, found carcinogens in the supply of 90 million Americans over 45 states. The contaminant was an industrial solvent, most often used in household cleaning products and cosmetics. In the group’s tests, 1,4-dioxane, as it is known, was apparent in unsafe levels in systems that cover 27 states, serving 7 million people.
Unlike some pollutants, there are no filters that are entirely effective in dealing with 1,4-dioxane.
It takes a great deal of time to break down and as a consequence, tends to linger in a supply until it is removed. If you are living in California, North Carolina, New Jersey or one of the other worst affected areas, your water utility will be able to carry out specialised treatments to remove certain amounts of the chemical, so contact them for advice.
In the five years between 2010 and 2015, 1,4-dioxane was found in 1060 public systems, as per tests carried out by the EPA, but a further 1167 systems are connected to these, so the problem is more widespread than it would first seem. Furthermore, private wells are exempt from testing and small to medium-sized systems rarely carry out tests, so their status will remain unknown.
The EPA has stated, that more than 0.35 parts per million of 1,4-dioxane is the maximum and the EWG agree that this is a reasonable target. This guideline is not enshrined in law as yet, but it is one of the ten chemicals that the agency will be reassessing as part of a new law around chemical safety.
The problem of tap water contamination is of course not limited to the United States, as an investigation by journalists at Orb Media uncovered. They found that across the globe, pollution from microplastics has found its way into our systems, though the health implications are still unknown. Overall, 83% of samples from over twelve countries showed signs of contamination. The USA had the most affected samples, coming in at 94%, with tiny plastic elements being discovered at principal sites like the headquarters of the US Environmental Protection Agency, Trump Tower in NYC and various Congress buildings. Globally, the next most affected countries were Lebanon and India.
In Europe, France, Germany and the UK, showed the lowest rates of contamination, but it was still present in a worrying 72% of tests. Of each 500ml sample, the number of plastic fibres was measured after being detected. In the US the average figure was 4.8, but this dropped to 1.9 in Europe.
In previous studies, work has been concentrated around learning more about how plastic pollution impacts our oceans and the creatures which live there. Evidence suggests that humans are already exposed to plastic fibres when they consume seafood, but this new report shows that contamination is present in many other places, including tap water.
Although plastics themselves are not necessarily poisonous to humans, it is the pathogens that they contain when in microplastic form, like bacteria from raw sewage, that could present a risk.
The Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology in the Republic of Ireland has also conducted research into microplastics, and Dr Anne Marie Mahon explained why their findings were so troubling: “If the fibres are there, it is possible that the nanoparticles are there too that we can’t measure…Once they are in the nanometre range they can really penetrate a cell and that means they can penetrate organs, and that would be worrying.”
A report undertaken by the opinion poll experts, Gallup, and released in March 2017, found that 63% of US citizens are concerned a ‘great deal’ about pollution in their drinking supply. In fact, anxiety about the issue has reached its highest level since 2001. More than climate change or air pollution, it is clean water that is the number one environmental interest for Americans in 2017.
Lead in Our Water Supply
When older pipes begin to corrode internally, lead can enter the tap water which ends up in our homes. This is especially common when the supply is low in minerals or has a high acidity content, as these factors are known to cause corrosion. The most frequent problems arise when a faucet has been soldered with lead, as it can readily enter a stream when the tap is turned on.
The Safe Drinking Water Act obliges the EPA to find what level of contaminants are considered safe in a domestic supply, although their findings are not enforceable. As part of their work, the EPA has asserted that lead is unsafe at any level, as it is extremely toxic, even in trace amounts. Moreover, given time it can build up in the human body and lead to a range of health problems. Children are especially susceptible, and even minimal levels of exposure to lead have been associated with nervous system damage, learning difficulties and hearing problems.
There are ways of limiting your exposure to lead at home; you could begin using a filter that can remove lead, or run your tap for a few moments before filling a cup to flush the pipes through, and stick to using the cold tap for drinks, as lead is more often carried by the hot tap.
Unfortunately, lead is certainly not the only worrying contaminant known to affect domestic supplies. Others include industrial byproducts like bromodichloromethane, which can cause liver damage, chloroform, which is carcinogenic, dichloroacetic acid, which can damage the pancreas, and total trihalomethanes (TTHMs) which have been linked with an increased risk of cancer.
How Can I Safeguard My Supply?
If you have any concerns about the quality of your drinking water, you can have it tested in a certified laboratory. Just visit the drinking water section at the United States Environmental Protection Agency website, then use the map or the drop-down menu to find a test facility near you.
What is Alkaline Water and How Could It Help You?
Over the past few months, you’ve probably heard a lot about why people are choosing to drink alkaline water as an alternative to tap or bottled varieties. A host of celebrity fans have spoken out about how it keeps them more hydrated during exercise, and repeated studies have revealed a range of other health benefits. Fortunately, this delicious H2O, it is not expensive or out of reach for the average person, as anyone can enjoy a constant supply at home when they install an ionizer. So, what is it that makes alkaline aqua different from what comes out of the tap?
A key factor is that the alkaline version is far less acidic, with hydrogen ions present in less concentrated amounts, and a pH level of over seven. The pH test is used by scientists to indicate how acidic, and therefore how corrosive, a liquid is. The pH scale runs from 0 to 14, with fluids like orange juice, coffee, and cola, measuring under seven and therefore considered acidic. Pure aqua is around 7 on the scale, and above this number liquids are alkaline.
Switching to alkaline liquids can provide a range of health benefits, many of which have been discovered as part of scientific research programs. In 2012, a report carried out by the Voice Institute of New York, entitled: ‘Potential benefits of pH 8.8 alkaline drinking water as an adjunct in the treatment of reflux disease’, discovered that it could be useful in the treatment of acid reflux. This is because it works to inactivate an enzyme called pepsin, which the body uses to digest proteins in food.
Another study, carried out by the First Hospital of Shanghai Textile: ‘Preliminary observation on changes of blood pressure, blood sugar and blood lipids after using alkaline ionized drinking water’ found it may be therapeutic for those suffering from high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Back in the US, the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition printed a report in 2016 called: ‘Effect of electrolyzed high-pH alkaline water on blood viscosity in healthy adults’. This illustrated how whole blood viscosity was reduced after drinking alkaline compared to normal H2O. The reduction made it possible for people’s blood to flow faster throughout the body, increasing both their oxygen saturation and hydration levels.
How is Alkaline Water Produced?
The process by which regular aqua is transformed into an alkaline solution is very simple. It’s done using an ionizer, a device which can be installed in your home. Firstly, water flows in from the tap through an internal filter. Once inside, impurities like chlorine and fluoride can be removed. Next, the fluid is passed over a set of negative and positive electrodes in a treatment that is known as electrolysis. Then it reaches the ionizer’s plates and this is where the major changes begin to happen.
In this chamber, a low voltage current is introduced, compelling any minerals which are soluble to attach themselves to a positive or negative pole. This reaction creates two distinct streams, one of which is acidic and one which is alkaline. The acidic part now has a chemic formula of H+, it can be used on plants, for cleansing the skin, or for cleaning. Rich in oxygen, this acid stream is also an excellent sanitiser, as it grabs electrons from a substance and destroys them in the process.
The alkaline solution has a chemical formula of OH-, it is now packed with microclusters and ionized - perfect for drinking. This is an excellent acid neutraliser, a powerful antioxidant that also delivers a sweetly refreshing taste.
Normal H2O is made up of one oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms, hence the familiar formula. It comes together to form clusters of around 13 molecules. Conversely, the ionized version has clusters of only five or six molecules. It is these smaller microclusters which make ionized water more soluble inside your body, they allow it to permeate cells and aid nutritional absorption, as well as maintaining hydration levels.
How Does an Ionizer Work?
Let’s take a more in-depth look at how ionizers can create such a health-boosting substance.
Alkaline aqua which contains dissolved molecular hydrogen is produced by the ionizers cathode, also known as the negative electrode. The acid solution is produced by the positive electrode. To start the unit, you’ll need to plug it into the mains at an AC outlet, the power is then transformed to a DC or direct current, allowing electrolysis to begin.
It is not electrolysis alone that alters the pH of H2O, though many ionizers have a thin ion exchange film. This stops the two compartments, the alkaline rich catholyte and the acidic anolyte from blending together. So, both substances are formed distinctly at this point.
Some ionizers function with the help of other substances, but when tap water is used on its own, it is the only source of ions. This will result in a relatively mild alkaline solution of between 8-11 pH, and an acidic solution of between 4-6 pH, though each machine has different strengths, so the numbers could vary somewhat.
The Benefits of a Whole House Filter
With a whole house filter, you can rid your home of innumerable pollutants and contaminants that would otherwise be fed straight into your mains supply. The best ionizers wipe away up to 99% of chemicals and toxic substances like fluoride, pesticides, heavy metals and nitrates. And because it works on the whole house it will treat the flow from the faucet, so your shower, bath, laundry and drinking supply are all equally pure.
If you’re unsure about the kind of contaminants that could be entering your supply, you may be surprised to find out that one of the most common is lead. This toxic metal infiltrates the mains through older pipework, it can cause developmental delays in children and blood pressure issues in adults.
Fluoride is another potentially damaging element that is added to water for the benefit of our oral health, but it may also damage the human immune system and cause premature ageing. Some unfiltered mains aqua also contains trace amounts of aluminium, a metal which has been linked to an array of health problems in the elderly, like Alzheimer’s.
At a treatment plant, raw water is disinfected to clear out bacteria, and the product used to do this is chlorine. Although it does its job effectively, chlorine never leaves the supply, even as it enters your home. Small amounts are not harmful to humans, but this substance can react with the skin and eyes of certain people when they bathe or shower in it. Many whole house filters will remove the vast majority of chlorine prior to it entering your home, so no one can be affected by it.
Whole house filters will safeguard your family from contaminants, they also offer an excellent money-saving alternative to purchasing separate filters for each sink or tap in the house. They are fully customisable and can be adjusted to fit in with your home and lifestyle.