Toxins on Tap

by Wendy Gordon

This article, the first of two, will increase your awareness of what goes into the water we drink. The follow-up article, "More About Water," will be in our Spring issue.

Ensuring that our drinking water is pure is one of the most important steps we can take for children with developmental delays. Even a pristine mountain stream can contain pathogens (bacteria, viruses, and protozoa) carried by livestock or wild animals, or toxic minerals that leach naturally from the ground. However, the most common sources of contaminants include human sewage, industrial waste, pesticide runoff, backyard dumping, and municipal landfills. Another area of grave concern is pollutants from underground storage tanks, holding everything from gasoline and heating oil to chemical and nuclear waste. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that up to 25% of these tanks may be leaking.

Types of Pollutants Found in Drinking Water


1) Learn what‘s in your tap water: Ask your local water company for free reports of measures taken to protect your water and of tests conducted for the state and EPA. Visit the water treatment facility. Ask about filtration, what disinfectants are used, and how they reduce disinfection by-products. Call EPA‘s Safe Drinking Water Hotline (800-426-4791) to learn more, especially if local and state agencies are uncooperative. Have a certified, private laboratory test your water. Get names from the yellow pages, your state water agency, or EPA. (Suburban Water Testing Labs, 800-433-6595, and National Testing Labs, 800-426-8378, will test by mail.)

2) Flush out contaminants that may settle in water sitting overnight in lead-containing faucets and pipes. Each morning, run water in the sink until the water cools, indicating it‘s coming from pipes outside the house. (Use flushed water for plants or washing.)

3) Become an advocate for clean water. Contact your Congressional delegation (for names and telephone numbers: call 202-225-3121) to support Federal water protection laws. Speak to your city council. Join local and national environmental groups active in watershed protection.

4) Be wary of bottled water. The FDA regulates the source but not the treatment - of bottled water. Municipalities generally get their water supply from surface water; about 75% of bottled water comes from confined underground sources. FDA labeling rules specify that "spring," "artesian," "well," and "mineral" waters are drawn from underground sources, while "purified," "distilled," "deionized," and "reverse osmosis" refer only to the types of treatment the water - probably tap water - has undergone. Up to 25% of U.S. bottled water is simply treated city water. Because purification treatments are unregulated, bottled water may be no more "pure and natural" than public drinking water. Furthermore, it is often packaged in unhealthful plastic, has traveled far, and has sat on the shelf indefinitely. (If you must, buy water in glass jugs or aseptic drink boxes.)

5) Become educated about filtration and purification technology; chlorine and disinfection removal; and the pros and cons of fluoridation. Then, make an informed decision about whether to install a home water filtration system or to buy bottled water for your family. We must regain our proximity to the healthful water we need to drink daily - the water that should await us at the kitchen tap.

Wendy Gordon is Executive Director of Mothers & Others for a Livable Planet. This article is excerpted from "The Green Guide: Environmental Change Begins at Home, #27," newsletter of Mothers & Others for a Livable Planet.

[Initially published in New Developments: Volume 4, Number 3 - Winter, 1998-1999]

All material in this web site is given for information purposes only and is not to be substituted for advice from your health care provider.

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Page last modified: February 23, 2009
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