If you live in North America, safe drinking water shouldn’t be a major concern. Aside from the odd crisis, you’ve been able to drink your tap water with a certain level of comfort.
However, there is always a concern of contaminants either in water sources or in the pipes that deliver the water to our homes, mainly because even a small level of contamination can have harmful effects on your gastrointestinal, reproductive or nervous systems.
So let’s review some of the best practices for drinking tap water, and what you can do to mitigate these risks.
Below is a table of possible warning signs that your water may contain some contaminants.
|Blackening of sinks and/or fixtures||Hydrogen sulfide (gas), manganese|
|Blue-green stains on sinks and/or porcelain fixtures||Copper, brass or other metals|
|Cloudiness||Dirt, sand, clay, organic matter, methane gas|
|Foamy water||Foaming agents such as detergents, dilute sewage|
|Milky-coloured water||Methane gas, some sort of particles|
|Reddish brown water||Iron|
|White deposits in pipes, water heater, tea kettle; soap scum in bathroom||Hard water caused by dissolved minerals (i.e. calcium, magnesium)|
|Yellow water||Tannins from organic soil or vegetation|
|Bleach-like odor, chlorine odour||Chlorine, chloramines|
|Musty, earthy odour||Organic matter|
|Oil, gas odour||Gasoline, semi-volatile compounds|
|Rotten egg odour||Hydrogen sulfide|
|Sweet pungent smell||Volatile organic compounds, semivolatile compounds|
|Gritty, abrasive taste||Sediment (fine sand, grit)|
|Metallic taste||Corrosion from iron, copper, lead, or other metals; could also be sodium chloride or sulfate|
|Sharp chemical taste||Pesticides, volatile and semivolatile compounds|
Please note that some of these contaminants must exist in large amounts in order to experience the smell, sight or taste listed below – some contaminants can be harmful in even smaller amounts, before these warning signs show. Also note that some of the contaminants listed below are more of a ‘nuisance’ contaminant than a serious health threat.
There are many different types of systems that you can use to help protect against some of these contaminants getting into your drinking water.
Some systems can be installed at the point of entry (POE) of water into your home. These systems treat all (or most) of the water that is used in your home.
A water softener is an example of one of these point of entry systems; it reduces the ‘hardness’ of water (i.e. it gets rid of excess calcium and magnesium in the water supply).
There are other systems that are installed at the point of use (POU), which are intended just to filter or treat the water at a point where it is being consumed. In other words, it will treat just the water coming out of the shower head, or the kitchen faucet, etc. Classic examples of POU systems include:
- pour through filters or personal water bottles with a built-in filter,
- faucet mount filters
- countertop filters
- plumbed-in systems
- plumbed-in to separate faucet systems
- refrigerator filters
More information on these types of filters here.
Figuring out which type of filtration system is right for you depends on a variety of factors, such as the type of contaminants you are worried about, what your water needs are, and of course, cost.
It’s always a good idea to test your tap water and look into previous water reports from your municipality to find out what sort of contaminants have been present in your water in the past, and what may be present in your tap water today.
You should be able to request water safety reports from your municipality as long as the water in your house is coming from a municipal source. For unbiased results, you may be able to find a private lab to send your water to, but make sure this is an objective third-party lab without any ties to companies that would want to sell you water filtration systems or the like.
If this all sounds like too much work for you, then a simple at-home water testing kit should also do the trick; however some are more reliable than others, so be sure to do your research and multiple tests with the kit you choose.
Once you know what types of contaminants your tap water may contain or is at risk of containing (based on past water safety results), you can determine which type of filter works to eliminate those contaminants.
Best case scenario: you find out that you have no contaminants in your water and you don’t even need a filter!
Worst case scenario: there aren’t any viable filter options that work for the contaminants in your water, in which case you may want to explore other solutions such as a water cooler just for drinking water.
Taking into account how your household consumes water is another key. If you and your family drink a lot of water on a regular basis, then a simple pour through pitcher filter may not be sufficient considering how consistently it would have to be refilled.
Do you like the idea of having a separate faucet in your kitchen for drinking water? If not, then a plumbed-in separate faucet system isn’t for you.
If you are looking into filtration systems, make sure it is certified by an accredited certification body, such as NSF/ANSI certified. It is also advisable to take into account the maintenance costs of different systems.
Any filter system is going to need a filter replaced on a fairly regular basis, depending on the type of system. This could cost anywhere from $20 to $400 and the frequency will vary.
At the end of the day, taking the first steps to find out what’s in your water is a wise choice. From there, you can make an educated decision on whether or not to take any action to combat potential contaminants and know what your options are.
Always keep in mind the warning signs that your water might be contaminated so you can keep yourself and your family healthy and safe.