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Is it Safe to Drink Tap Water? 

Written by:
George Simms
Plumber & Contractor

With the multitude of advertisements for bottled water brands and the increasing demand for water filters, it’s not surprising many consumers are questioning if it is safe to drink tap water. Fortunately, tap water is generally free from high amounts of harmful contaminants and offers a cheap and convenient way to stay hydrated. 

Although tap water quality may vary in different locations, there are strict government safeguards in place to protect your health when drinking water from the faucet.

"Drinking tap water also reduces your environmental impact because you are not disposing of plastic bottles or driving to the store to buy water."

Tap Water Legal Standards

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that all water, including bottled water, could contain low levels of contaminants. However, these substances are not necessarily detrimental to your health. 

The EPA has legally enforceable powers and issues National Primary Drinking Water Regulations (NPDWRs) that apply to all public water systems. These standards set minimal quality targets to ensure reduced levels of potentially harmful chemicals, bacteria, fertilizers, and other substances that could pose a health risk.

Although not enforceable, the EPA also issues the National Secondary Drinking Water Regulations (NSDWRs) concerning contaminants that could have a negative cosmetic effect. These substances could contribute to tooth discoloration or affect skin conditions. While the EPA has no legal authority to enforce these standards, some states choose to give legal status to the regulations. 

Your water supplier should provide you with an annual quality report by July 1 every year. This document explains your water’s origin and lists any contaminants that may be present in your tap water. To ensure water suppliers meet their targets, the EPA has the power to inspect public water systems and confirm they are not a health risk.

Although these safeguards do not necessarily mean your tap water is free from contaminants, they do ensure they are unlikely to cause harm. If the EPA discovers water contamination is above acceptable levels, your water supplier must inform you as soon as possible and offer drinking water alternatives. If you are unsure who provides your drinking water, you can find your supplier’s contact details on the EPA website.

Signs Your Tap Water May Be Contaminated

You may wonder, “Is it safe to drink tap water?” While there are safeguards to protect your tap water drinking quality, it’s essential to be aware of some signs that might indicate problems when you turn on your faucet. In 2014, residents of Flint, Michigan, discovered their tap water was a brown sludge and tasted like metal

The city’s water supply has recently changed to a new source which corroded outdated pipes, allowing high quantities of lead to enter the water. The tainted water is also suspected of causing an outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease. Watching for some telltale signs could be crucial in ensuring you don’t consume contaminated tap water.

1. Your Tap Water is Cloudy

If you pour a glass of water and it has a cloudy appearance, you may have some concerns. Fortunately, the cause is usually the presence of tiny air bubbles. Set your glass on the counter, and if air bubbles are the culprit, the water should clear in a few minutes. 

"If the water is still cloudy, it’s possible there is a higher than average level of organic particles, and you may want to install a water filter or contact your supplier. "

2. Your Tap Water is Hard 

You can identify if your water is hard by checking if there is white staining on your dishware or a build-up of scum around your sinks, bath, and shower. These stains are often a result of excess calcium or magnesium in your tap water, and they are unlikely to cause any harm. 

However, these signs may also suggest the presence of metals such as aluminum or lead in your water supply. To err on the side of caution, you can install a water softener that removes these substances from your tap water.

3. Your Tap Water is Discolored 

One of the most disturbing signs that there may be a problem is seeing brown or yellow-colored water coming from your faucet. Orange or brown water could suggest excess metals such as iron or manganese, while yellow water might indicate too much copper or lead. 

4. Your Tap Water Smells Like Bleach 

If your tap water smells like bleach, there may be excess chlorine in the water supply. US water suppliers deliberately add chlorine to the water. However, if there is too much in your tap water, you may experience nausea and vomiting, shortness of breath, dizziness, and other unpleasant side effects. 

5. How to be Sure Tap Water is Safe to Drink 

If you don’t believe your tap water is safe to drink, you may be more reluctant to consume adequate amounts of water. Becoming dehydrated can affect your concentration, energy levels and have severe health effects over the longer term

One alternative is to drink bottled water, but this is expensive and increases your carbon footprint. Using bottled water also doesn’t help with your appliances, such as your dishwasher, because the contaminated water still enters your home through your pipes. You could consume harmful substances when drinking from a glass that has been in contact with contaminants during the cleaning process. 

However, when asking is it safe to drink tap water, one of the most cost-effective and practical solutions is to install a water filter. These systems remove contaminants from your water supply before they come through your faucet. Potentially harmful minerals and chemicals do not reach your appliances, and you receive clean and clear water that is safe to drink. 

Having a reliable water supply that is low in harmful contaminants can encourage you to drink more throughout the day, helping you stay hydrated.

Stay Safe

It’s essential to know your tap water is safe to drink. Although there are strict regulations in place to maintain a safe water supply, it’s essential to be vigilant when pouring water from your faucet. If you are unsure about your water supply’s safety, contact your municipality for a copy of your local water quality report. You can also request to have your water tested for hardness to determine if you would benefit from a water softener.

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About the Author

George Simms is a Salt Lake City based plumber and contractor, with a focus on aiding homes and businesses (particularly farm) solve problems with hard and contaminated water. Walter is here to share his wealth of job experience and a knowledge of both modern and antique plumbing.

Last Updated on December 9, 2021