Here is a partial list of some of the common chemicals and life forms that may be present in municipal water and how to test for them. Bear in mind that government regulations are not designed to keep all harmful microbes or chemicals out of water, but to keep these elements at acceptable levels. For some people, any amount of certain chemicals, no matter how low, is too much.
* Nitrite and Nitrate – These inorganic chemicals can be fatal if ingested by infants under six months of age. Babies who drink this water containing too much nitrite or nitrate have trouble breathing, turn blue, can will even die without immediate treatment. Pesticide run-off and sewage (usually from leaking septic tanks) are the sources of these chemicals.
* Arsenic – This well-known poison is a favorite among storytellers and movie-makers, but its presence in your water supplies is very real. Ingestion of small amounts causes skin and circulatory problems, and the American Cancer Society lists arsenic compounds as a known human carcinogen. It gets into the water supply via industrial run-off and erosion.
* Chlorine – You probably are familiar with the smell of this chemical. It is added to municipal water as a disinfectant, and can cause anemia in young children and problems with the nervous system. Some sources suggest that chlorine exposure increases the risk of cancer.
* Fluoride – Important for the health of teeth and gums, but ingesting too much fluoride can cause bone weakness and, ironically, discolored or mottled teeth in children.
* Bacteria – Bacteria such as Giardia lamblia can be found in your water as well. This particular bacteria is associated with digestive upset and illness. Legionella is the bacteria responsible for Legionnaire’s Disease, which is a kind of pneumonia. It occurs naturally in water, but tends to multiply in certain conditions, such as those found in heating systems.
* Viruses – These microscopic organisms can also make their way into your drinking water, namely viruses that cause digestive problems such as diarrhea and vomiting.
This is a very small sample of the dozens of chemicals that may occur naturally, are due to industrial run-off or unsanitary practices, or are deliberately added to water for anti-microbial purposes. If you are concerned about this potentially fatal issue, you can test a sample of your own water. There are two main ways you can do this.
Kits – Hardware stores generally carry water testing kits that can cost less than $10. The more chemicals and substances the kit tests for, the more expensive the kit (generally). You can also order a kit online, or from your local health department or environmental protection agency.
Professional Laboratory – You can also send a sample of your own water to a professional laboratory that will analyze the water for you. Check with your local health department to find out where to send your water sample. They will also let you know how much it costs. The prices range widely, from $35 to over $150.
We hope that Tap Water Safe? Do You Know What’s In Your Tap Water? helps you better understand if your water is safe and what to do about it!