How Polluted is Your Drinking Water?
How Polluted is Your Drinking Water?

How Polluted is Your Drinking Water?

Water. We drink it, we use it daily. As much as 60 percent of our body is composed of it, and we end up dried up and dead without it.

We need water to live, and we want it as clean and pollutant-free as possible.

Comparison between clean water and dirt water in glasses

Unfortunately for some, the local drinking water leaves a lot to be desired; in fact, our water on a national scale has seen better days. Water contamination is not only an important issue, but one that affects us right now, and not for the better.

Water Pollution: Let’s Talk Numbers

As of 2015, at least 4 million Americans live with polluted drinking water. To make matters worse, most people aren’t aware that the water they’re drinking is contaminated at all. These pollutants range from bacteria to chemical agents due to industrial waste -- specifically, nasty chemicals like chloroform and arsenic.

But let’s talk numbers.

First, less than one percent of the earth’s freshwater is available for us to use, and according to the EPA, more than one third of our lakes are unsafe for fishing or drinking.

Gloved hand holding glass of dirty water

The EWG conducted a report in 2015, gathering data from between 2010 and 2015 from both the EPA and state agencies as to the level of contaminants in drinking water across the United States. They checked the data of over 45,000 water utilities, and they were asked to detect 500 potential contaminants in our water.

Across all the utilities, 267 contaminants were found. Some of these were minor carcinogens (over 40,000 of the utilities tested found these in the water), and others found lead. In fact, over 19,000 public water systems had, at the very least, one detection of lead above 3.8 parts per billion. These levels can cause severe illness and raise blood-lead levels in formula-fed babies.

Some chemicals not regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act, such as Chromium-6 and 1,4-dioxane, were also found in the water. Chromium-6 is an industrial chemical found in the drinking water of over 250 million Americans across all 50 states, and 1,4-dioxane is a solvent used in detergents and beauty products, found in the drinking water of 7 million people in 27 states. Both can cause negligible cancer risk if consumed over a lifetime through tap water, and both had levels high enough to be determined to pose such a risk.

Nitrate contamination also plagued the water. Nitrates are chemicals that are byproducts of animal waste or pesticides, which can increase cancer risk. As it is, nearly 70 percent of our available water is being used for agriculture, and it’s the top source of contamination in our rivers. The EWG found that 1800 public water systems were contaminated with high levels of nitrate concentration.

Where is most affected?

Filters with polluted water in them

Many people believe that water pollution exists only in poorer countries, worlds away from the United States. However, as expressed earlier, this couldn’t be more wrong.

Primarily, this disparity is separated over geographic and economic lines, with poorer communities suffering far more than their more affluent neighbors. Also, those who live in agricultural-heavy areas are more likely to have nitrate contamination in their water, due to pesticides being dispersed on fields and near water sources.

Those who live near industrial areas are also affected, as runoff from factories can get into the nearby bodies of water and contaminate it. Oil and radioactive waste can end up in the water supply as well.

How can I find out about water pollution in my own area?

The EWG created a pollution database, where the user can use their zip code and research the water pollution levels in their area. This not only gives a close look at what’s in your water, but compares it to state and federal safety levels.

What can I do about the pollution in my water?

You’ll want to filter your drinking water as often as possible. Depending on where you are in the world, water will (or won’t) be treated with certain chemicals to make it safe. However, if it’s then contaminated on its way to your glass via pipes then it can bring lead and rust with it, making that water unsafe to consume.

Reverse Osmosis System illustration

When this is the case you’ll want to get a reverse osmosis filtration system. Now you don’t have to go buy the most expensive system, but it’s ideal to understand what your filtering needs are so that you can get an idea of the size and style of the system you need.

For example, if you live alone and only need drinking water for yourself, a countertop system would be perfect. A 5 reverse osmosis stage system would also do a phenomenal job to give you all the fresh water you need. If your water has microorganisms in it, you’ll want to get an RO system that comes equipped with a UV filter to eliminate those harmful elements.

It may be scary to think about all of the harmful things that can be lurking in your water, but with a good filtration system you can rest easy knowing you’re drinking the healthiest drinking water outside of bottled water.