To know for sure what’s in your tap water and where it’s coming from, contact your local water utility. The Environmental Protection Agency requires all water suppliers to issue an annual report to their customers, called a Consumer Confidence Report. Learn more:
- Look for your water report on the EPA’s local drinking water information page at http://www.epa.gov/safewater/dwinfo/index.html. If it’s not posted there, call your water company and ask for a copy.
- From the same site, you can read “Envirofacts” reports for your area, which will tell you if your supplier has been cited for violating EPA standards.
- Find out how to read and understand your water report with a guide from NSF International, a standard-setting and product certification organization for food, water, and consumer goods. You can download the guide at http://www.nsf.org/consumer/drinking_water/dw_quality.asp?program=WaterTre.
- Check the Environmental Working Group’s database on drinking water contamination at ewg.org/tapwater/yourwater/index.php.
But the EPA and your water bureau can only tell you about the quality of the water when it gets to your house.
“They don‘t know what kind of building you live in and what pipes you have,” Karrh says. “The majority of pipe systems are just fine, but I have had plumbers tell me about going into renovated buildings and it’s pretty gunky in there. It’s probably not something to worry about unless you have medical conditions or a reason to be suspicious, like a really old piping system.”
If you’re worried, order a do-it-yourself water testing kit online or arrange for a water quality test from a water filtration company.
“There are many places where you don’t need to filter what comes out of the tap; it’s just fine. If you look at some of the reasons people drink filtered water or bottled water, often it’s because they don’t like the chlorine taste that is in city water, which has to be put in as a residual disinfectant to keep water safe after it travels through all the pipes to get to your house,” says Craig Mains, an engineering scientist at the National Environmental Services Center at West Virginia University.
If your tap water is safe but you don’t like the taste, you can get around that in several ways:
- Fill a pitcher and refrigerate for about half an hour. “The chlorine will dissipate quickly,” Mains says.
- Purchase a filtration system that attaches to your tap (and/or refrigerator water dispenser) or a filtered-water pitcher, from companies like Brita or PUR Water.
- Install a carbon filter under the sink. These filters generally cost less than $50 and, Mains says, can be more economical because they don’t have to be replaced as frequently (between every three months and annually, depending on how much water you use). “They’ll also remove some other contaminants you have, like in an area where there might be some volatile organic chemicals.”
- Purchase a whole-house filtering system, such as Filtercons popular reverse-osmosis systems. These cost more but there are also payment plans and are WELL WORTH the expense if water is as important to you as it should be.