Clean Drinking Water is a Vanishing Resource

In the US the Safe Drinking Water Act, or SDWA, is responsible for ensuring the quality of everyday drinking water. It protects lakes, springs, reservoirs and other large sources of water, including ground wells that serve 25 people or more. Unfortunately, the SDWA isn’t always as effective as it should be. Many people who think they have clean drinking water are actually using water from sources that have been contaminated by bacteria, heavy metals and other dangerous materials.

This problem is most obvious in the homes of people who get their water from private wells that only serve their families. Since the SDWA doesn’t regulate these wells, homeowners are responsible for the water that comes from them. Wells near mine sites or other sources of pollution can contain lead, arsenic, barium and other dangerous materials capable of causing tooth loss, cancer or organ damage. Violations of the almost 40-year-old Clean Water Act and the SDWA are common.

Not all polluted household water is obvious or comes from illegal dumping, however. Many drinking water supplies are full of contaminants for which there is no legal maximum. According to the Environmental Working Group, chromium-6 is common in the water supplies of at least 35 cities. This carcinogen is currently unregulated by the EPA and can significantly increase the risk of lung cancer. The SDWA regulates only 91 major contaminants. The EPA monitors over 8,000 chemicals used in the US, most of which are legal in drinking water.

The government isn’t doing its job to provide clean drinking water for all US citizens. It’s up to individual people to keep track of possible pollutants. Having a water test performed can provide a lot of information about chemical, bacterial and mineral pollutants. Armed with this information, consumers can choose the appropriate response to keep clean drinking water available in their households. Options include activated carbon filters, membrane filtration, ultraviolet treatment and reverse-osmosis filters. The correct method varies according to the contaminants in the water.

Despite laws to help regulate water quality, clean drinking water isn’t always a given. Taking the time to test the water in a home allows consumers to make smart decisions about what they will and won’t tolerate.