Is Your Drinking Water Safe?

Water is all around us. We drink it every day. But then, how does it get from the rain to your glass? In the United States, most drinking water comes from lakes, rivers, and groundwater, and from there, into storage tanks, and then through systems of pipes to our home taps. Before we can drink it, water has to be cleaned. Chemicals are added to make dirt form sediment, which is so much heavier than water - it sinks to the bottom. The water is then filtered to get rid of the sediment and any bacteria or chemicals. It's then disinfected with chlorine, and fluoride is added to prevent tooth decay.

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This is a pretty standard water filtration process, but the exact process your water goes through depends on where you live. In the northeast and midwest, where lead pipes are more common, water companies usually add phosphate to eliminate the lead. In more agricultural states, where there's a ton of nitrate in the ground because of fertilizer, water goes through an additional process called 'ion exchange' to filter that out.

In the western US, the water tends to be a little saltier, as some of it is seawater, and must be desalinated, so it isn't too salty to drink. California is leading the way in turning seawater into drinking water as a solution to the state's widespread drought, and is home to the largest seawater desalination plant in the country.

Some states are so good at protecting their ‘watersheds’ - the areas their ponds, lakes, and rivers drain into, that they don't even need to filter the resulting water to make it safe to drink. There are five cities across the US where this is the case, with NYC the best known.

Water filtration is an essential process that's monitored and improved constantly, as water quality can be easily threatened by a disease outbreak, natural disasters, and human activity. How can you tell if your drinking water is safe?

The easiest way is to ask your water company. They are required by law to provide you with an annual water quality report, but you can also ask for your water to be tested if you have a specific concern. You can also buy an at-home water filter from and filter your water yourself.

If you're in one of the 18 states that participate in the Drinking Water Watch program, you can look up any reported health hazards or other water quality issues as this information is freely available online. You can then, if you'd like to take it further, research any potential chemicals or contaminants on the EWG's database or in the EPA's list of contaminants.

If your water supply comes from a community well rather than a municipal agency, you might need to do a little extra research. The EPA has a comprehensive guide which is a great place to start, or you can ask your state government directly.

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