The recent news coverage of the water pollution crisis in Flint, Michigan has put unsafe drinking water in the national spotlight. We all take for granted that water will come out of our taps when we turn the knobs, and that the water coming out will be safe to drink. But an incident like this can call this into question—how safe is the tap water you drink from everyday?
There are, of course, laws put into place such as the Safe Drinking Water Act ensure that our drinking water is held to pretty high standards, with water treatment plants removing a vast majority of toxins from our tap water. But some potentially harmful chemicals remain unregulated or can spike periodically, causing possible health concerns. Read on to learn about a few chemicals that can be present in your drinking water and what you can do to protect yourself from them.
As we’ve talked about previously in this blog, the most common process water treatment plants use to disinfect untreated water is the addition of chlorine. While this can be extremely effective, recent discoveries have revealed some unintended side-effects of this process: As chlorine interacts with sewage, dead animals, livestock manure, and other organic rot, it produces chemicals in a family called Trihalomethanes, which have been shown to be possible carcinogens.
While four members of this Trihalomethane family are regulated—including chloroform—are regulated by the EPA, Many others remain unregulated. This means they don’t check to make sure water coming out of treatment plants has these chemicals or not. But the real troubling part is how research has linked these chemicals to bladder cancer, rectal cancer, and birth defects.
Trihalomethanes aren’t the only unwanted chemical created during the water treatment disinfection process. Some studies estimate that there are as many as 600 new chemicals created when chlorine reacts with untreated water, but of particular interest are haloacetic acids. While the EPA regulates this family of chemicals, the rules let trace amounts of them slip by. And those trace amounts may be enough to cause damage in our bodies.
In addition to being possible carcinogens, haloacetic acids pose an even greater risk to pregnant women, as exposure to these chemicals during pregnancy can result in low birth weight and other defects.
The dangers of chlorine disinfection by-products haven’t gone unnoticed, though. A recent alternative to using chlorine has been to replace it with chloramines, which combine the chlorine with ammonia. This move made sense—chloramines were observed to be more stable and produce up to 47% fewer trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids. Unfortunately, they may also make things worse.
Unlike chlorine, which produces toxic chemical by-products in water, chloramines themselves are toxic to kidney dialysis patients and produce their own dangerous by-products called iodoacids. Some researchers consider these to be even more toxic than any chemicals produced by chlorination.
What Can You Do?
If potentially dangerous chemicals can actually make it through the water tretment process and into your tap, is there anything you can do to protect yourself from them? Luckily, sink-mounted and cartridge-based carbon filters can be very effective in removing these chemicals. Always make sure you research a product fully before buying it, though, as not all of them filter out these particular chemicals. Always remember to replace your filter immediately when the manufacturer indicates it should be replaced. You’re not just dealing with flavor—you’re dealing with your health!
At Clearwater, we offer a few different solutions that can help you with this important issue in addition to our salt-free water conditioning systems. Call us to discuss some of these options regarding which products will work to protect you from potential dangers in your tap water.