Without it, no living being would survive. We use it to build, clean, remove waste, and, most importantly, hydrate.
The most important use of water is to sustain life by keeping our bodies hydrated. Every part of our bodies is made up of water – even our bones! With water making up about 50% – 70% of our body weight, water is essential to every aspect of living and functioning and health. (If you’re feeling a bit thirsty while you are reading this article, go get a drink!)
Because of water’s importance to life, and because the average person drinks 3 to 4 liters a day, you may wonder what is actually in that water you’re drinking. Read on to learn more!
The Basics of Water
Drinking water, also known as potable water, is water that is safe to be consumed by humans. In the United States, the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) enforces federal laws to ensure a standard of safety for drinking water provided by public water systems which includes regular water testing (typically monthly), reporting requirements, and many other checks and balances to ensure that water is safe for drinking.
According to the US Department of Agriculture, the organization responsible for nutrition labels, water has very little contained in it from a nutrition perspective! Water is not a source of carbohydrates, fat, protein, or energy.
So what is actually in water?
Depending on where the water is found, it can be a source of minerals including: calcium, sodium, potassium, fluoride, and iron. In our article about hard water, too much of these minerals can affect your household appliances among other issues if they are in too high of a quantity.
Of course, water can contain things it should not. That is what we’ll discuss in the rest of this article.
A Word About Wells
About 15% – 20% of the United States population, or between 52 and 70 million people, get their water from a private well. The water from these wells are not regulated by the EPA. It is important that well owners have their water regularly tested to ensure that nothing has made it into their well that is unsafe for drinking. According to a 2009 USGS study, approximately 23% of the wells measured in the study had at least one contaminant at a level that created a potential health concern.
So what are the possible contaminants and what should you be concerned about in your drinking water?
First, public water in the United States is very safe to drink. We are blessed to have oversight which enables Americans to safely drink water. (Note: This does not always mean the water may taste how you would like. A water purification system can help with that.)
There are four types of contaminants or pathogens that can contaminate water. They are:
- Physical – These are the “grit and dirt.” Water that is affected with physical contaminants will often change in appearance and may contain sediment, dirt, and other materials that are visible.
- Chemical – Chemicals in the water can either occur naturally – such as arsenic – or can be man-made such as chemicals created from manufacturing processes. Man-made pollution can enter drinking water sources due to poor wastewater management and runoff entering the water system.
- Biological – Biology is the study of living organisms. Likewise, biological contamination is when bacteria, parasites, and other organisms contaminate the water.
- Radiological – This category could be classified under chemicals, but the EPA calls it out specifically because of the risk that radiological contamination and ionizing radiation can have to the human body.
While these classifications help, a common follow-up question is, “Okay, but what should I specifically worry about?”
The risk of these contaminants will change depending on where you live, how close you are to other people, factories and businesses in the area, nearby sources of water, and whether your water is public or private.
Some possible risks include:
- Oil and Gasoline – This can especially be an issue if you live near places who do not properly dispose of fuel.
- Pesticides – If you or your neighbors are spraying and laying pesticides during the growing season or you live near farms this can be a potential issue.
- Animal Waste – This concern is not your typical “a dog used my lawn for the bathroom.” Rather, this is large amounts of waste from fertilizers and other farming activities.
- Sewage Leaks – Whether you have public sewage, a septic tank, a sand mound, or something else to remove wastewater from your home, a leak in any of these systems can create considerable issues. It is important to practice regular maintenance and care of your septic systems!
- Naturally Occurring Chemicals – Different areas of the United States have particular chemicals that are natural to their region. In southeastern Pennsylvania – in areas like Gilbertsville, Boyertown, and the surrounding areas – there are a couple possible areas on which to keep an eye. These can include: corrosive/acidic water due often to types of rocks and minerals in the ground, hard water, E. coli (typically from animal waste), nitrates, iron, and arsenic. In southeastern Pennsylvania, where radon (which affects your water and air!) is a common issue, which must be particularly monitored due to the potential for cancer from ionizing radiation.
This graph from Penn State University’s Guide to Groundwater in Pennsylvania shows a breakdown of pollutants in private groundwater wells.
An article like this one may make things seem very scary – there’s so much that can get into your drinking water! But keep in mind, again, that public water systems are heavily regulated and generally very safe. For those of you in our area with private wells, make sure that you are having your well tested at least once a year by a trained water treatment company like Dierolf Plumbing and Water Treatment. We will make sure that you have peace of mind and can take care of any issues quickly so you can keep your family and your house safe.