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 Please note: Consumer reports is a private, independent, highly reliable, well-accepted research entity that was established to help protect the consumer. We have never had nor do currently have any connection to or influence in any of their work or in the content of this article. We are simply presenting it here as a reliable independent source for some of the facts we present on this web site.

This is a Feature Report from Consumer Reports January 2003

Clear choices for clean drinking water

Concerned about your water's safety? We'll help you check your tap water.

 

Nearly 30 years after the passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act, the safety of the water we drink is still in the news and on consumers' minds. In March 2003, the nation's water utilities will begin reporting to the federal government on their preparedness in the event of terrorist attack; water-system vulnerability assessments are required by an antibioterrorism bill passed by Congress last year.

This year, too, water companies will be required to tell consumers whether they measure up to new, more stringent standards for the poison arsenic. The standards were approved by the Bush Administration in 2001 after a 10-month delay rife with political controversy.

Absent vague threats of bioterrorism, should you be worried about the quality of your drinking water? No, say officials of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which monitors drinking-water quality. "By and large the drinking water is safe," says Cynthia Dougherty, director of the EPA's Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water. "In the U.S. we have some of the most reliable water systems in the world."

In reality, our systems may be reliable, but they're not perfect. Incidents of contamination do occur.

[Our Editorial Note: incidents of contamination occur with far greater frequency than is reported because most incidents are not reported. Reasons include 1) individuals not knowing they became sick from the water they drank – they ascribe illnesses to other causes such as food they have eaten, 2) no one is required to report small community system or individual well contamination; 3) violations can occur between testing intervals without anyone’s knowledge etc.; 4) short periods, in the range of hours or days (spikes) of contamination do not have to be reported - see below]

You're particularly well-protected if your water company serves more than 20,000 people. In recent years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has seen fewer outbreaks of waterborne disease in such communities, says Dennis Juranek, a senior scientist. A 1993 outbreak of disease caused by the parasite Cryptosporidium in Milwaukee prompted some water-treatment facilities to beef up their filtering to levels stricter than what the EPA requires, he adds. The outbreak killed over 50 people.

But localized incidents of tap water contamination or poor taste occur often enough to spook consumers. American consumers spent more than $1 billion on all manner of home water-filtering gear last year, according to Frost & Sullivan, a market research firm. One-third of the water they drank was bottled.

[Our Editorial Note: It is estimated that there are tens to hundreds of thousands of such incidents each year. Also, bottled water is not held to a higher standard than drinking water provided from large water treatment plants, so local municipal or well water is often of higher quality than bottled water.]

How can you tell whether your water is safe? Federal law requires utilities to provide consumers each year with a water-quality report, also called a consumer-confidence report. By and large, the reports portray an optimistic picture. In 2001, 91 percent of the public served by community water systems drank water that met federal health-based standards, according to the EPA. Yet a 20-state study of consumer-confidence reports conducted in 2000 by the Campaign for Safe and Affordable Drinking Water, a coalition of environmental and consumer groups, indicates that the reports fall short. An EPA spokesperson said the agency has been "working with the utilities to improve their compliance with our consumer-confidence report standards." As a result, "most annual reports now provide the information the consumers need to make informed decisions about their drinking water."

[Our Editorial Note: Federal health based standard do NOT require ANY chemical testing of private wells or private small community water systems. They only suggest an annual coliform test. Private well and water system owners have no guarantee that their water is safe unless they take the initiative to test it themselves. Small public water systems (and even some large ones) often do not have the budget to perform anything but periodic testing for many contaminants, and cannot test for some potential contaminants at all. Consumer confidence reports do not have to report all violations, only large deviations that occur over longer time intervals and cause the average value for that contaminant to rise above acceptable limits. When utilities go "out of compliance" they are often given the option to pay a fine rather than correct the problem.]

But Consumer Reports' examination of a number of reports underscores the importance of reading these documents thoroughly. Here's why:

While within allowable limits, levels of some contaminants cited in the reports may not be appropriate for vulnerable populations, such as pregnant women, infants, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems. Reports must state that fact prominently, but not all do. Only 26 percent of the reports prominently stated that warning, according to the 20-state study.

[Our Editorial Note: Our position is that no amount of arsenic, lead, nitrate, nitrite, pesticide, herbicide, solvent, or many other substances that have “allowable limits” should be ingested by high risk groups, especially pregnant women. Developing fetuses are incredibly sensitive to chemical contamination and chemicals such as arsenic, mercury, and many others cross the placenta directly.]

Your report may indicate that your water had safe levels of a contaminant, when it actually experienced potentially harmful spikes. Water utilities monitoring contaminants like nitrate must note such spikes in the report. But the report might not list it as a violation when, say, spring rains raise nitrate levels above the maximum allowable level. That's because compliance is generally based on an annual average measurement, not on individual samples.

A report can't tell you about problems in your own individual home, such as lead solder on pipes.

[Our Editorial Note: Or bacteria in wells or distribution systems, or biofilms that provide nutrients for pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria or protection from chemical disinfection to cryptosporidium or Giardia cysts that may enter the system.]

Whether you'd like to improve the taste of your water, are concerned about possible contamination, or you simply want to learn more about the water in your home, our report can help. Based on interviews with government officials, manufacturers, and consumer groups, and drawing upon our own tests of 19 water-filtering systems, it provides a comprehensive guide to clean drinking water.

[Our Editorial Note: You can find most of this information on our web site at www.awsa.info and links to many other sites that can provide additional information that allows you to draw your own conclusions. We encourage you to have your water tested so you KNOW what you are drinking or what you need to do to purify your water]

This report describes some of the most serious contaminants in drinking water and what to do about them.

Which water choice is right for you? compares the advantages and disadvantages of five types of water filters plus bottled water.

In Water-filtering systems, we explain the results from some of our most extensive tests of water-filtering devices in the past decade.

The Ratings on water filters provide test results for five types of filtering systems.

What's in bottled water? provides facts on bottled water.

 

REASONS FOR CONCERN

While most drinking water is safe, the EPA says that in 2001, about 3,200 water systems in the U.S.--mostly systems that serve small populations--reported at least one health-based violation. Here are some of the most widespread problems:

Total coliform. These are bacteria whose presence in high numbers indicates that potentially harmful bacteria may be present. Last year, residents of Irwin, Wash.; Bonanza, Ore., Littleton, Mass., and other cities were told to boil water or drink bottled after their water was found to contain Escherichia coli (E. coli), bacteria that produces diarrhea, cramps, and vomiting.

Lead. High lead levels in water have been linked to lower IQs in children. Last year, in South Knox County, Tenn., and The Pines, Ind., some residents were put on alert that their well-water was tainted with lead and arsenic. The presence of lead in your water supply should prompt you to further test your tap water. A low lead level on the water company's consumer-confidence report does not guarantee low levels of lead in your home. Very old homes can have lead or galvanized water piping; new homes can have lead as well--in the lead-based solder used on copper pipes or in faucets.

One way to reduce lead in your water without filtering is to let the tap run cold for up to 2 minutes before the first use each day. This wastes water, but it flushes out water that has become concentrated with lead while sitting.

Trihalomethanes. THMs--including chloroform--are byproducts of chlorination suspected of causing bladder and other cancers. The current EPA safety limit for total trihalomethanes is 80 parts per billion (ppb).

Even water that's safe to drink may be discolored or have a poor taste. When we reported on tap water samples from seven U.S. cities in August 2000, we found hints of chlorine in all seven and an earthy, swampy taste in four.

READING INTO YOUR WATER REPORT

If you are among the 264 million consumers served by a community water system, you should receive a consumer-confidence report by July of each year. The report reflects how safe your community's drinking water has been and the problems it may have experienced in the prior year. Many water suppliers mail reports to homeowners. If you're a tenant, look for the report on your building's bulletin board or at the public library. Or contact your local health department or the water company itself. Systems that serve 100,000 or more consumers must post their reports online; some publish monthly updates. Many reports are posted at www.epa.gov/safewater/dwinfo.htm.

At the heart of the consumer-confidence report is a list of contaminants detected in the local drinking water over the last year, and which levels of those contaminants have violated the accepted standards. Besides total coliform, lead, and total THMs, these other contaminants may be mentioned in your report:

Arsenic. This poison shows up mainly in water supplies drawn from wells. It has been linked to several cancers and has been found to harm nerves, heart, blood vessels, and skin. Water systems have until 2006 to comply with new EPA guidelines of 10 ppb.

Cryptosporidium. If your water system detected Cryptosporidium, the report will note it. This parasite from animal waste takes a dormant form, called a cyst, that can be filtered out or killed by boiling water you use for drinking, cooking, bathing, or brushing teeth.

Read your consumer-confidence report carefully, even if it says your water is safe. The consumer-confidence report issued last year by Hanover (N.H.) Water Works, for instance, says on its first page: "We are pleased to report that our drinking water is safe and meets federal and state requirements." Further on, however, the report notes violations in total coliform and lead levels. "That's the language the EPA gives you to say," says Peter Kulbacki, Hanover's director of public works. "They're basically saying the water is safe to drink, but here are the issues."

That kind of equivocating is something environmental groups would like to see addressed when, later this year, hearings are scheduled on the reauthorization of the Safe Water Drinking Act. "If your report says on the cover that your water is safe, probably 9 out of 10 people toss it," says Eric Olsen, a senior staff attorney at the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council. "It concerns us that people who are vulnerable may never see the information they need to see."

[Our Editorial Note: (Equivocating, according to Webster means to use an ambiguous expression to mislead - sometimes also called lying) This is one of the best reasons for hiring your own water quality consultant and having your own water testing, analysis, and interpretation done, and purification recommendations made by an INDEPENDENT company. Even if you have only one test performed, you can decide for yourself (with the help of your consultant) whether or not you wish to continue drinking those contaminants or wish to purify, or want to purchase bottled water. If you have no idea what the results of testing would tell you or mean, then contact us. WE KNOW and will help you understand what the double-talk and results mean, and that's why you would hire us. We do not equivocate because we work for you, not a filter company, water softening company, bottled water company, government agency, water treatment plant, or other possibly biased group. Consulting with each client and providing support for their technical questions and helping them find solutions if there are water quality problems IS OUR BUSINESS.]

WHEN YOU NEED MORE TESTS

If your annual report notes any seasonal elevations in levels of a contaminant, consider taking further action, such as ordering a test of your own water at the appropriate time of year or installing a filtering system, to address the particular issue. Even minor spikes can cause problems. For example, a 1997 study in the Philadelphia area by Harvard School of Public Health researchers linked small increases in water cloudiness--an indirect indicator of elevated bacteria levels--to a rise in gastrointestinal infections.

If there are immune-compromised individuals in your home--those with HIV or undergoing chemotherapy--we recommend additional tests for microorganisms. (If tests turn up bacteria, consult your health department. Filtering systems won't remove those.) Fetuses, the elderly, and infants are at a potential risk of harm even from contaminants at around the legal limits.

If you suspect that your pipes may be leaching lead, get your water tested.

Also: please visit this link:  How to Know When to Test Your Water

 

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Last modified by Dr. Eberhard Essich dr_e@awsa.info: 03/22/17