How well do you know your water?

 When there’s a power outage, you know the drill. We dutifully head to the water meter and shut off the main water valve. ( A good thing to locate if you haven’t yet.) In cases like this we know not to drink water without boiling it, because it could be contaminated. But what about contamination that could be lurking in your glass on a daily basis?

 While it’s true that there are testing and filtering requirements for almost all municipal water suppliers, their standards may not be as high as you think. In 1993 high levels of the waterborne protozoan cryptosporidium got through the filters and treatment process at Milwaukee water treatment plant. Over 400,000 people were sickened, thousands were hospitalized and 100 deaths were associated with the outbreak. Incredibly, the facility was in full compliance with the current EPA regulations, prior to and during the incident.

Government oversight is a poor replacement for personal responsibility when it comes to your health and safety.

So what are some common contaminants you should be concerned about?

In 2009 the Environmental Working Group did an analysis of over 20 million tap water tests and found hundreds of contaminants present in our water supply. The most common?

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Disinfection Byproducts:

The most common chemical used to disinfect water is chlorine, which is relatively harmless. However, the by-products produced by chlorine disinfection, trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids, which are associated with damage to DNA ( through creation of free radicals) and elevated risk of cancer.


A colorless, odorless, tasteless compound. Nitrate is a natural occurring form of nitrogen, and is formed in large quantities from the breakdown of organic material in fertilizers, decaying plants, manures or other organic residues. Nitrate has a high mobility and can easily leach into groundwater. High levels of nitrate can cause methemoglobinemia.


Already one of the most widely used pesticides atrazine is also seeing a rise on the list of tap water contaminates. According to the EPA the short term effects of exposure to atrazine include prostate cancer, congestion in the heart, lungs and kidneys, hypotension, muscle spasms, and damage to the adrenal glands. Over the long term, the EPA reports possible cardiovascular damage, retinal and muscular degeneration and other forms of cancer. It is also a known endocrine disrupter and can interfere with the body’s hormonal development.

Bromochloroacetic acid:

Also a tap water disinfection byproduct. Produces gene mutations and associated with damage to DNA


A rocket fuel ingredient, toxic to the thyroid gland


A gasoline additive, associated with liver and kidney damage, as well as nervous system effects.

These are only a very few of the over 300 chemicals EWG discovered in the nation’s drinking water.
So how can you know if your municipal water supplier tests for these chemicals?
Over 200 of these are unregulated.and these numbers don’t include the chemicals that are put into the water intentionally ( like fluoride).

Very few home test kits are capable of detecting so many chemicals. For a reasonable price, you can get a basic test kit that will indicate some pesticides, nitrates, and common bacteria.

A good idea would be to start at your water provider. Ask them where they send their water for testing, call the lab and ask if you can send a sample of your tap water in for testing. There may be a fee associated, but they will be able to do a far broader spectrum of tests than you would be able to accomplish at home.

Another option is to avoid the process altogether, and purify your own drinking water.

Your basic pitcher filter won’t do much to remove microbes and chemicals, they are more for taste and clarity. This article isn’t a filter review,we cover that in other locations, but it is meant to give you pause about what goes into your body on a daily basis. Even what is pumped and approved by the EPA.

Jonathan Parker is an EMT-Paramedic and Preparedness Instructor with a love for emergency medicine, self-sufficiency and homesteading. His goal is to empower people towards a natural and sustainable lifestyle.

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