Tap water can be an inexpensive and reliable source of water for families across the U.S., but there’s a risk factor involved that varies from city to city. While most municipalities manage to maintain relatively safe water supplies, water main breaks, bacterial growth, lead, and other unexpected hazards can enter your water supply with little warning.
Older water systems can be particularly prone to contamination, and physical and chemical filtration systems sometimes don’t hold up as well as you might assume. Just because your water tastes and looks clean, it doesn’t mean it’s completely free of unwanted chemicals and contaminants.
While one or two glasses of unfiltered tap water may be harmless, continually drinking unfiltered water can cause or exacerbate health issues. Switching to filtered water can make a dramatic difference in the lives of you and your loved ones. Start researching different ways of filtering and purifying water before any of the health issues below make an appearance in your life.
Increased Risk of Illnesses
Even a single parasite or bacterium that slips into your water can have devastating results. The World Health Organization estimates that waterborne illnesses cause over 800,000 deaths worldwide every year. Dangerous bacteria like cryptosporidium and giardia can cause illnesses similar to food poisoning and can easily result in missed days of work or school.
While deaths caused by waterborne illnesses are rare in America, immunocompromised people and small children are particularly susceptible to illnesses from unfiltered water. Even one hospital trip can put your family in significant debt, putting a strain on your finances for years. It’s better to invest in appropriate filters now than wait for a crisis to occur.
Older water systems may contain asbestos, which used to be commonly used to strengthen water pipes. Many municipal water systems have taken steps to minimize asbestos exposure and will notify consumers if asbestos levels rise above safe standards as determined by the Environmental Protection Agency. However, this notification may not happen right away, so a filter is the best option for protecting your family.
While illnesses caused by airborne asbestos exposure are well known and documented, water contaminated with asbestos isn’t as well understood. Since asbestos can cause mesothelioma and other cancers, though, minimizing all types of asbestos exposure is the safest option.
Other types of cancer have also been linked to contaminants found in unfiltered tap water. Radon, one of the most common tap water contaminants, has been linked to bone and breast cancer. Arsenic is highly toxic and is known to cause a range of cancers, but it is extremely difficult to notice in tap water due to being odorless and tasteless. Other heavy elements, including aluminum, can exist in varying concentrations in local water supplies and cause nerve, brain, and kidney damage.
Unfortunately, the chlorine added to municipal water sources can react with other contaminants to produce carcinogenic byproducts. Chlorine on its own can also trigger asthma attacks in some individuals. While many utility companies are taking steps to minimize this risk, a filter is still your best option for avoiding various carcinogens and asthma triggers.
Chemical Sensitivity Symptoms
Fluoride, chlorine, and other chemicals present in municipal water sources are safe in small quantities for most people. However, unfiltered municipal water can trigger chronic headaches, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, and rashes in people with chemical sensitivities. Research shows that water-related chemical sensitivities in children can even get worse during certain times of the year, making it tricky to track down the exact cause if you don’t already suspect your water source.
Since most municipalities treat water with a range of chemicals, it can be hard to track down the source if someone in your family is showing symptoms. While more research is needed to help correctly diagnose chemical sensitivity, an in-home water filter is a good first step to try to alleviate your family’s symptoms.
Hearing and Brain Damage
Lead is known to cause a wide range of health issues in both children and adults. Adults can suffer from high blood pressure and kidney damage if exposed to lead on a regular basis, but this damage is often reversible. Young children and fetuses exposed to lead can suffer from developmental delays, damaged hearing, and other problems.
Since pitcher water filters don’t usually remove lead, look into buying a special carbon filter if lead is a concern in your water supply. If in doubt, ask your local water department if leaded pipes still exist in any portion of the water system.
The water crisis in Flint, Michigan is an extreme and tragic example of what can happen when municipal water systems aren’t properly managed. Third-grade students’ reading scores have plummeted since the water crisis began in 2014, and health and education experts are pointing to the lead-poisoned local water as a likely cause. Sadly, these effects may be irreversible, even if public officials implement drastic measures to clean up the water and help students improve their scores.
Developmental Health Risks
Pregnant women, in particular, need to exercise extreme caution with their water sources since lead isn’t the only contaminant that can cause major health problems in pregnant women and fetuses. Perchlorate, which is used in rocket fuel manufacturing, is present in the water supply of millions of Americans. It can cause developmental issues in fetuses and infants, permanently affecting their lives. Nitrates from fertilizer can also cause problems in infants under three months old. Manganese and iron are perfectly safe in small quantities, but higher concentrations in some tap water systems can cause low birth weight in babies. Filtered water is definitely the safer choice for pregnant women and bottle-fed babies.
Teeth Discoloration and Wear
Did you know that too much fluoride can actually discolor your teeth? While fluoride is added to municipal water sources to strengthen teeth, too much fluoride can have adverse effects on your appearance. It can even cause signs of premature aging.
Ongoing exposure to acidic water can also wear down and discolor your teeth. Specialized water filters can raise the pH of your water to appropriate levels and prevent painful cavities and other dental problems.
In fact, all of the above risks can be eliminated or minimized with portable filters. Different types of filters, like a charcoal water filter, should be considered based on your family’s needs and taste preferences.
You should also contact your local health department or water utility company to find out what contaminants can appear in your water. Local manufacturing, farming, and even weather patterns can affect what enters your water supply, and a local expert can provide detailed warnings about what to look for and what kind of filter to use.