All Wet: How to Identify and Remove Common Water Contaminants

Although many pollutants exist in drinking water, home filtering systems can give you delicious, pure water to drink.

| July/August 2003

Of all the elements necessary for human existence, only oxygen is more vital than water. Water carries nutrients to our cells, aids in metabolism, helps our joints move smoothly, flushes waste, replaces the moisture we lose from perspiring, and contributes to glowing skin.

Yet how healthy is water if it’s tainted? If there’s one matter on which every agency from the government on down can agree, it’s that the earth’s water supply is threatened daily by an almost endless list of contaminants.

At first glance, the dilemma is enough to make anyone run straight for the bottled water aisle. But the truth is, while the state of our drinking water may not be cause for celebration, the news isn’t all doom and gloom. “Widespread, fatal, waterborne outbreaks that were routine a century ago have largely been eliminated,” says Erik Olson, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “Then, a percentage of every U.S. city’s population died from bad drinking water. Most public health experts will tell you the single greatest health achievement has been the treatment of drinking water to make it safer.”

John Millett, a spokesperson for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), says his agency works to ensure the nation’s water supplies remain safe. “The Safe Drinking Water Act amendments of 1996 have provided EPA with a course that reflects the latest science,” he says. “It takes into account the latest risks and benefits and has advanced drinking water safety and regulations in a way that benefits our health over the long term.”

The Safe Drinking Water Act also gave us Consumer Confidence Reports, annual statements required from every public water district detailing the level of contaminants in the water supply. Most utilities are required to mail the report to customers; smaller utilities are permitted to post the reports on a website.

Unfortunately, says Olson, it’s not enough. “What you have is Wright brothers-era technology trying to treat space-age contaminants, and it’s just not up to the task. The United States has underinvested in cleaning up water supplies during the last 100 years.”

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