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Water Hazards

  • Drinking water comes from municipal water suppliers or private wells. It can be consumed straight from the tap, used to reconstitute infant formula and juice, or in cooking.
  • The federal Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 regulates standards for community water supplies. Most states have rules for private wells, but since these rules may not completely protect a private well, it becomes the responsibility of a private well owner to ensure that the water is safe.

Where do contaminants come from in our water supply?

  • Some contaminants come from erosion of natural rock formations.
  • Other contaminants are substances discharged from factories, applied to farmlands, or used by consumers in their homes and yards.
  • Water contaminants of particular concern for US infants and children are lead and nitrates.
  • Most large municipal water supplies keep lead levels at or below the EPA standard of 15 ppb (parts per billion). Even though most systems have acceptable lead levels, some cities, including New York, Boston, and Chicago, still have lead piping to connect water mains to homes. For more information on water contaminants, go to http://www.epa.gov/safewater/dwh/contams.html.
  • Well water may contain nitrates that enter the water supply from runoff of agricultural fertilizers, and may also be produced by the action of bacteria on animal waste runoff.
  • Nitrates ingested by small infants may be converted to nitrites, which may in turn cause a fatal condition known as methemoglobinemia, in which a child will have breathing problems and turn blue (cyanotic).

How can I keep the water safe for my family?

  • If tap water is known to contain lead, it should be run for at least two minutes if it has been standing overnight in pipes, or until cold. Alternatively, bottled water can be used.
  • Private wells should be tested initially (upon construction or upon purchasing a home) for total dissolved solids, nitrates, coliforms (bacteria), inorganic compounds (iron, magnesium, calcium, chloride) and lead.
  • Repeat testing for nitrates and coliforms should be performed annually.
  • Consider repeat testing for other contaminants if a new source of contamination becomes known (for example, if a neighbor discovers a new containment in their well). Local health or environmental departments can advise regarding testing.
  • Water high in nitrates should not be given to infants!
  • Call your water utility if you have questions or if you notice a change in the taste, odor, smell or color of your water.
  • Learn what’s in your drinking water – call your local public water supplier for annual drinking water quality reports.
  • For private drinking water wells, have them tested annually by a certified laboratory. Call 1-800-426-4791 or contact www.epa.gov/safewater for help.
  • For lots of information about private wells, go to http://www.epa.gov/safewater/privatewells/index2.html
  • For lots of information about tap water, go to http://www.epa.gov/safewater/wot/pdfs/book_waterontap_full.pdf
  • For information on health effects from contaminants in your water supply, go to http://www.epa.gov/safewater/dwh/health.html