3 Ways to Find Out If Your Drinking Water is Safe

Posted by on in Personal Wellness

With recent scares about water safety in Flint, Michigan, people around the United States want to make sure their drinking water is safe, both in their own homes and abroad. Water contamination can be an issue anywhere in the world, and knowing the signs to look out for and how to test for water safety can save you from serious illnesses and carcinogens.

#1: Know Where Your Water Comes From

If you live in a city or county where water is provided by a local water system, you can contact your water provider or visit their website to see where your water comes from, which can help you better understand the risks in your area.

Water typically comes from a surface source like a river, lake, or reservoir, or from groundwater through an aquifer. If you have a private well, it is your responsibility to ensure your water is safe.

washing vegetables with clean tap water

In some areas, natural contaminants occur from the environment. Farming, manufacturing, and sewer system malfunctions are common reasons for contaminants, but not all contaminants are dangerous to people.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) regulates public drinking water sources to help ensure your drinking water is safe, but sometimes breakdowns in the system let contaminants through.

#2: Know Common Water Contaminants

There are over 150,000 public water systems in the United States, and more than 286 million people get their tap water from a community system. According to the CDC, these are the top ten most common public outbreaks in water systems:

  • Giardia
  • Legionella
  • Norovirus
  • Shigella
  • Campylobacter
  • Copper
  • Salmonella
  • Hepatitis A
  • Cryptospordium
  • E. Coli / Excess Flouride (tie)

The majority of outbreaks are related to an organism like giardia, norovirus, or salmonella. Contaminants like lead, which is the source of the water contamination in Michigan, are not as common.

#3: Know How Your Water is Tested

The Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 gives the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the right to establish safety levels for contaminants in public water supplies. The CDC and EPA require your local water agency to regularly test water for safety. The frequency and type of testing depends on the size of the population using the system.

bottled water

In most cases, public testing finds problems and issues warnings and alerts if the tests indicate a problem, such as the Portland, Oregon "boil water notice" in 2014. If you are concerned that your drinking water may not be safe, you can purchase a home test kit.

Signs that your water may be unsafe include a change in color, odor, or taste. However, many microbes are odorless and colorless and are undetectable without proper water test tools.

Water Safety Abroad

While residents and visitors to the United States can typically drink tap water without any health risk, the same cannot be said for water everywhere in the world. Most Western nations, such as those in Western Europe, offer clean, safe drinking water similar to the United States.

woman drinking tap water

However, drinking water in other places is commonly unsafe for visitors without boiling, even if locals drink the water themselves. Don't forget that many foods are prepared with tap water, and may carry bacteria from drinking water.

If you are going to travel abroad, make sure you are covered for medical needs such as water and food borne illness. It's likely that your health insurance from home will not cover you when traveling abroad, and getting sick in a foreign country can be very expensive.

If you are traveling abroad and may encounter unsafe drinking water, always use best safety practices to ensure you and your family stay safe. Just in case, you should also consider travel medical insurance. Atlas Premium insurance is designed for international travel, and is great coverage to have in case of illness or injury abroad.

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