A few years
ago, a major health episode in Milwaukee drew attention to the vulnerability of
the nation's drinking water supplies. An outbreak of a microscopic parasite called
cryptosporidium hit the city's water supplies causing an estimated 400,000 illnesses
and nearly 50 deaths. Although the nation's drinking water remains basically safe,
you need to know about health threats that still exist, says Better Homes and
President Clinton recently announced a federal initiative
to provide funding for drinking water system improvements and to address the remaining
problems including cryptosporidium. That effort is in line with studies from the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency revealing that contaminants ranging from
lead to pesticides are present in the nation's drinking water supplies, sometimes
at levels that exceed requirements in the Safe Drinking Water Act. It's not just
industrial waste that's causing the problem, either, it's farms and even homeowners
who dump household hazardous chemicals down the drain or onto the ground.
The point of all this is not to panic but to stay informed. The solution is to
know the risks and minimize your family's exposure to them. After contacting the
EPA or your local public utility, you might find your water is quite safe. The
worst case scenario is you'll end up buying some filtration equipment for your
Don't rush out and order a bunch of expensive tests from an environmental
services company before contacting your local utility. Ask them for a water quality
analysis that includes the names and levels of major contaminants in your area.
(If your home uses a private well, contact your local public health agency for
information.) Another source of information is the EPA safe drinking water hotline
at (800)426-4791. Unlike other contaminants controlled at the drinking water treatment
plant, lead is a potent toxin that is sometimes found in your home's plumbing.
You may wish to test your water at the tap using a home testing kit from your
local hardware store.
If lead is the problem, a simple carbon water filter
is usually effective for removing it. These relatively inexpensive units are also
effective for removing certain organic compounds, pesticides and other hazardous
pollutants. They work in-line, under-the-counter or just poured from a pitcher.
Organic microbes, on the other hand, are very difficult to remove and may require
investing in a more expensive filtration system. Before investing in any system,
make sure it is listed with the National Sanitation Foundation as effective for
removing the specific contaminants you want removed. For a complete listing of
equipment, write to NSF at 3475 Plymouth Road, Ann Arbor, MI 48105.