Is tap water safe to drink? Drinking water is among the most basic of needs for all living beings. We use water in our homemade cleaning formulas, our essential oil DIYs, and as a basis for our body's healing. It made our Must-Have list for how to be healthy.
Unfortunately, people and corporations are extremely careless with this most precious natural resource—as if it were unlimited in supply and easy to obtain. Is tap water safe for drinking as is? Hardly. In fact, truly clean, safe drinking water is very rare.
Even people who assume their water is safe and healthy are at risk of exposure to dangers such as pathogens, chemicals, and heavy metals. Whether your water source is tap water, well water, bottled, filtered, or rain water, follow along as we sort out the risks, myths, and facts of drinking water safety.
One myth is that people buy drinking water and purification devices based on the demonstrated safety they provide. In fact, public perceptions about water quality have little to do with actual safety, and everything to do with culture and marketing as this study shows. Sadly, convenience, cost, and taste are all more influential than health or environmental factors.
Is Tap Water Safe? You Will Learn:
Is Tap Water Safe to Drink? What are the Dangers of Pollution?
How bad could water from the tap be? If it tastes and looks OK it's fine right? Well maybe not.
Pathogens in the Tap Water.
Despite complex water treatment efforts, most drinking water arrives at your tap with some level of pathogenic activity. The fact is, water is the earthly source of life, and many unpleasant life forms, such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, and amoebas grow readily in fresh water. This overgrowth makes your perfectly safe drinking water quite dangerous in a very short amount of time, especially at ambient temperatures.
Other than occasional amoebic or parasitic infestation, bacteria like e. coli are the most frequent drinking water pathogens. E. coli is becoming very common in recent years due to the numerous concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) or factory farms springing up everywhere with extremely inhumane conditions that breed horribly filthy waste management practices, which, in turn, pollute water supplies.
- According to this study, pathogens in drinking water cause a wide range of extremely-uncomfortable to outright-deadly diseases such as gastroenteritis (vibrios, e. coli), cholera (vibrio cholerae), typhoid fever (salmonella), protozoan infection (giardiasis, cryptosporidiosis), and bacillary (shigella) or amoebic dysentery.
- Improved water sources offer some degree of protection, but according to this study cannot guarantee the water is free of fecal contamination, and water safety is not consistent among sources.
- Fungal contaminants often resist treatment according to this article and form a biofilm with bacteria and protozoa, making all three nearly impossible to kill.
- Per this study, even treated water in first world countries still makes people acutely ill on a very frequent basis.
Chemical Pollutants in Water Systems
Is tap water safe? Hardly. Chemical contamination in household water supplies generally falls into two categories: agricultural chemicals and water sanitation chemicals.
Agri-chemicals, such as glyphosate-based herbicides (GBHs) enter ground water, underground aquifers, and municipal water supplies nearly everywhere on earth. Farmers who grow genetically modified crops (GMOs) rely heavily on GBHs to kill weeds, although GBHs like Roundup are also available to home gardeners.
They are grossly and irresponsibly overused to the point of pollinator extinction—that’s right, humankind is killing entire species like bees (and other pollinators) that are the only creatures capable of pollinating our crops—without them we will have no more food crops, and with these pesticides, we will have no more clean water. Other agricultural chemicals include fertilizer run-off containing nitrates and nitrites and banned chemicals still in use, such as DDT.
Nitrate Pollution in Our Water Systems
Prenatal nitrate exposure results in a doubled incidence of birth defects such as cleft palate, limb deficiency, and cleft lip in this 2013 article.
Drinking water nitrate levels within the regulatory limit is associated with greater risk of colon cancer and neural tube defects according to this research.
Atrazine and nitrate, even at low levels, well below the legal limits for drinking water are associated with very preterm delivery. According to this 2017 study they post a serious danger to newborns and mothers.
Nitrate exposure from drinking water can cause (according to this study) spina bifida, limb deficiency, cleft palate, cleft lip, neural tube defects, central nervous system defects, musculoskeletal defects, and congenital heart defects… all at EPA acceptable levels. This 2016 study shows links to bladder cancer
Is Tap Water Safe? Not With Glyphosate and GBHs
This study shows that glyphosate and GBHs are found in ground water, bottled water, and in the urine of farm workers (even when used below the recommended limits). They effect liver and muscle cells and chelate needed minerals from the body. From the groundwater, glyphosate also enters grains and legumes—it cannot be washed off because it enters the cellular structure.
THE MANY DANGERS OF GLYPHOSATES Glyphosate causes kidney and liver damage even at ultra-low doses. Glyphosate itself, with no co-formulants, is a teratogen at very low, supposedly safe levels, causing microcephaly and impairing reproductive development of male offspring with exposure anytime from the womb to puberty. It is associated with multiple myeloma, a non-Hodgkin's lymphoma; the researcher who first presented this finding was pressured to recant despite damning evidence, but a later study confirms a significant link. It can cause diabetes and is implicated in neurodegenerative diseases including Parkinson’s disease.
Contrary to widespread claims of safety, glyphosate alone causes similar harm even at 1/3 the recommended concentration. Despite the fact that every co-formulant and GBH tested was found to be more toxic than glyphosate alone, they are excluded from sponsored studies in an attempt to hide or downplay the true danger.
The actual potential for glyphosate harm (highlighted in this systemic review) has considerations beyond just glyphosate itself including:
- the presence of harmful co-formulants
- the effects of time amplification
- and bio-accumulation
The co-formulants are proven not to be inert as claimed, and the commercially available proprietary blends cause cell damage and death at the expected residual levels in water or food from GMO crops treated with GBHs. According to this abstract these formulations cause apoptosis and necrosis in human umbilical, placental, and embryonic cells.
Is Tap Water Safe? Systemic Water Problems Create Worldwide Issues.
The theory that nothing happens in a vacuum is nowhere more true than when examining pesticide contamination of water supplies. A product designed to eliminate life, such as a pesticide or herbicide, continues to destroy life everywhere it goes. Unfortunately, this path of destruction includes our water supply—our children’s bathing water, our families’ cooking water, our infants’ bottle water, everyone’s drinking water.
Water sanitation chemicals are usually meant to kill water borne pathogens but that doesn't mean tap water is safe. Chlorine bleach is the chemical most frequently used to kill germs in drinking water although chloramine is becoming more popular and carries its own health risks. Although there are recommended limits to the amount of bleach remaining in water when it reaches the consumer, there are significant risks even at low levels.
The most common example of mass medication is fluoride in drinking water, ostensibly to reduce dental problems and strengthen bones, but fluoride is also used as an effective rat poison. Other contaminants in drinking water include:
- Unsafe chemicals such as trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, benzene, vinyl chloride, and trans-1,2-dichloroethylene which are associated with neural tube defects and childhood blood cancers.
- Lithium has been a frequent drinking water additive and is still in use in some locations in direct violation medical informed consent laws. This is usually justified by claims that it reduces or prevents bipolar disorder, dementia, or suicide in a population. However, most reliable studies show that lithium in drinking water does not have a clear direct benefit for mental health and is associated with impaired fetal size and others show risk to thyroid health.
Is Tap Water Safe for Pregnant Women? Drinking water disinfection byproducts consumed throughout pregnancy impair the children’s cognitive scores at 4-5 years of age according to this study.
Heavy Metals In Drinking Water
Excessive lead in drinking water has been a valid concern for decades. Fortunately, lead pipes were determined to be a major contributor to this problem, prompting focused prevention efforts. Lead, however, is not the whole story.
Your drinking water may contain other heavy metals or elements such as aluminum, cadmium, barium, and antimony. Arsenic in drinking water is associated with low birthweight in this study.
What Drinking Water Sources are Available? Bottle vs. Tap Water and More
Does it make a difference where your drinking water comes from? Tap water, bottled water, delivered dispenser water, rain water, and filtered water each carry their own inherent risks, but we all need to get our drinking water from somewhere. The following section outlines the benefits and risks of each water source.
Is Tap Water Safe? Tap Water Facts
Municipal, unfiltered tap water has the benefit of low cost, but is almost always contaminated. Watchdog groups such as the Environmental Working Group provide water contaminant reports by zip code, highlighting any contaminants present in the previous quarter. This information is a great place to start when selecting a water filter, which is discussed further below. Every class of water contaminant can be found in tap water, and water companies can continue to sell contaminated water to consumers as long as they publish their test results.
Bottled Water vs Tap Water
The main benefit of bottled water is its convenience. It is easy to take water bottles wherever you go, and it is commercially available almost everywhere. Unfortunately, bottled water has every possible downside of any water source due to its unique combination of sources, treatments, and storage containers. Bottled water generally begins as tap water. This means it is subject to all the typical tap water contaminants, and not all are filtered or purified before bottling.
Even those that are treated may leave sanitation chemical residues in the finished product. Finally, almost all bottled water is stored in plastic, and even the best plastic bottles do leach toxic chemicals into the water—the longer and warmer the storage conditions, the more dangerous. This discussion shows water bottles may leach aluminum, barium, and antimony into the water.
Is Delivered Dispenser Water Safe?
Water delivered in large (usually five gallon) bottles for chilled dispensers such as office water coolers is technically still bottled water. It is still subject to the same downsides as individual water bottles; however, it is sometimes offered in glass rather than plastic, and is often from higher quality sources and treated with better filtration. Delivered cooler water offers the ultimate convenience as it is brought directly to your door and is constantly available heated or chilled, but keep in mind—it is only as good as the bottling source, the storage containers, and the processing practices.
Is Drinking Well Water Safe?
Well water carries powerful associations for most people, and it’s important to understand the facts about well water when forming our opinions. Well water can be a viable alternative to municipal tap water because it is not subject to the water treatment chemicals that usually contaminate tap water. However, it is not safe to assume that all well water is safe to drink.
Well water testing is crucial, especially in rural or agricultural areas. Agri-chemicals frequently end up in private wells, and depending on the well’s age, its sheathing, and its water shed, e. coli from pasture run-off is a valid concern. Finally, if the house was plumbed prior to lead pipe reform measures, the water must be tested for lead.
Is Drinking Rain Water Safe?
Given the dangers of contaminants in underground water sources, many people are renewing their interest in collecting rain water. Naturally soft rain water is super for soap-free washing and the taste is incomparable, according to its proponents. Extreme caution is needed; however, because rainwater catchment systems are newly-illegal in many states and counties.
In addition, those who drink rain water need to be aware of air pollutants such as dioxin and barium from factories and aircraft emissions, which are ever increasing. Other rain water dangers include microbial activity from water stagnation, pests such as insects and rodents, leached toxins from roof/ collection surfaces, and chemical or heavy metal leaching from holding tanks and containers.
Is Drinking Spring Water Safe?
The safety and risks of spring water are generally similar to well water unless the spring water is bottled. Spring water is more likely to be contaminated near the soil surface whereas wells, being deeper, face less ground water contamination. In the case of bottled spring water, you need to consider that the term “spring water” is a marketing term that means the water emerges or springs from somewhere, frequently a public water tap. Almost all bottled spring water is simply tap water, with all its convenience and dangers.
The Fortunate Few Note that some people may have perfectly good well water or spring water, and do not need to take additional measures, but with air and ground water contamination spreading, frequent testing is needed to ensure that the safety of these sources has not been compromised.
Is Tap Water Safe if I Filter it?
Filtered tap water begins with the same issues as tap water and is only as good as the filtration and storage methods employed. Do you know how to purify tap water?This is not an exhaustive list, but the most common types of filtering and purifying technology include reverse osmosis, ultra-violet light treatment, purification, mineralization, distillation, activated charcoal filtration, and ceramic/ multi-media filtration.
Whole house filters are very convenient because they treat all the water coming to your home. To answer is tap water safe with absolute peace of mind this is the ideal. No tap water contaminants will negatively affect your home because all water is filtered—drinking, cooking, bathing, and irrigation. These systems generally use a series of textile media filters which is moderately effective at removing some common contaminants (not all) and may be quite expensive and require professional installation.
Tap mount (under/ above sink) filters are meant to treat drinking and possibly cooking water. Their effectiveness depends on the technology used, usually a textile media filter or reverse osmosis. This is a fiercely competitive market with many companies attempting to cash in on the great results of a few. In general, the true reverse osmosis filters are best for this application.
While they are pricier than simple water pitchers, they are far less expensive than whole house models. The true downside is that your skin absorbs more of some contaminants, like chlorine and chloramine, from a very brief shower than your gastrointestinal tract does from drinking a glass of water, so they may not be appropriate for eliminating chemical or chlorine exposure.
Reverse osmosis filters are among the best available, and the cost is midrange, resulting in a great value. Keep in mind that not all sink mount filters are true reverse osmosis, so do your research before investing. Reverse osmosis is highly effective at removing almost all contaminants. There is ongoing maintenance cost, depending on the model, and depending on the types of contaminants in your water, you may need to consider other options for your bathing and irrigation water.
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Multi-media & ceramic filter purifiers are difficult to classify as quality varies significantly. Simple ceramic filters are a low-cost, effective solution for most households with few or minor contaminants. Because the elements rarely, if ever, need to be replaced, the cost to effectiveness ratio can eclipse other options. On the other hand, if there are many contaminants or more dangerous contaminants, a multi-media ceramic composite (such as the Berkey model) is needed. Most composite ceramic elements are proprietary, so no blanket statement can be made regarding their effectiveness.
The test results range from the Berkey brand, which is considered the gold standard for this type of water purifier to inexpensive copycat filters with no third-party testing at all. The top options in this category may, in fact, be the best solution overall; however, due diligence is needed in researching brands and testing because of the proliferation of copycat models that do comparatively little to improve water quality.
Water pitchers with activated charcoal filters are a very popular and inexpensive option. The effectiveness of activated charcoal is not to be underestimated just because of the low cost and wide availability; it is so effective at absorbing toxins, that emergency rooms still use it in cases of ingested poison or drug overdose. Almost all tap and well water can be significantly improved with an activated charcoal filter.
That said, do not overestimate these filters either. They generally do not claim to remove all bleach or fluoride, only the associated odor and taste. That is, they remove some level of contaminants, but generally not the 99.9% removed by water purifiers.
If you look up your water test results on the EWG database, and find that contaminants are present, but not above legal limits, this option is perfectly adequate. It is also a great interim option for people considering more expensive purifiers or filters who feel compelled to take a first step to improve water quality immediately. Remember that almost all of these filters and the pitchers are plastic, and this introduces another set of potential contaminants.
Commercial filtered water often uses ultra-violet light treatment to kill pathogens, so-called purification (which often means it is treated at a municipal water treatment facility and is identical to tap water), mineralization to add flavor, and distillation (which completely evaporates the water into steam, then reconstitutes it as pure water). It is almost invariably stored in plastic, practically guaranteeing leached toxins in the final product.
Distilled and low mineral waters impair bone quality in females. Charcoal filtered tap water reduces impurities yet maintains minerals. This combination provides the best maternal and offspring outcomes.
A pure natural water aquifer could provide similar benefits, but uncontaminated ground water is nearly impossible to find due to widespread contamination by factory farming methods. When asking ourselves, is our tap water safe, we realize this is a global problem.
Water on the Go
Despite the convenience of instantaneous, inexpensive, portable, relatively clean water anywhere and everywhere, there is no longer any doubt about the consequences. Plastic water bottle pollution is overwhelming our planet.
The plastic water bottle nightmare. The sheer magnitude of the waste they become is significant even if they were not made from such a dangerous material. Even the safest plastics—PET plastic, comes with unacceptable health risks. Other plastics are even worse.
- Children of mothers reporting exclusive use of bottled water during pregnancy had significantly higher occurrences of neural tube defects, limb deficiencies, oral clefts, and heart defects.
- Even water bottled in PET bottles—considered the safest plastic—leach aluminum, barium, and antimony into the water, especially when stored at any temp above refrigeration (i.e. when stored at room temp during shipping, in the store, or at home); the higher the temp, the greater the danger—so NEVER drink bottled water left in a car, even for a short time. Even when chilled, these heavy metals and others leach into the water over time.
- Endocrine disrupting chemicals are commonly found in bottled water.
There is NO safe plastic container for your water.
Worse – the risks do not stop with human consumption of the water these bottles contain; the damage extends into plant and animal species long after we discard the empty bottles.
We can learn by looking to the past. What did people do before plastic water bottles? It seems most people assumed there was clean water available where they were going, so they only carried water on long trips or for work in fields away from a water source. Some used barrels, buckets, repurposed glass bottles, or mason jars to store or carry water when needed. No one expects you to keep a water barrel in the trunk of your car, but there are still safe, modern options available.
Better Water Bottle Choices
Glass is still a safe, clean, and reliable option… if your kids don’t break it. It does not leach chemicals, is safe at any drinking water temperature, and you get green bonus points for taking the extra effort to find recycled glass bottles heavy enough to withstand daily use.
Stainless steel may be the perfect blend of safety and durability. Like glass, it does not leach toxins or become unsafe at room temperature, but unlike glass, it does not break. Even if your children put them through the rigors of summer sports, lockers, and drops down the stairs, they will still have perfectly functional water bottles. Find a reputable manufacturer as many so-called stainless bottles from foreign manufacturers contain high levels of aluminum, and some fully aluminum bottles are mislabeled as stainless steel.
Bottled Water vs Tap Water
What is the least expensive way to significantly improve your drinking water?
Assuming you don’t live in Fiji with the purest water on Earth flowing out of the ground at your feet, the lowest cost method to make a huge impact on drinking water quality is probably to repurpose a glass bottle with a screw top lid as your new daily water bottle and buy an inexpensive Brita-style activated charcoal filter. This won’t make your water perfect if you have high levels of dangerous contaminants, but it will give you far better water quality for a little money when you’re just starting out.
What is the best way to make your water nearly perfect?
You will need a 3 prong approach. First, research the best filter to purify your tap water for drinking. We recommend AquaTru and you can save $50 through our referral link! Second, invest in a whole house filter that removes the most dangerous contaminants in your area to address bathing, cooking, and irrigation water needs.
Finally, buy each member of your household a stainless steel water bottle, fill it with filtered water before you leave the house, and you will always have clean water handy on the go. This covers all the bases, and results in the cleanest water available in every application. Once you detox your water, learn how to detox the rest of your house!