What is safe drinking water?

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drinking out of dog's dish
Drinking out of the dog's water dish might not be worse than drinking tap water
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Understanding what is safe drinking water includes knowing some basic chemisty

Humans and animals need water to survive. However, some water isnít fit to drink because it is contaminated. 

Many people unknowingly drink contaminated water. Sometimes when water is bad, it smells like rotten eggs. The smell is caused by too much chlorine in the water or sulfur. So what is safe drinking water? 

Most of the municipal water systems in the United States are safe. The water supplies are regularly tested, and the public is alerted if there are issues with the water supply.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) limits are set on the amounts of certain contaminants that are allowed in drinking water. Each state in the United States is allowed to set its own drinking water standards as long as those standards are as strong as the EPAís national standards.  

Many homeowners also make additional efforts to ensure the quality of their drinking water. Home water filtration systems, countertop water filters and water-filtering appliances enhance the quality of water for consumption. These devices and systems improve water color, flavor, odor and other aesthetic considerations.

One dangerous drinking water contaminant is lead, which can damage a personís health because itís a toxic metal. Infants and children routinely exposed to lead in water or from paint chips and dust can suffer mental and physical developmental delays. When adults are exposed to lead, this raises oneís blood pressure and can create kidney problems.  

Water gets contaminated by lead when it flows through the pipes that lead into homes. When pipes are corroded this allows lead to get into the water. When pipes corrode this means the wearing away or dissolving of the pipeís metal has occurred because of a chemical reaction between the plumping and the water. The EPA reports that chrome-plated and brass plated faucets and fixtures leak large amounts of lead into hot water.

The amount of lead found in water depends on how long the water has been in the pipes, the waterís temperature and acidity, the amount of wear and tear on the pipes and the amount and types of minerals that are in the water. 

A good way to prevent lead build-up in a child is to feed him a diet that is high in iron and calcium, which entails feeding the child green vegetables and dairy problems, as well as meals that are low in fat. If concerned that there is lead in the home drinking water supply, have the water tested because that is the only way to make an official determination. The EPA can give directions on how to do this by calling its hotline at 800-426-4791. Water filters can be used to get rid of lead. Get a filter that is certified for lead removal by the NSF International.  

Another way to prevent lead exposure via drinking water is to run water from the tap for a while before using the water. Cook and drink cold water, not hot. Do not mix or cook infant formula using hot water that comes from the tap. 

Other water contaminants include microorganisms such as cryptosporidium, which causes vomiting, cramps and diarrhea. This microorganism is the result of human and animal fecal waste in the water. Another microorganism that can be present in drinking water is giardia lamblia, which also causes gastro-intestinal illness and also comes from fecal matter. There are various other harmful microorganisms that can be found in water, which makes it unsafe to drink.  

Turbidity means the amount of cloudiness of water. When turbidity levels are high, this is linked to microorganisms that cause disease. These microorganisms can also give a person a headache, cramps, diarrhea and nausea.

Disinfection byproducts, such as bromate, chlorite, total triphenylmethanes and halo acetic acids, can result in an increased risk of cancer, anemia, damage to infant or childrenís nervous systems, kidney and liver damage and central nervous problems.  

Disinfectants such as chloramines, chlorine, and chlorine dioxide in drinking water can cause a host of health issues such as anemia, stomach pain, nose and eye irritation and damage to the central nervous system. These disinfectants are added to control microbes.

Inorganic chemicals such as fluoride, cyanide, nitrate, nitrite, mercury, selenium and thallium to name a few can infiltrate water and are damaging to humans and animals. Long-term exposure to these inorganic chemicals can cause kidney and liver damage, allergic dermatitis, thyroid problems, arsenic, nerve damage (cyanide), bone disease and tenderness (fluoride) and other health problems.

There are home tests that can be used to test the water in a residence. When testing water, test the first-draw water, which is what comes out of the faucet when the tap is first turned on in the morning. If there are contaminants that have occurred as a result of leaching onto the pipes the levels will be at their highest in the morning.  

Another option is to ask the water supplier to test the water.   

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