Is your Water Clean?

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Access to clean water is still a luxury in some countries. Imagine a world in which you don't have running clear and clean water coming from your tap every day. A world in which you need to collect water every day from an unsensitized source and walk hundreds of miles every week just to bathe, clean your clothes, and cook. 

The dangers of consuming unclean water are extensively known. Contaminated water can transmit diseases such as diarrhea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid, and polio. Contaminated drinking water is estimated to cause 485 000 diarrheal deaths each year. 

But, what is considered unclean water? 

Any water that contains the following in any quantity: 

  • E. coli Bacteria
  • Coliform Bacteria
  • Nitrates
  • Lead
  • Fluoride
  • Arsenic
  • Radium
  • Radon
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Herbicides
  • Pesticides
  • Chemicals
  • Fecal Matter
  • Microbial Pathogens
  • Parasites
  • Viruses
  • Petrochemicals

However, herbicides, pesticides, chemicals, and fecal matter can sometimes be due to agricultural activities near a water source, such as a river, which is why drinking directly from a river can cause many diseases. Therefore, it is always advisable to boil the water or use a filtering system to remove any possible contaminants from river water. Boiling water kills most types of parasites, bacteria, and viruses. Additionally, it increases concentrations of other pollutants due to evaporation of water.

Other contaminants can be due to manufacturing when companies dump waste in water sources. For example, between 1950 and 1970, Ford Motors operated an assembly plant in northern New Jersey, in nearby Mahwah. Although this plant closed in the 80s, it was later discovered that Ford Motor Co. dumped more than 35,000 tons of toxic paint sludge onto lands occupied for centuries by the Turtle Clan of the Ramapough Lenape tribe, poisoning groundwater with arsenic, lead and other harmful chemicals.

Exposure to these chemicals caused great harm to the local population's health; This is an example of how unclean water drinking can happen anywhere in the world. 


Is Tap Water Safe to Drink in the US?

For most parts, yes. In the United States, tap water goes through a filtration and cleaning process before it even reaches your home. However, this can vary per state, and it is always good to research before drinking. Most homes in the United States also have a filter that refilters the water once more before it gets to your cup. 

In some states, water also goes through a cleaning process using chlorine and ultraviolet light. However, this also comes with other added chemicals to control pH and prevent corrosion. From the lake to the tap, water goes through many steps to become safe for us to drink. It is a crucial process that requires constant monitoring. 

Not all countries are so lucky and lack the infrastructure and resources needed to guarantee clean drinking water to all its citizens. 


Testing Your Drinking Water

The United States Environmental Protection Agency states that you can test your drinking water if you doubt its purity. However, the first thing you need to know is where your tap water is coming from. If you or your parents pay a water bill, chances are they are purchasing water from a public water system, where the water is constantly monitored and tested. Results from water purity can be accessed via the federal, state or tribal drinking water agencies responsible for making sure the water meets the National Primary Drinking Water Standards. 

In addition, all water company suppliers must notify consumers when and if contaminants are found in the water at any time. However, if your home's drinking water does not come from a public water system, it is recommended you test it periodically. Water should be tested even if no smells or discolorations are seen. 

Coliform bacteria, nitrates and pH levels should be always monitored.

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Thinking Cap On

You go on a camping trip with your family, and you run out of bottled drinking water. Can you drink the water from the river? What safety precautions do you and your family take into account before consuming or using the water to clean and cook? Please make a list and discuss it with your family. 

Overall you have learned about the importance of clean water and the possible contaminants. But, by now, you have also learned that unsafe water can affect anyone anywhere and is not limited to only African countries.  

Carrying your own water bottle with a filtering system can always help you keep control of the quality of the water you consume when out and about. But also, understanding where the water from the tab comes from and the possible side effects any pollutants can cause you.