Water is one of the most important substances on Earth. The human body, which is made almost entirely of water, depends on it to function properly. For this reason, it is important that when it comes to drinking water, safety methods and standards are in place. While people living in the U.S. generally enjoy safe drinking water, there are times when disinfecting is needed or further water purification is a desirable option. In order to ensure one's safety when it comes to the water that he or she is drinking, it is important to understand what could potentially affect the water and what can be done to improve its quality.

Drinking Water Contaminants and Water Quality

The biological, chemical, and physical characteristics or properties of water are what determine the quality of water. Water quality is important for the environment, and safe drinking water is necessary for human consumption and use. In the U.S., water quality and the number of contaminants in the water falls under strict guidelines to ensure that it is safe. When water quality is being tested, it is being tested for the presence of contaminants, which can be divided up into four groups: organic chemicals, inorganic chemicals, radioactive elements, disinfectants, and microbial pathogens. Microbial contaminants found in drinking water may include bacteria, parasites, and viruses. Salmonella, E. coli, and Cryptosporidium are common microbial contaminants found in water. Inorganic chemicals include asbestos, arsenic, lead or nitrates. Vinyl chloride from plastic factories or PVC pipes and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) that come from the runoff from landfills are examples or organic chemicals that may contaminate and compromise drinking water safety. Examples of disinfectants that may contaminate drinking water include chlorine and chlorine dioxide.

Health Effects of the Contaminants and Poor Quality Water

Poor water quality can have a number of adverse health effects depending on the contaminants and the length of exposure to these contaminants. Health problems can vary and they may include, but are not limited to, irritation, gastrointestinal illness, circulatory problems, damage to organs, immune and neurological problems, and even certain types of cancer. Pregnant women and people who suffer from certain conditions such as disorders that weaken the immune system, are at a greater risk of developing problems due to contaminated, poor quality water. Children are also generally more vulnerable to illness from the contaminants found in drinking water.

Drinking Water Purification Methods

When water leaves the public treatment plant, it has met the required guidelines necessary to suggest that it does not pose a health threat. This does not mean that it is one hundred percent free of contaminants or that it won't become further contaminated by things such as pipes, as it makes its way into people's homes. For this reason, people often seek ways to further eliminate contaminates through water purification methods. Before purchasing a product to help purify one's water, it is important to know what contaminants need removing. Filters are a popular method of water purification. Active carbon filters are a type of filter system that works by filtering water through granules of carbon. These granules trap the undesirable contaminants which include organic chemicals, mercury, radon gas, and certain pesticides. In addition, they are also helpful when it comes to removing odors or bad taste from water. Oxidizing filters may be used to remove some of the chemicals which affect the smell, taste, and color of water, as well as hydrogen sulfide, iron, and manganese. Mechanical filtration systems use filter paper, compressed glass, wool, or sand to strain contaminants such as insoluble iron, manganese, dirt, and loose scale out of the water. Other purification methods include systems that utilize ultraviolet radiation to remove microbiological contaminants. Under certain situations, such as a flood, boiling is often the recommended course of action to effectively disinfect drinking water. When boiling is recommended, the water must come to a full boil and continue to boil for at least one full minute to destroy the bacteria and other biological contaminants. For people who are unable to boil their water for whatever reason, the health officials advise adding 1/8th teaspoon of chlorine bleach per gallon of water. Upon adding the bleach the water should be allowed to rest for 30 minutes before using.

Bottled Water

As people drink more water, they often turn to bottled water in their efforts to have convenient and healthy water on hand. The belief for many is that bottled water is somehow safer or of better quality than the water that comes from the tap. This is a false assumption however, as according to the Natural Resources Defense Council; at minimum twenty-five percent of bottled water is nothing more than bottled tap water. In terms of safety, bottled water is monitored by the FDA. The FDA, however, does not have the authority over bottled water companies that the EPA has over water from the tap. They are also not under the same safety standards and companies are not required to conduct testing in certified laboratories, nor are they required to report high contamination results. This doesn't imply that all bottled water companies are unsafe or unhealthy, but it can be difficult to determine which brands are the safest to drink.

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