Frequently asked questions
What are some signs that I should test my water?
• Odd taste, coloration, or smell can indicate the presence of contaminants.
• Homes built before 1986 are more likely to have lead plumbing and fixtures that can leach into tap water.
• Because private well water is not monitored by testing at a treatment facility, the EPA recommends testing twice a year.
• Stains in sinks and around fixtures can indicate the presence of iron, copper and other minerals.
• Monitor news reports and TBD websites to learn of contamination outbreaks in your area.
• Water quality is constantly changing. Regular retesting is highly recommended.
Can I tell my water is contaminated by the way it looks, smells, or tastes?
Not necessarily - while some contaminants like iron and copper will produce discoloration, an unpleasant taste, or leave a mineral residue around sinks and fixtures, dangerous contaminants like lead, bacteria, and pesticides can be invisible, odorless, and colorless and can only be detected through testing.
Where does contamination come from?
Contaminants enter the water supply from many sources, including:
• Naturally-occurring contaminants in soil and ground water.
• Pipes and plumbing fixtures within the home.
• Industrial waste from factories, mining operations, and oil drilling.
• Agricultural pesticides and fertilizers from farms, parks, or lawns.
Will I know if I am suffering health consequences?
Not necessarily - in some cases, drinking contaminated water will produce immediate symptoms like stomach cramps, diarrhea, and nausea. In other cases, such as lead poisoning, the toxin builds up in the body over time, and ill effects can take months or years to become apparent. This is particularly true with pregnant women, where lead can cause birth defects, and young children, who can suffer from developmental problems such as stunted growth and lower IQ.
Hardness is not a major health concern, but it can lead to other undesirable consequences, such as preventing soap from lathering, scaling pots and pans, and damaging water heaters.
How are contaminants regulated?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates the allowable levels of over 90 drinking water contaminants in accordance with the Safe Drinking Water Act. In addition, states are allowed to set their own standards as long as they meet the EPA’s minimum requirements.
Public water systems are required by the EPA to notify customers if they violate EPA or state drinking water regulations, or if they provide drinking water that may pose a risk to consumers’ health. However, in the case of lead, an alert is only issued when more than 10% of a system’s tested tap water samples show lead concentrations above EPA limits of 15 ppb (parts per billion). For perspective, an alert would only be required if over 100 homes in a neighborhood of 1,000 tested highly positive for lead (not 97 homes or 99 homes).
What are acceptable contaminant levels according to the EPA?
Are EPA regulations enforced?
Unfortunately, the crisis in Flint, Michigan is not a unique occurrence. Recent news reports have shown that water systems across the country are frequently in violation of governmental safety standards.
According to a USA Today investigation, excessive lead levels were found in almost 2,000 water systems across the country. These systems collectively supply water to over 6 million people. The same investigation revealed that, in 180 unique cases, water systems failed to notify consumers of violations as required by law.
CNN recently reported that 18 million Americans live in communities where water systems are in violation of the EPA’s lead and copper rule. The report asserted that many utilities “game the system” by using “flawed or questionable testing methods in order to avoid detecting high levels of lead.”
Bottom line: You can’t assume that your water is free of contaminants unless you test it yourself.
Is there a way to find out where contamination outbreaks have occured?
The EPA has created the Drinking Water Mapping Application to Protect Online Source Waters (DWMAPS), an online mapping tool that provides information on water supply conditions across the country.
Note that this map is not comprehensive. Even if your community is not currently listed, your water could still be contaminated from, for example, your home’s internal plumbing network.
What should I do if my water is contaminated?
That depends on several factors, including the contaminant, the source, and the concentration. Some options include:
• Call the EPA a safe drinking water hotline 800-426-4791.
• Use bottled water for drinking, cooking, and brushing teeth until the contamination is removed.
• Install a filtration system that is certified to remove your specific contaminant.
• Identify the source of the contamination.
• If the source is within the home, consider replacing affected pipes and fixtures.
• If the source is outside the home, contact your local water system department.