Local incidents, such as spills and treatment problems, can lead to
short-term needs for alternative water supplies or in-home water treatment. In
isolated cases, individuals have needed to rely on alternative supplies for the
long term because of their individual health needs or problems with obtaining
new drinking water supplies.
Local water suppliers are required to notify you if there is a problem with
your drinking water. In addition, if you suspect a problem, you can hire a
laboratory to analyze your drinking water.
Are Alternative Water Supplies Available? What About
Yes, alternative sources of water are available. Bottled water is sold in
supermarkets and convenience stores. Some companies lease or sell water
dispensers or bubblers and regularly deliver large bottles of water to homes and
businesses. Bottled water is very expensive compared to water from a public
water system. Bottled water quality varies among brands, because of variations
in the source water used, costs, and company practices.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates bottled water used for
drinking. FDA imposes quality standards that are equivalent to EPA's drinking
water standards. Source water and product water must be periodically sampled and
analyzed for compliance with quality standards for microbiological contaminants,
radionuclides, organics and inorganics. FDA has adopted regulations to ensure
fair labeling practices. These include standard definitions for sources such as
mineral water, artesian water, ground water, and distilled water. Requirements
are also established for the nutritional content of bottled water, as part of
normal food labeling regulations. As an additional safeguard, FDA recommends
that bottled water be handled like other food products and refrigerated after
Can I Do Anything In My House To Improve The Safety Of
My Drinking Water?
You can choose to install a home water treatment device to add a factor of
safety, or to address concerns about the taste of your water. Point-of-use (POU)
systems treat water at a single tap. Point-of-entry (POE) systems treat water
used throughout a house. POU systems can be installed in various places in the
home, including on the counter top, at the faucet itself, or under the sink. POE
systems are installed where the water line enters the house.
POU and POE devices are based on various contaminant removal technologies.
Filtration, ion exchange, reverse osmosis, and distillation are some of the
treatment methods used. All types of units are generally available from
retailers, or by mail order. Prices can range well into the hundreds of dollars.
Depending on the method and location of installation, plumbing changes can also
add to costs.
Home filtration units use activated carbon filters, which adsorb organic
contaminants and constituents that cause taste and odor problems. Depending on
their design, some units can remove chlorination by-products, some cleaning
solvents, and pesticides. To maintain the effectiveness of these units, the
carbon canisters must be replaced periodically. Activated carbon filters are not
efficient in removing metals such as lead and copper.
Because ion exchange units can be used to remove minerals from your water,
particularly calcium and magnesium, they are sold for water softening. Some ion
exchange softening units remove radium and barium from water. Ion exchange
systems that employ activated alumina are used to remove fluoride and arsenate
from water. These units must be regenerated periodically with salt.
Reverse osmosis treatment units generally remove a more diverse list of
contaminants than other systems. They can remove nitrates, sodium, other
dissolved inorganics, and organic compounds.
Distillation units boil water and condense the resulting steam to create
distilled water. Depending on their design, some of these units may allow
vaporized organic contaminants to condense back into the product water, thus
minimizing the removal of organics.
You may choose to boil your water to remove microbial contaminants. Keep in
mind that boiling reduces the volume of water by about 20 percent, thus
concentrating other contaminants not affected by the temperature of boiling
water, such as nitrates and pesticides.
All POU and POE treatment units need maintenance to operate
effectively. If they are not maintained properly, contaminants may
accumulate in the units and actually make your water worse. In addition,
some vendors may make claims about their effectiveness that have no
merit. Units should be tested for conformance with standards of the
National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) or the Water Quality Association.
EPA does not test or certify these treatment units.
Where Can I Learn About the Effectiveness Of These
Your local library has articles, such as those found in consumer magazines,
on the effectiveness and cost of these devices.
Copies of a booklet Drinking Water: Inadequate Regulation of Home Treatment
Units Leaves Consumers at Risk (December 1991) are available from the U.S.
General Accounting Office, P.O. Box 6015, Gaithersburg, MD 20884-6015 (phone:
Organizations you can contact for more information on home treatment units
The National Sanitation Foundation
3475 Plymouth Road
P.O. Box 1468
Ann Arbor, MI 48106
The Water Quality Association
Consumer Affairs Department
P.O. Box 606
Lisle, IL 60532
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