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Frequently Asked Questions About Drinking Water, Tap Water, Bottled Water and Your Health
Click here to E-Mail a request directly to the EPA's Safe Drinking Water Hotline (800-426-4791).
A: the EPA regulates over 80 contaminants in drinking water. Some states may choose to set stricter standards, however, all states must have standards at least as stringent as the EPA's.
A: The United States enjoys one of the best supplies of drinking water in the world. Sometimes water has an unpleasant smell or taste, because of certain treatment or local conditions; nonetheless, tap water that meets EPA and state standards is considered safe to drink. However, some water suppliers do not meet all applicable standards. To find out if your drinking water supplier complies with federal and state standards, contact your local water supplier. The number should be on your water bill, or in your local phone book. You can also check with your state drinking water agency. If you are concerned about a specific contaminant in your water supply, the EPA has prepared fact sheets for consumers on most of the contaminants which are regulated.
Click here for a list of available fact sheets or click here to find more information about your water supplier and your state drinking water agency. `
A: Drinking water sources vary even within communities. Nationwide, approximately 53 percent of all drinking water comes from ground water sources (wells), with the remaining 47 percent coming from surface water sources (rivers, lakes, and reservoirs).
Click here to Surf Your Watershed This EPA data system helps you find information about your local watershed.
A: Under the provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act, water systems that serve more than 25 people are required to test their water regularly for a wide variety of contaminants. If your system has issued a boil water alert, it has likely discovered one or more microbiological contaminants at levels exceeding those allowed by the EPA. Even though there may be no danger, the boil water alert is a temporary advisory to protect your health. Your system must take appropriate corrective action, continue to monitor its water supply, and notify customers when it has remedied the problem. The length of the alert will depend on the nature of the problem. Your local utility can provide you with more details, or you can learn more yourself by checking the consumer fact sheets provided by the EPA to educate the public about possible drinking water contaminants.
Click here for a list of available fact sheets
A: Total coliforms are common in the environment and are generally not harmful themselves. The presence of these bacteria in drinking water, however, generally is a result of a problem with water treatment or the pipes which distribute the water, and indicates that the water may be contaminated with organisms that can cause disease.
The presence of fecal coliforms in drinking water is serious because they are usually associated with sewage or animal wastes. The presence of these bacteria in drinking water is generally a result of a problem with water treatment or the pipes which distribute the water, and indicates that the water may be contaminated with organisms that can cause disease.
Your water system tests for these bacteria routinely. If the EPA's safety standards for these contaminants are exceeded, your system will take action to correct the deficiency and, in the interim, issue an alert with guidance on how to protect yourself and your family.
A: Each individual water system regulates its own use of chlorine to disinfect water. Especially after large rainstorms, your water system may add more chlorine to guarantee that your water is safe. If you dislike the taste or smell of chlorine in your water, you can make the water more palatable by allowing it to be exposed to the air for a few hours or by pouring it from one clean container to another. In addition, you may consider installing a home water treatment kit specifically designed to remove chlorine from your drinking water.
Click here to see NSF's information on
water treatment units
A: The EPA does not test individual homes, and cannot recommend specific labs to test your drinking water. However, States are required to certify water testing labs. You may call your State Certification Officer to get a list of certified water testing labs in your state.
Click here for a list of State Certification Officers.
A: Some people may wish the additional protection of home water treatment. If your water company has already treated the water, there is generally no need for you to further treat it, except perhaps if your water company or local health organization tells you that a health level has been exceeded or if your water has taste or odor problems. If you do purchase a home water treatment unit, be certain to follow the manufacturer's instructions for operation and maintenance, especially changing the filter on a regular basis.
People with compromised immune systems may have special needs, click here to see the EPA's guidance for people with severely compromised immune systems
A:The EPA does not regulate water treatment kits and cannot recommend one brand over another. No one unit takes out every kind of drinking water contaminant; you must decide which type best meets your needs. For help in picking a unit, you may call two independent, non-profit organizations for more information: NSF International (800-673-8010) tests and certifies home water treatment units, and the Water Quality Association (708-505-0160) classifies units according to the contaminants they remove as well as listing units that have earned its approval. In addition, you may read the EPA's pamphlet Home Water Treatment Units: Filtering Fact From Fiction. For more information on how to obtain EPA pamphlets and brochures, see the end of this document.
Click here to see NSF's information on
water treatment units
A: The number on some units is actually a pesticide registration number, required by the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. Because some units make claims of killing bacteria or other microbes, they must receive approval from the EPA that they pose no health risk to the consumer. The registration number is not an endorsement of the product.
A: When the home water supply system is interrupted by natural or other forms of disaster, you can obtain limited amounts of water by draining your hot water tank or by melting ice cubes. In addition, there are two effective home methods of disinfecting your drinking water: boiling and chemical treatments. Vigorous boiling of water for one minute will kill any disease-causing organisms that may be present in the water. The flat taste of boiled water can be improved by pouring it from one container into another, by allowing it to stand for a few hours, or by adding a pinch of salt. When emergency chemical disinfection is necessary, examine the physical condition of the water. You will need to add more disinfectants to water that is cloudy or turbid. You must store disinfected water in clean, tightly-covered containers not subject to corrosion. Keep water covered and refrigerated after disinfecting. In times of extreme crisis, local health departments may urge consumers to use more caution or to follow additional measures. If local public health department information differs from this advice, the local information should prevail.
Click here for more information on emergency disinfection of drinking water
A: Bottled water is not necessarily any safer than your local drinking water. The EPA regulates public water systems to ensure that they are in compliance with national standards; bottled water is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration as a food product. Both agencies use equivalent health standards to ensure safety. If you want the safest water possible, then boil your water for one minute, whether it is tap water or bottled water. NSF International, an independent non-profit organization , certifies some brands of bottled drinking water. To find out which brands it certifies, call NSF at 1-800-673-8010.
Click here for information on bottled water from NSF
A: The EPA does not regulate distilled water. It is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a food product. For more information call FDA (800-532-4440), NSF International (800-673-8010), or your local physician.
A: Private water supplies should be tested annually for nitrate and coliform bacteria to detect contamination problems early. Test more frequently and for more potential contaminants, such as radon or pesticides, if you suspect a problem. Call your state certification officer for a list of certified testing labs in your state. In addition, you can help protect your water supply by carefully managing activities near the water source. The organization Farm*A*Syst/Home*A*Syst provides fact sheets and worksheets to help farmers and rural residents assess pollution risks and develop management plans geared towards their circumstances.
A: Lead is found almost everywhere: in food, paint, dust, soil, air and even drinking water. Lead is rarely in drinking water when it leaves the treatment plant. Instead, it leaches into the water from some plumbing in buildings, especially older buildings that still have lead pipes. (Lead will no longer be allowed as a component of pipes and plumbing fixtures after August 1998.) Children and pregnant women are most susceptible to health risks from lead in drinking water. The EPA recommends that all homes should be tested. To have your water tested, the EPA recommends you find an independent state certified laboratory using EPA approved methods. To find out what certified labs are in your area, call your state certification officer.
A: There are several actions you can take to reduce the amount of lead in your drinking water.
- "Flush" the cold water faucet by allowing the water to become cold before using it.
- Never cook with or consume water from the hot water tap (hot water dissolves lead more quickly than cold water).
- Purchase a certified home treatment unit to remove lead from your water.
- Purchase lead-free bottled water for drinking and cooking.
- Replace the faucets in your home with ones that do not contain lead.
- DO NOT BOIL THE WATER: boiling will only increase the concentration of lead in the water.
Click here to see a fact sheet on lead in drinking water
A: Lead cannot be seen, smelled, or tasted. However, blue-green water may be an indicator of high copper levels. Have your water tested by a state certified laboratory to see if the copper concentration may pose a health risk.
A: The health effects of copper are stomach and intestinal distress, liver and kidney damage, and anemia. Persons with Wilson's disease may be at higher risk of health effects due to copper than the general public. Removal of copper involves the following steps:
- "Flush" the cold water faucet by allowing the water to run until you can feel that the water has become cold.
- Never cook with or consume water from the hot-water tap. Hot water dissolves copper more quickly than cold water.
- If you are served by a water system, contact it and ask whether or not the water is corrosive. If it is corrosive, ask what steps the system is taking to deal with the problem of copper contamination.
- Purchase a home water treatment unit that is designed to remove lead and copper from drinking water.
- Use bottled water that is lead and copper-free for drinking and cooking.
Click here to see a fact sheet on copper in drinking water
A: Radon is a gas that has no color, odor, or taste and comes from the natural radioactive breakdown of uranium in the ground. You can be exposed to radon by two main sources: (1) radon in the air in your home (frequently called radon in indoor air) and (2) radon in drinking water. Radon gas can dissolve and accumulate in water from underground sources (called ground water), such as wells. When water that contains radon is used in the home for showering, washing dishes, and cooking, radon gas escapes from the water and goes into the air. Some radon also stays in the water. Breathing radon in indoor air can cause lung cancer. Drinking water containing radon also presents a risk of developing internal organ cancers, primarily stomach cancer. However this risk is smaller than the risk of developing lung cancer from radon released to air from tap water. the EPA has recently proposed a regulation for radon in drinking water. You can get more information by reading the EPA's fact sheet.
Click here for a list of State Certification Officers.
A: Cryptosporidium is a parasite commonly found in lakes and rivers. It enters water supplies through sewage and animal waste. It causes cryptosporidiosis, a gastrointestinal disease. The largest water systems in the country are currently participating in a testing program in which they check their source water for Cryptosporidium each month for 18 months.
A: The most common symptom of cryptosporidiosis is watery, non-bloody diarrhea lasting 7-20 days. The diarrhea is often accompanied by abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting, fever, headache, and/or loss of appetite. These symptoms are not specific to cryptosporidiosis and may be symptoms of other diseases. Generally, the disease is mild and people recover within one to three weeks. However, the disease can be severe, chronic, and even fatal for people with severely weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS and cancer and transplant patients taking immunosuppressive drugs. If you have a severely weakened immune system, or your water system or local health authority has given you notice that a water treatment problem exists, then you may wish to boil your water vigorously for one minute before using it. Alternatively, you may wish to purchase bottled water or use a home treatment unit that is designed to remove Cryptosporidium.
Click here to see guidance
for people with severely compromised immune systems, or click here to see NSF's
information on water treatment units
A: There are several things you can do to protect drinking water in your community. Drinking water protection should be a community-wide effort, beginning with protecting the source of your local water supply, and including education, funding, awareness, and conservation. Many communities have already established source water protection programs. Call your local water supplier to find out if your community participates. You can also support efforts to improve operation, maintenance, and construction of water treatment processes.
Click here to see more information on how you can help protect ground water and other sources of drinking water
A: For more information, call the Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 1-800-426-4791, explore the rest of the Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water's home page, or order publications from the EPA on various topics from source water protection to home well use. The EPA has also prepared a general source of information for consumers called "Water on Tap" that can provide further information and will be on-line soon. In addition, you may wish to call your state drinking water office (the EPA's Safe Drinking Water Hotline can provide you with the proper phone number).
Isn't bottled water safer than tap water?
Is bottled water actually unsafe?
How can I find out where my bottled water comes from?
How can I determine if bottled water is really just tap water?
What actions can I take to improve bottled water safety?
Members of Congress and governors should also pass legislation providing the resources for the FDA and state regulators to actually enforce the law.
To take further action, you can encourage your bottlers and the International Bottled Water Association (a trade organization that includes about 85 percent of water bottlers) to voluntarily make labeling disclosures such as those above.
Contact information: FDA
If I drink tap water should I use a filter and what types of filters are
How can I obtain test results on my tap water?
You also can test your water yourself, though this can be expensive. There are state-certified drinking water laboratories in virtually every state that can test your water. Call your state drinking water program or the EPA Safe Drinking Water Hotline (800 426-4791) for a list of contacts. Standard consumer test packages are available through large commercial labs at a relatively reasonable price.
How long is a bottle of water good if it remains sealed?
Taste in Bottled Water