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Safe Drinking Water – Not Always So Safe

by Ace Damon
Safe Drinking Water - Not Always So Safe

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Water, if it is to be considered drinking water, must be consumable by humans without causing illness or disease.

Drinking water must be portable, that is, it must be clean, or drinkable. All life forms on earth require drinking water. Humans, in particular, require at least 64 fluid ounces, or 8 cups, of drinking water each day for optimal health.

Your drinking water, in the United States, may come from one of several sources.

Safe Drinking Water - Not Always So Safe

A Public Drinking Water System

The term “public water system” usually refers to any water system that has 15 or more hook-ups, or serves 25 or more people. Water systems that serve less than this are considered private water systems.

Public water systems may be run by cities or towns, by state or federal agencies, by other political subdivisions like water districts and co-ops, or by private, for-profit companies.

Regardless of who owns and runs the public drinking water system, that system must comply with all requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

A Private Drinking Water System?

The term “private water system” usually refers to any water system that serves between 1 and 14 service connections. A private drinking water system is not regulated by the government.

However, owners of private wells and these non-regulated systems often have resources available to them.

What Is Done to Keep Our Water Clean?

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Government laws are designed to keep our water clean. But do they work?

According to a national inventory by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), rivers and streams with water quality rated “good” fell from 65 percent in 1998 to 61 percent in 2000.

Estuaries with water quality rated “good” fell from 56 percent to 49 percent over the same two-year period.

In a report, the EPA explained: “Wastewater treatment efficiencies may be leveling off, which, when combined with population and economic growth, could have the effect of reversing hard-won water quality gains. By 2020, pollution levels could be similar to levels observed in the mid-1970s.”

What Is Done to Keep Our Drinking Water Clean?

Such reports are not concerned with the drinking water that comes out of the tap in your kitchen or bathroom. Is our drinking water clean?

We should not take for granted tap water purity. A study of drinking water systems of 19 U.S. cities found that many cities rely on drinking water delivery systems and treatments that date back to before World War I.

Those aging pipes will break sometime. When they do, they might leach contaminants into the drinking water they carry. Those old-fashioned water treatment plants were built to filter out particles in the water, and to kill some of the parasites and bacteria, but many fail to remove modern contaminants.

More positively, many U.S. cities have updated their systems. They provide good drinking water because:

• Guard the sources of their water (lakes, streams, reservoirs, and wells) against pollution
• Provide good quality pipes, and keep them maintained at all times
• Have modern treatment facilities that are large enough and high-tech enough to keep our drinking water clean.

The Safe Drinking Water Act, a national law safeguarding tap water in the U.S., oversees local government provisions for your drinking water.

Safe Drinking Water - Not Always So Safe

Bottled Drinking Water

If you are concerned about your drinking water, you may decide to purchase bottled water. U.S. citizens spend billions of dollars each year on bottled drinking water. Some use it in place of other beverages. Others use bottled drinking water because they like its taste or think it is safer than tap water.

Bottled drinking water comes from sources similar to those of tap water. It comes from rivers and lakes, or from underground aquifers. Bottled drinking water’s taste and quality vary among brands.

It can even vary within the same brand, depending on the source of a particular bottle. Even bottled drinking water may contain at least small amounts of contaminants. It may meet USFDA standards, but those standards do not demand total purity.

Purified Drinking Water

Finally, you may choose to purify your water through one of many available filtering systems. Purification systems may be as simple as a pitcher that is filled with water and dispenses it through a filter.

You may attach a filter to the faucet in your kitchen, or to the water line beneath the kitchen sink. You might get your purified drinking water from a carbon filtration system, or you might invest in a reverse osmosis system.

Purified drinking water is more costly, per gallon than tap water, but it may provide the peace of mind and/or the health you want.

Drinking water, if it is to be considered drinking water, must be consumable by humans without causing illness or disease. The challenge may be less or greater where you live, but it is worth meeting.

Drinking water bottles are ubiquitous in the U.S. – and in many other developed countries as well. Children carry drinking water bottles to school. Parents carry drinking water bottles as they commute to work, children’s soccer games, etc.

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Some people have begun carrying drinking water bottles to church with them. Athletes always seem to have a drinking water bottle with them.

Convenience

A major reason for using drinking water bottles is the convenience they offer. Water can be taken almost anywhere. Drinking water bottles involve little cost, and their loss is not a problem. When they are empty, they need not be carried home. They can simply be placed in a recycle bin or other waste disposals.

What happens, though, when drinking water bottles are not recycled?

The Danger

Disposing of drinking water bottles is the best idea, but many people refill them. If they empty the bottle while jogging, they stop and refill it at a water fountain.

If they have a filter at home, they refill drinking water bottles from the filter. At work, they may refill a drinking water bottle from the water cooler.

Each time, they may be putting healthy drinking water into the bottle, but is this a safe practice? Or is there a danger in refilling disposable drinking water bottles?

The danger is not, as claimed by an old internet urban legend, that the bottles will break down into carcinogenic compounds. That plastic scare originated with the master’s thesis of an undergraduate student who did not conduct sufficient scientific study before publishing his thesis. USFDA standards control the type of plastic used for bottled water.

Safe Drinking Water - Not Always So Safe

Can plastic drinking water bottles break down? Can plastic leach into the water when you refill them?

Possibly. It is said that some bottles, even those approved by the USFDA, do indeed leach into the water – even before you open the bottle.

Bacteria

Although your plastic drinking water bottles may not break down into cancer-causing compounds, and may not leach plastic into your water, they do contain bacteria. Bacteria can grow and reproduce rapidly in an empty plastic drinking water bottle.

Consider this. Each time you take a drink from that drinking water bottle, you deposit bacteria from your mouth on the rim of the bottle. If you refill the bottle without washing it, you simply flush the bacteria into your water.

The problem is compounded if the bottle is empty for a while, and allowed to get warm. Bacteria then have an ideal environment for reproduction.

But They Are MY Bugs

Many (not all) of the bacteria are indeed from your mouth. However, in your system, your body regulates them at reasonable levels. Bacteria in the drinking water bottle are no longer regulated.

They can reproduce rapidly. In addition, other germs will enter the bottle from the air, mingling with those from your mouth.

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Washing Helps

Washing the bottle thoroughly will destroy most of the bacteria. The bottle must be washed after each use, before refilling. You must wash the neck of the bottle and the entire inside.

This means you cannot stop for a refill at the drinking fountain in the park. You cannot refill it at the water cooler and take it back to your desk. The only way to have healthy drinking water is to use drinking water bottles only once or wash them thoroughly before refilling.

Since very hot water is the best way to get the bottle clean, a dishwasher is recommended. You will have to place the bottle on the top rack since the plastic is not designed for high temperature.

When the wash cycle ends, remove your drinking water bottle immediately before the dry cycle can begin.

FREEZE OUT

Finally, when you take the clean drinking water bottle from your dishwasher, place it into the freezer immediately. This will keep germs from getting into the bottle.

It will also keep mold from forming. When you are ready to use it, take the clean drinking water bottle from the freezer, fill, and cap.

Disposable plastic drinking water bottles are convenient but don’t sacrifice your health.

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