All water contains things you don’t know about. If you knew all the things that were in the water you drink, you’d likely never drink any more water, and—trust me—that’s the more unhealthy option compared to the alternative.
There are, of course, a number of contaminants that could make it into your water supply for any number of reasons. Thankfully, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates many of those contaminants, and the levels at which they are considered healthy. This post could go on for days if you wanted to read about each and every contaminant in depth, but you’re not here to do that, and anyway, the EPA has already published a full list of contaminants. But before you wander off there, I’ll give you a breakdown of the six main contaminant categories here.
These are what you think they are. Mostly bacteria, they get introduced into water supplies usually from fecal waste—both human and animal. If you end up drinking any of this stuff, you’ll end up with some serious stomach cramps and many of the side effects that go along with them.
If you aren’t drinking from a well, then the water you’re drinking goes through a disinfection process to get rid of a good number of the items listed in this post. Unfortunately, some of those processes may create byproducts that become contaminants all their own. These are mostly chemical byproducts, but again, they’re heavily monitored and tested regularly.
And in some cases, the very things used to disinfect the water are considered contaminants in and of themselves. Take chlorine, for example: it’s used to kill a number of the bacteria that might be in the water, but technically, drinking too much chlorine isn’t good for you, making it a contaminant as well. But look at it this way: if you’ve ever swallowed pool water, you’ve taken in a lot more chlorine than what you’d find in your drinking water.
Inorganic chemicals are used heavily in industries, like factories or refineries. When you look at the list on the EPA’s site, you’ll notice the words “discharge” and “corrosion” a lot. An unfortunate side effect of living in an industrial world is that many of these wastes come into contact with our water sources. Fortunately enough, they’re controlled very well, and new EPA guidelines are continuously making our water safer.
By far the longest list of contaminants, these can come from just about anywhere: plants, runoff, factories, the treatment process, or leftover residues. And don’t let the fact that these are organic fool you; any of these chemicals in large doses can do some damage. But again, the EPA does a good job of maintaining the amounts of these chemicals that may be found in water.
Yes, when you read the prefix radio- it’s in reference to radioactivity. There are four radionuclides that the EPA lists as potential contaminants, and they all ultimately lead to an increased risk of cancer. Before you get too up in arms, however, realize that many of these come from natural deposits—we as a human race had very little to do with the fact that they’re there.
Thing is: the EPA can’t regulate every contaminant. There’s no way to test for everything that could be found in water. That said: your drinking water is safe. If you want to further filter it at home with a pitcher or tap filter, you absolutely should. Otherwise, the only time you should worry about your water is when it’s reported.