Is Your Drinking Water Really Clean? Here’s The Only Way You Can Be Sure

November 17, 2015

With labels describing the “crisp, refreshing taste” and “pristine” quality “free from human touch,” some of the artisan water brands out there sound more like a bartender’s specialty than plain old H2O.

As ridiculous as some labels on bottled water sound, there’s a reason why these companies have made millions of dollars importing water from natural aquifers halfway around the world.

The gross truth of the matter is that if water tastes like anything at all, odds are that it’s not pure H2O. And anyone familiar with the taste of tap water knows how upsetting that thought can be. It’s enough to make you want to wash your mouth out…erm, or not.

In general, public drinking water is thought to be safe and relatively clean. Water quality varies wildly from city to city—New York City is known to have some of the best, while residents of Philly are out of luck.

The Environmental Protection Agency is tasked with regulating public drinking water, but the system they use is far from foolproof. A New York Times investigation discovered several cities where this system straight up isn’t working—including Charleston, W. Va., where the water is so heavily polluted that it erodes away tooth enamel and causes painful rashes. Overall, one in 10 Americans have been exposed to drinking water containing potentially harmful chemicals.

And we’re not just talking about a little chlorine or fluoride here and there, either. Some of the most serious offenders include cryptosporidium, a microbe that can cause severe diarrhea for up to two weeks; coliform bacteria, which come from the intestines of humans or animals; arsenic, a toxic heavy metal that causes cancer; and perchlorate, a chemical present in rocket fuel that can impair the function of the thyroid. That list is just a small preview of the laundry list of pesticides, heavy metals, gasoline additives, and industrial chemicals that enter the water supply through runoff from factories, large farms, and other industrial operations.

If you’re not willing to chance it with tap water, what choice do you have? Of course, you could always opt for bottled water—but that’s not really a foolproof solution either. For one thing, buying disposable plastic bottles isn’t exactly eco-friendly or budget-friendly. More worrying is the fact that 25 percent or more of bottled water is really just repackaged tap water. At the end of the day, there’s no guarantee that bottled water is any cleaner or safer than the water from your kitchen faucet.

This presents a bit of a problem: How are you supposed to get clean, safe drinking water without relying on heaps of plastic water bottles? By filtering tap water, naturally. Pick up a water pitcher or refillable water bottle with a built-in filter—they’ll remove chlorine, heavy metals, and most chemical run-off. More sophisticated filters will even remove organic bacteria, viruses, and microbes. An added bonus: Most people say that filtered water just plain tastes better.

If you really want to take it to the next level, you might consider installing a reverse osmosis unit on your sink. The process of reverse osmosis removes any impurities from the water by filtering the solution through a thin, permeable membrane. Though it takes some elbow grease to install, a reverse osmosis unit will provide your home with fresh-tasting, clean water for years.

So grab a filter and pour yourself a glass—your body needs plenty of H2O, after all. Bottoms up!

Illustration by Foley Wu

This article is related to:

Eco-Friendly, Non-Toxic, Nutrition

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Annalise Mantz

Annalise is a foodie, Brussels sprouts lover, grammar nerd, and political pet aficionado.

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