As you probably learned in grade school, most of the Earth’s surface is water. Yet 98% of that is salt water. According to the National Groundwater Association (NGWA), only 2% of all that water is fresh, or drinkable water, and most of that is actually trapped in glaciers. To understand what may or may not be in your drinking water, you have to first understand where our drinking water comes from.
Other than people who have their own wells such as in rural areas, most of us rely on a municipal water supply for our tap water. There are ultimately two sources of that water — surface water and groundwater.
Surface water is the water we see all around us; in rivers, lakes, streams reservoirs, and other fresh water sources from which we draw our drinking water. While sources for surface water are much more apparent – the truth is, the majority of our drinking water comes from where we can’t see it – far below the earth, in groundwater.
Groundwater refers to any water below the soil and rock. Groundwater is drawn from below the water table, which is that point under the surface where the ground is totally saturated with water.
Groundwater is the major source of water for most of the municipal water systems in the United States. Rural residents, withdrawing their water from wells, also rely upon groundwater.
All Sources of Water Can Be Contaminated
Despite the best efforts of any given municipality, both groundwater and surface water can be terribly contaminated. According to a recent report on NPR radio, an estimated one in ten Americans have been exposed to drinking water that fails to meet federal health standards and contains dangerous chemicals, parasites, bacteria, viruses, even prescription medications! The report said one of the main reasons for such high levels of tainted water is that water-pollution laws and standards are very loosely enforced.
Each of these two sources of our drinking water can be beset with its own set of contaminants; groundwater is subject to the runoff from farms and industrial pollutants, and can store pesticides, toxic chemicals and nitrates. Surface water is also subject to these kinds of chemical pollutants, but also has the added issues of being contaminated with bacteria and other dangerous microorganisms such as Cryptosporidium. In Milwaukee in 1993, in the worst outbreak in US history, 100 people died and over 400,000 became terribly ill, when the protozoan Cryptosporidium, got into the city’s water supply.
More recently, I am sure you remember the tragedy in Flint Michigan. The Flint water crisis began in 2014, after the drinking water source for the city of Flint, Michigan was changed from Lake Huron and the Detroit River to a less costly source of the Flint River. Due to insufficient water treatment, lead leached from water pipes into the drinking water, exposing over 100,000 residents to elevated lead levels.
What Is the Greatest Source of Contaminated Drinking Water?
Yet, despite the tragic events in Flint and Milwaukee, industrial agriculture and the use of pesticides and herbicides is the greatest source of chemical contamination to our drinking water. Most people are familiar with pesticides and understand their danger, however, it is actually herbicides that pose the bigger threat, because they are used on more crops and over greater areas. Herbicides are far more prevalent in our drinking water than pesticides. Though not as well known for their detrimental effects to humans as pesticides such as the now banned DDT, herbicides too, pose health risks to humans.
For example, Alachlor is a herbicide that was introduced in 1969. It is still in use today to control grassy weed infestations among corn, soybean, and peanut crops. According to the EPA, ingestion of the chemical Alachlor has been shown to lead to eye, liver, kidney or spleen problems, and an increased risk of cancer. Atrazine is another herbicide that has been used for several decades to protect mostly cornfields. Atrazine has been shown to cause cardiovascular and/or reproductive problems.
We need water to survive and maintain good health, but when it is combined with these chemicals and compounds, its very life giving properties are replaced instead with sickness causing microorganisms, and by toxins that are known to cause diseases from asthma, to Parkinson’s, to cancer.
Any reasonable person can no longer ignore the idea that the water you are drinking from your tap could be loaded with harmful contaminants, especially if you have children in your home. The proven correlation between contaminated drinking water and many serious health problems and infectious disease outbreaks -is far too strong for any thinking person to discount.
So what are you to do? Bottled water is an alternative. But, bottled water is not as healthy, or as well-regulated as you may think. The sources of many of those beautiful “springs” and “rolling hills” you see on many bottled water containers – is really the nearest tap!
Experts agree that the best way to ensure the safety of your drinking water is to install some kind of purification system on your tap.