Tap water in the U.S. is generally safe to drink. At least that's what we are told by medical professionals and government agencies. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which regulates public drinking water, aims to "ensure and protect the quality of Americans' drinking water" under the Safe Drinking Water Act, established in 1974. Reports say that some 92 percent of tap water meets state and federal standards and that the U.S. has the cleanest and safest public water supply in the world.
But tell that to the residents of Flint, Michigan, who drank lead-laced water for more than a year, even though officials in Gov. Rick Snyder's administration knew about its toxicity. Or the 3,000 areas nationwide facing lead poisoning rates worse than Flint. Or the 218 million Americans unwittingly drinking chromium-6 (the carcinogenic "Erin Brockovich" chemical) right from their faucets.
Nearly 3,000 U.S. Communities Have #Lead Levels Higher Than #Flint, Reuters Reports https://t.co/NkhYGC7B7g @foodandwater @foe_us @350— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1482332347.0
For these reasons and many more, is it any surprise that many Americans are questioning the safety of their drinking water despite decades of assurances from experts and government officials?
A recent survey from Iowa-based marketing firm Meyocks found that only three out of five Americans (57 percent) agree that their tap water is safe. But the nationwide survey of 1,006 adults also revealed that about one in five Americans (19 percent) disagree that their tap water is safe and 24 percent are unsure.
Many Americans are unsure whether their tap water is safe to drink. Meyocks
So how do you know if your water is safe to drink? For the most part, America's drinking water is pulled from groundwater or surface water sources and treated at plants to federal and state purity levels before arriving to your tap.
Unless you have a private well, the best way to find out if the water flowing from your faucet is safe is by searching the EPA database and finding your local water supplier's Consumer Confidence Report or CCR. This annual drinking water quality report, which your supplier must complete by July 1 of each year, includes information on where your water comes from, the levels of detected contaminants and your supplier's compliance with drinking water rules.
For instance, take the CCR for Georgetown County, South Carolina, where I currently live. After sampling results for nearly 100 substances and elements regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act, my local water supplier determined that the county's water is "healthy, safe, high quality and exceeded all state and federal health and safety standards."
While Georgetown's CCR reported trace amounts of contaminants, note that all drinking water—yes, even the bottled stuff—often contains minor traces of some contaminants. The EPA's National Primary Drinking Water Regulations table has set Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCL) for contaminants allowed in public water sources.
Contaminants are not necessarily harmful to healthy people, but some groups of people can be more vulnerable to polluted water, such as infants, children and pregnant women or cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, transplant patients or people with HIV/AIDS.
For those of you who are still uncertain or do not trust your CCR—and given the water disasters in Flint and numerous other cities, that's understandable—contact your water supplier or the local health department for further testing options. You can also have your drinking water tested by contacting a laboratory certified by your state or territory.