That glass of faucet water might not be as clean as you’d like to think. A quarter of Americans — about 82 million people — consumes water that violates the Safe Drinking Water Act. But what does this mean, exactly?
It could be that your local water supplier fails to complete a federally-mandated water test. Or, worse, the community water system contains dangerous levels of contaminants. Some of these can lead to life-threatening complications such as cancer or kidney failure.
Is tap water safe in your region? You don’t necessarily need a water-testing kit to know if something’s wrong. Here are 7 key indicators of dirty drinking water.
1. Unexplained Dehydration
Sulfur is naturally occurring in ground wells and can seep into the public water supply. While sulfur isn’t troublesome in small quantities, it’s been known to cause diarrhea, especially in young children. The next time you’re dehydrated, your first stop should be the faucet — and not because you need a drink.
Run your faucet water and give it a sniff. If you smell anything similar to rotten eggs, that’s a good sign you’re dealing with hydrogen sulfide. Some bacteria devour this gas and release sulfates which then cause intestinal problems.
A carbon filter can help. However, these bacteria often contaminate hot water tanks and aren’t part of the municipal water supply. You may want to consider sanitizing your heater before pursuing other options.
2. Fishy Smells
It shouldn’t smell like a seafood restaurant while you’re drinking faucet water. If something smells fishy, it probably is. Barium has a fishy odor and can sometimes slip into the water when an industrial accident occurs.
What does that mean for you? Excess barium causes a host of muscle, organ, and cardiovascular damage.
Another fishy suspect is cadmium, which can infiltrate a water system through improper waste disposal. It’s just as dangerous, if not worse.
But fishiness is hard to quantify. After all, it could just be a dirty cup. Let a glass of water sit for a while and give it another sniff.
If the strange odor remains, you’re definitely dealing with dirty faucet water.
3. Spots and Scum
Do you struggle to keep your tableware clean? It likely has nothing to do with the soap nor the dishes themselves. The problem lies in the water.
One of the most widespread water problems is “hard” water, an overabundance of minerals. Hard water isn’t dangerous on its own, but its presence can indicate more serious contaminants.
The additional minerals impede common soaps and detergents. And when heated, calcium and magnesium coalesce on surfaces and leave unsightly deposits, known as scale.
While hard water is often fine for people, it’s harsh on plumbing and water-based appliances. A water softening system can remove these minerals, but it does add unnecessary sodium to your diet. Instead, consider these water conditioner systems which soften water without the use of salt.
There are several intended ingredients in tap water. They’re added in such minuscule amounts that, for the most part, you’re drinking pure H2O. That’s why water is transparent and clear when it settles in a glass.
If your water remains cloudy after pouring, that’s a sure sign that something is amiss. There’s no definitive chemical that causes water cloudiness. But whatever’s in your water shouldn’t be there.
When your water clouds up and seems milky-white, use a comprehensive water-testing kit as soon as possible.
5. Unusual Colors
Never ignore prolonged color changes in your water. Your faucet water should always remain colorless. The only caveat is sometimes the water company will clear its pipes, temporarily giving your cold water a yellow tint.
Otherwise, even the slightest presence of color should give you pause. Water oftentimes turns orange or yellow due to a heavy mineral presence, such as lead or manganese. These color changes can also signify rust in your plumbing which will only worsen until its replaced.
6. Bleach or Chlorine Odor
Across the United States, water utilities add both chlorine and fluoride to the drinking water. These have health and disinfectant properties that keep your water safe to drink. But sometimes accidents happen.
Your faucet water should never smell like pool water. A chlorine scent suggests there’s more chlorine than necessary. That said, it likely isn’t enough to harm you.
The real problem is a chlorine or bleach scent can arise from chlorine chemical byproducts. These trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids are carcinogenic.
If the chlorine smells persist for several days, it’s likely not because of the water company. You should stop drinking the water immediately and install a water filter.
We’ve covered visible and odorous signs of dirty water. But your tongue, bristling with over 10,000 taste buds, is also able to detect minute changes in water quality. To some extent, water tastes different from place to place due to small variations in minerals.
That’s no cause for alarm.
But what if your water tastes like gasoline? Sometimes fuel seeps into the water supply. Try a different faucet in your home; if the taste remains, contact your water company.
Salty water is another concern as it can indicate a sewage leak. For these reasons, always be mindful of changes in the taste of your water. But please note that most tastes, such as the water being bitter or metallic, do not signify an unsafe presence of minerals.
Drink Faucet Water Without Fear
Still concerned about the dangers of tap water? Don’t be. Just be mindful of any changes to the taste, scent, or color of your water.
If everything seems fine, it probably is. Otherwise, you can look up the official faucet water tests in your local area. Use a home water system to offset any concerns listed in the reports.
The next time you pour yourself a glass of ice-cold water, you can rest easy with the knowledge that it’s safe to consume. Bottom’s up.
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