Is our water safe to drink?

by Tatiana C. Tatum Parker, originally posted on April 11, 2016


We live in a society where we have taken for granted the fact that we can turn on the tap and we will get plentiful, potable water. However, how safe is our drinking water?

This is a question that many Americans have been asking themselves in light of high levels of lead in Flint, Mich., and high levels of arsenic in parts of Texas. In the recent past, there have been some water contamination issues around the Chicago area. In 2005, a nuclear plant in Braidwood had a tritium leak that leaked millions of gallons of mildly radioactive water into area groundwater near the nuclear site. And, in 2009, the world learned of the 20-plus-year cover-up in Crestwood regarding a contaminated municipal well.

On Feb. 18, a lawsuit was filed against the city of Chicago accusing it of not adequately warning residents of the possibly elevated presence of lead in their water due to street water mains that had been replaced. One demand within the lawsuit is that thousands of lead service lines be removed. The lead levels increased when the crumbling infrastructure was replaced, disturbing the city’s lead supply lines during the installation of new street water mains. Approximately 80 percent of homes in Chicago are hooked up to lead service lines, the most in the nation. A Tribune investigation found hot spots of lead poisoning in some of the city’s poorest, most crime-ridden neighborhoods, where people are suffering from high amounts of exposure. This is a huge problem since exposure to even small amounts of lead causes subtle brain damage that can trigger learning disabilities and violent behavior later in life.

So, how does one take protective measures? There are numerous products on the market that can help and range from $20 to more than $1,000. How do you know which one is the right one for you and your family? The first consideration that you need to make is what contaminants are your main concern? Regular jug water filters, though popular, are ineffective for lead removal. Most jug filters have loose carbon granules, which slightly reduce lead levels but are rarely effective enough to be safe to drink. They are not certified by the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) for lead removal. You can install a whole house water filter to cover your entire house, or install an under sink water filter if you’re in an apartment or on a tight budget. These products are generally carbon filters and reverse osmosis filters. When looking for a whole home or under sink water filter, make sure to stick to brands that are NSF rated. Installation is generally very quick and uncomplicated. It is a timely and cost-effective fix to a serious problem.

In the meantime, if you are concerned about your water, or are waiting to have it tested, there are a few things that you can do. Do not boil the water to remove lead. While boiling water kills bacteria and parasites, it will not help with lead. Lead is an element, so boiling will just result in even higher concentrations after water evaporates. Instead, run your taps for 1-2 minutes to flush out stagnant water. Also, only use cold water to drink and cook. Both of these techniques, while limiting the amount of lead leeching into your water, will not eliminate it.

Learn More