Water problems affect half of humanity. Many of us think contaminated water or lack of access to clean water is someone else’s concern. However, access to clean drinking water is an ever-increasing problem that affects us all, no matter where we live. Did you know that an American taking a five-minute shower uses more water than the typical person living in a developing country’s slum area uses in an entire day? A person can live for weeks without food but only a few days without water. Safe water supplies, hygienic sanitation, and good water management are fundamental to our health.
Types of Water Contaminants
The United States has one of the safest water supplies in the world. While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates our tap water, the quality of that water can vary from place to place, depending on its source and the treatment it receives.
There are many types of contaminants present in our water supply. They often relate to the specific area in which we live and can include farm chemicals, solvents, arsenic or other heavy metals, bacteria, and viruses.
How Can We Know If Our Tap Water Is Safe?
Specific acceptable water levels for each contaminant can be found on the Web sites for the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In addition, local water authorities must provide information to consumers about their community’s specific water standards and testing results in a Consumer Confidence Report. Health care providers and consumers alike can access this information by contacting their local water authority directly or by checking its Web site.
There are several basic methods for treating potentially unsafe water before it is used for drinking or in cooking. Boiling, solar disinfection, filtration, settling and decanting, and chemical disinfection are the most common.
Ways to Prevent Water Contamination
We can all do our part to protect our precious water resources. There are many ways to prevent water contamination and help safeguard our water.
- Correctly dispose of hazardous household products (such as paints, used oil, cleaning solvents, polishes, pool chemicals, insecticides, and other chemicals) via the appropriate local sanitation department, public works department, or environmental health department. Keep these products out of drains, sinks, and toilets.
- Use nontoxic household products whenever possible.
- Avoid using antibacterial soaps and cleaning products.
- Never flush unwanted or out-of-date medications down the toilet or drain. Find out if your county or city has a program to collect unwanted pharmaceuticals. If not, pour water or vinegar in the bottle to destroy the medication and make it inaccessible to children. Then remove all labels, wrap the medication, and dispose of it in the garbage.
- Recycle and dispose of all trash properly. Do not flush disposable diapers or plastic tampon applicators down the toilet.
- Conserve water even if you do not live in an area that requires conservation.
- Install a water storage cistern to collect rainwater.
- Plant a rain garden.
- Install a vegetated roof.
Additional Ways to Prevent Water Contamination
In Recreational Water Areas
- Don’t swim when you or your children have been sick.
- Avoid swallowing pool water or getting it in your mouth.
- Practice good hygiene. Germs on the body and hands end up in the water.
- Take children on bathroom breaks or check their diapers often and wash their bottoms thoroughly. When a child says “I have to go” it is usually too late.
In the Yard
- Use natural fertilizers (such as compost, manure, bone meal, or peat) whenever possible.
- Avoid over-watering lawns and gardens.
- Decrease impervious (hard) surfaces in your home to improve drainage around the yard and home.
- Maintain septic systems properly by having them cleaned every 3 to 5 years.
Maintaining Your Car
- Fix leaks that drip from your car.
- Recycle used motor oil (since a single quart of motor oil that seeps into groundwater can pollute 250,000 gallons of drinking water).
- Be “green” when washing your car. Choose a car wash that recycles the water or wash the car on your lawn using a minimum of soap.
In Your Community
- Clean up your pet’s feces.
- Spread the word and be a water advocate.
- Don’t put anything down storm drains.
- Help identify, report, and stop polluters.
- Be an activist!
- Contact local officials and attend hearings to help them support laws and programs that protect our water.
- Volunteer to clean up beaches and streams, plant trees, sample water quality, or monitor stream pollution.
- Get involved internationally with organizations that support clean water.
- Become educated about your local water quality and safety.