What Is In Tap Water?
Why Every Home Needs a Water Filter
by Nancy Hearn, CNC

gathering water from a faucet

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It is virtually impossible to know what is in tap water at any given time because municipal water quality as well as private well water varies from place to place, season to season, and house to house.

The United States has one of the safest water supplies in the world, for which I am extremely grateful. However, our local water quality reports do not tell the full story.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), drinking water from the tap “can reasonably be expected to contain at least small amounts of some contaminants.”

Municipal water treatment systems simply cannot deal with all of them and many contaminants are not even being tested for.

In addition, federal and state government water policy impacts the availability and quality of drinking water.

Summary of What Is In Tap Water

The following list outlines some common contaminants and where they come from:

  • Toxic heavy metals such as lead, mercury, copper, cadmium, aluminum
  • Volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) such as pesticides and herbicides, pharmaceuticals, chemicals from irresponsible manufacturers, as well as thousands of untested chemicals in our personal care and household cleaning products
  • Water treatment additives such as chlorine, fluoride, and other toxic chemicals
  • Bacteria and viruses such as giardia, cryptosporidium, coliform and E-coli

Toxic Heavy Metals

Heavy metals are some of the most dangerous substances known to affect the human body.

When ingested, heavy metals are very difficult for the body to remove. They can wreak havoc at the cellular level and can cause all types of health problems and weaken the immune system.

Even if all of the toxic metals could be completely filtered at the local water treatment facility, they could still end up in your drinking water.

That’s because rust and sediment (along with the heavy metals) build up in the water pipes within our homes and in the pipes that bring the water from the water treatment supply tanks to our homes.

Lead typically leaches into water from older plumbing pipes and fittings. The elderly, pregnant women and children are at highest risk for acute health problems from lead and other heavy metals. However, cumulative exposure impacts everyone’s health.

What Is In Tap Water - Untested Chemicals

In the U.S. alone, over 80,000 different synthetic chemicals are used by consumers daily, many of which are in our household cleaning and personal care products. Any chemical we use eventually ends up in the water we drink.

Only about 90 of these 80,000 chemicals are being tested for in our water systems. Not only that, the combination of chemicals is what proves to be most harmful.

A number of different researchers have studied our water supplies to determine what is in tap water. According to the Ralph Nader Research Group, more than 2100 toxic chemicals have already been found in water supplies in the U.S.


The cumulative effect of drinking even small amounts of chemicals is known to significantly increase risk of cancer and other diseases.

One of the latest chemical threats in our water supply is that of pharmaceuticals, as reported in the January 30, 2009 issue of the Los Angeles Times. Prescription drugs are obviously being ingested, excreted and/or flushed down the drain.

Studies reveal that many of these drugs are not being filtered by our water treatment facilities.

In addition, there are no water standard regulations restricting prescription drugs from being in our drinking water.

Thus, with every glass of tap water a person drinks, he/she could be getting small doses of hundreds of pharmaceuticals.

Drinking Tap Water with Chlorine

As far as I can tell, chlorine is used in just about every municipal water treatment facility in the U.S. The good news is that chlorine kills most microorganisms in the water.

The bad news is that chlorine not only kills microbes, it can damage human cells.

For example, the National Cancer Institute estimates that people who drink unfiltered chlorinated water have more than a 90 percent higher risk of cancer.

It’s simply not a good idea to drink unfiltered chlorinated water for any length of time.

The other bad news is that chlorine treatment doesn’t ensure that by the time the water comes out of our kitchen faucet it's free of unhealthy microorganisms.

When bacteria such as coliform and E-coli bacteria are found in tap water, it is primarily due to a problem in either the treatment or transport of system of water to our homes.

Even minimal exposure can cause symptoms similar to the flu, such as headaches, diarrhea, cramps, nausea or vomiting.

Read more here on the potential health effects of consuming chlorine in drinking water, as well as bathing in chlorinated water.

Solution: Every Home Needs a Water Filter

So even though our local water suppliers may inform us that our water meets federal guidelines, that doesn’t mean our tap water is free of dangerous contaminants. And it certainly doesn't mean the water is health promoting.

In other words, when drinking tap water we most likely will not get acutely ill from dangerous microorganisms. However, the long-term and cumulative effects of contaminants in tap water is significant.

If your health and the health of your family is a priority, then some form of home water filtration is a must.

The only way we can have any control over the quality of water we drink is by having your own water filter system.

Drinking filtered water from a whole house system or a drinking water system (countertop or under sink) is the most reliable and least expensive way to get healthy water.

Water Filter Reviews and How to Choose a Water Filter

Find Out What Is in Your Tap Water

Many people find it helpful to know what is in tap water in their local area before choosing a water filter

The main reason you might want to do this is because if you find that your local water has tested high for specific contaminants, you could make sure that the filter you choose will effectively filter those.

Every community water supplier is required to provide an annual water quality report to its customers.

This report gives basic information regarding the quality of your local drinking water, the source of the water and any contaminants found.

If you haven’t already received your annual water quality report, you can call your local water supplier and request it.

However, when you get your water quality report, remember that just because it meets federal regulations, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the water is healthy to drink. It simply means it is relatively “safe” to drink. 

Find out if the annual water quality report for your local area is posted online at the EPA website. 

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Further reading . . .

Tap Water Contamination - Common Contaminants and Resources

Tap Water vs Bottled Water - Which Is Healthier?

Safest Tap Water in U.S. Cities

Chlorine in Tap Water - Why Use a Bath and Shower Filter?

Bottled Water or Tap Water - Pros and Cons for Health and the Environment

Hospital Drinking Water - Is It Safe to Drink?

Water Filter for the Shower - 3 Key Reasons to Use One

Hard Water Solutions for Your Home - 3 Simple Tips

Water Fluoridation and ADHD

The Most Effective Ways to Get Clean Water into Your Home

Return from What Is In Tap Water to Water Benefits Health Home

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