Most people in the United States get their drinking water from public water utilities.
“These utilities are required to report to their customers by July 1st each year the amounts of dozens of potential contaminants that might be in the water they supply,” says Steven Via of the American Water Works Association in Washington, D.C.
This annual notice is called the “Consumer Confidence Report,” a name that sounds like it was concocted by a public relations firm. It’s either mailed to customers or made available online. Call your local water utility or visit www.epa.gov/ccr for help finding yours.
The other 14 percent of Americans who draw their water from private wells don’t get these Reports. They’re responsible for testing their own water supply.
The Reports aren’t perfect.
The quality of the Consumer Confidence Report varies from utility to utility. Some prepare 20-page comprehensive guides to their water supply, while others skim by with a two or three page bare minimum.
And the Reports have limitations. They won’t tell you how much, if any, of the toxic metal lead is in the water coming out of the faucets in your residence, for example. That’s because if there is lead in your water, it’s probably leaching from within the pipes or fixtures on your property and is not coming from the utility. (A chilling exception: Flint, Michigan.)
The Reports also don’t include some worrisome chemicals that might be in tap water like MTBE, PFOA, and perchlorate. That’s because the Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t fully regulate yet the levels of these contaminants in water.
But they are useful and sometimes interesting.
Still, the Reports are a start if you’re wondering — or worried — about what’s in the tap water you’re drinking or cooking with. And some of them make interesting reading about where your water comes from.
“Another use for them is for holding your utilities, your community, and your political leaders accountable for providing clean water,” advises Jeffrey Griffiths of The Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston. He served as Chair of the Drinking Water Committee for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board.
Thanks to those who preceded us.
In Boston in the year 1900, for example, citizens spent about 6 percent of their income on water treatment and “they thought that was a bargain,” Griffiths says, “because they knew the value of clean water.”
Our great-grandparents invested all of this money on infrastructure, and now people think they don’t need to do anything more, he adds. “We are not spending enough money replacing our old pipes and our old water treatment systems.”
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