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'Some toxic substances cannot be easily removed from drinking water – nor does the EPA always know how much must be removed for safety – but there are steps parents can take to improve the health of their families’ drinking water.' (Photo: stock/via HCHW)

Is Your Drinking Water Safe?

Drinking water contaminated with the toxic chemical PFOA is a more serious health threat than previously thought, according to a new report by EWG.

Megan Boyle

How many times a day do you drink water? Cook with it? Brush your teeth with it? Offer some to your children?

Safe drinking water is essential to your family’s health and well being, so it’s troubling that a recent study has revealed a new potential risk to U.S. water supplies.

Here’s some key information – and steps you can take to protect your family:

Drinking water contaminated with the toxic chemical PFOA is a more serious health threat than previously thought, according to a new report by EWG. Two leading environmental health scientists have published research showing that exposure to PFOA is harmful at lower concentrations than those found in testing by the Environmental Protection Agency.

PFOA contamination is highest in the mid-Ohio River Valley of West Virginia and Ohio, but the new findings could have nationwide implications. Since 2013, EPA’s testing has detected PFOA in 94 public water systems in 27 states. The contamination levels were considered acceptable at the time, but the recent study now suggests they may be hazardous.

PFOA is a kind of polyfluorinated chemical (PFC). Non-stick, waterproof and grease-proof, PFCs have many commercial uses, such as coating clothing, cookware, carpets, furniture, food wrappers and more.

Toxic even in small doses, PFCs pass from mothers to their unborn babies through the umbilical cord. They have been linked to birth defects, pregnancy complications, kidney and testicular cancers, heart and thyroid disease, and other serious health conditions. Check out EWG’s Guide to Avoiding PFCs to learn more.

DuPont used to use PFOA to make Teflon coatings but eventually phased it out due to the health hazards. Although the chemical is no longer produced in the United States, the damage is done. Today PFOA and its chemical cousins turn up in the blood of almost all Americans and in animals across the globe. Read the full report.

Other common hazardous drinking water contaminants include lead, perchlorate and the herbicide atrazine. Some of these toxic substances cannot be easily removed from drinking water – nor does the EPA always know how much must be removed for safety – but there are steps parents can take to improve the health of their families’ drinking water. Here’s where to start:

Investigate your water supply

Public drinking water utilities test their water regularly for harmful contaminants and are required to disclose the results. Many utilities mail out this information annually to their customers or post it online, so check the website of your local utility or call to request the information.

You can also use the EPA’s Local Drinking Water Information website to search for reports by state regulators, though these reports may be less complete than the ones provided by your utility. If your family drinks from a private well, test the water annually through a state-certified commercial laboratory.

Use a water filter

Using a water filter is one of the best everyday steps you can take to improve the quality of the water your family drinks. There are many options on the market, so consult EWG’s Updated Water Filter Buying Guide to find one that’s right for your needs and budget, such as a carbon filter versus a reverse osmosis system. If your utility’s water testing reveals a high level of a particular contaminant, consider buying a filter certified to reduce that specific one.

Drink from safer containers

Use reusable water bottles made from BPA-free plastic, stainless steel or glass. You’ll reduce waste and your family’s exposure to chemicals that can leech from plastics into the water. If you do choose plastic, keep it away from heat. And don’t use plastic containers to store water for prolonged periods.

Support Chemical Safety Reform

Help keep chemicals out of your water in the first place. Urge your U.S. senator to work to make the pending bill to “reform” the Toxic Substances Control Act truly protective of children’s health. It should protect states’ abilities to set chemical regulations that are stronger than the federal government’s requirements and ensure a strong safety standard.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Megan Boyle

Megan Boyle is the editorial director for Healthy Children Healthy World.

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