Microbes in tap water may be responsible for up to 30% of gastrointestinal illnesses in the United States, and credible estimates suggest that only 50% of waterborne disease outbreaks in community water systems are detected, investigated, or reported1. But with modern water treatment technology, why are people getting sick from drinking their tap water? To answer that question, let’s take a step back to examine the issue at large.
Where do these waterborne pathogens come from?
Many pathogenic microorganisms are already in the water when it enters water treatment facilities. These microorganisms can occur naturally in lakes, streams, reservoirs, and most surface water sources. Even groundwater supplies are not immune since the existence of subterranean bacteria has been definitively proven to leach into groundwater.
How do water treatment plants manage these waterborne contaminants?
Americans expect cheap, clean, clear, and safe drinking water from every faucet in their home. Achieving that level of convenience is a complex and expensive task, especially in today’s era of limited budgets, aging infrastructure, and emerging contaminants that pass effortlessly through traditional municipal treatment processes. Chlorination and Chloramination are the most common drinking water disinfection methods and are currently used by over 98 percent of all U.S. water utilities. Chlorination can deactivate microorganisms through a variety of mechanisms, such as damage to cellular membranes, inhibition of enzymes, destruction of nucleic acids, and various other currently unknown/undocumented mechanisms. The effectiveness of the chlorination process depends upon a variety of factors, including chlorine concentration, contact time, water temperature, pH value, and level of turbidity. Chlorination is undoubtedly the cheapest, most effective way to disinfect water that is stored, processed, and distributed to homes and businesses at a municipal level, and that is why it is so widely used.
Why do some people still get sick from drinking treated tap water?
Although Chlorination greatly reduces the number of potentially harmful pathogens in water, it is not 100% effective against all waterborne contaminants, and it creates a number of undesirable byproducts that remain in your water after it has been treated by your utility. Epidemiological studies have related exposure to chlorination byproducts with birth defects, pregnancy complications, certain cancers (bladder, rectal, kidney, and breast), respiratory stress, eye irritation, skin damage, headaches, and fatigue. Although chlorination of municipality water prevents some pathogens and contaminants from making people sick, it is clear that limiting exposure to chlorine and its byproducts is preferable when possible.
Because there are so many variables (i.e. seasonal changes in present contaminants and/or levels) involved in the utility water treatment process, it is so prohibitively expensive to address every single potential contaminant or waterborne threat comprehensively at the city level that it is not currently economically viable. However, this doesn’t mean that these issues can’t or shouldn’t be addressed on a household or business level. You deserve to have clean and safe water!
So how can you protect yourself from potentially dangerous waterborne contaminants?
The best way to protect yourself from these contaminants is to use an advanced drinking water filtration system in your home or business. These systems should remove most if not all chlorination byproducts and other dangerous waterborne contaminants. And when filtration is not enough, you may also benefit from an Ultraviolet Disinfection system for your water. These systems can kill 99.99% of microorganisms in your water.
To ensure your water quality needs are being met, you should consult with a water quality expert to determine what type of water treatment system is right for you!