Nutrition Action Healthletter

Water Links

H2 and O. If you think that’sall your water contains, think again. A lot can happen on the way to the tap or bottle. Water can pick up healthy minerals like magnesium and calcium as it travels through rock formations. It can become laced with pesticides that are washed into rivers and streams. The chlorine that’s used to disinfect it can react with decaying leaves to form toxic byproducts. And even the purest water can become contaminated with lead from the pipes in your home.

To help you find out what’s in your tap water and more about bottled water and water filters, here are some useful links.

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What's in your tap water...
Start with the “Consumer Confidence Report.” This is the annual accounting Congress told the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to require 55,000 public water utilities to make available to their consumers. Some of these Reports are, admittedly, not easy to read, but they do describe where the utilities get their drinking water, how that water is being protected, which potential contaminants in the water have violated EPA standards, and what the utilities are doing to correct any problems.

* For a fact sheet on these Reports, visit,
or call the Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791.

* To find out how to get a copy, call your local water company. Or, look for a copy on the Internet at

* These Reports list only those contaminants that exceeded EPA standards during the most recent year. For more information on the levels of other potential contaminants in your water, ask your utility for a complete printout of their analysis.

If you need to test your tap water for lead or other potential contaminants, referrals to state-certified laboratories can be obtained from your local Health Department, the Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 1-800-426-4791, or send an e-mail request to

EPA has issued standards for the maximum permissible levels in public water systems of some 80 potential contaminants that can adversely affect public health and are known or anticipated to occur in these systems.

* For how EPA establishes these drinking water standards, visit

* For a list of the current standards, see

* For information about other contaminants EPA may add to its list in the future, see

Responsibility for enforcement of drinking water standards rests primarily with local jurisdictions. Each state is required to submit to EPA an annual report on the safety violations in its public water systems and to publish and distribute summaries of these reports to the public. EPA summarizes and evaluates these reports in an annual national report and recommends what’s necessary for improved compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act.

* For the latest EPA summary (from 1997), see

To search by location or zip code for information about potential contaminants in local drinking water (for example, from Superfund sites), visit EPA’s Envirofacts web site at

A list of frequently asked questions (and their answers) about tap and bottled water from EPA


For additional information on specific contaminants in drinking water:

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Disinfection Byproducts
 * EPA fact sheets on disinfection byproducts:

* Fact sheet on EPA’s proposal to lower the maximum permissible level of TTHMs (the most common disinfection byproducts) to 80 ppm.

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 * CDC fact sheet on cryptosporidium at

* Guidance for people with severely weakened immune systems from EPA and the Centers for Disease Control(CDC)at

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 EPA missed a Congressional deadline of January 1, 2000, to propose new standards for arsenic. The agency says they expect to issue the new proposed standards by June, 2000.

* EPA fact sheet on the arsenic standards at

* Frequently Asked Questions about Arsenic in Drinking Water, from the Natural Resources Defense Council, at

For the report “Arsenic and Old Laws, A Scientific and Public Health Analysis of Arsenic Occurrence in Drinking Water, Its Health Effects, and EPA’s Outdated Arsenic Tap Water Standard” from the Natural Resources Defense Council, see

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 * EPA fact sheets on lead at

* Questions and answers about lead in drinking water from EPA at

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 * EPA fact sheet on nitrates in water at

other inorganic chemicals (cadmium, copper, mercury, etc.) in drinking water

Synthetic organic chemicals (PCBs, pesticides, etc.) in drinking water

Volatile organic chemicals (vinyl chloride, benzene, etc.) in drinking water

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Choosing a water treatment system....
 NSF International of Ann Arbor, Michigan, is an independent organization that tests and certifies home water treatment systems. They verify that a manufacturer’s contaminant reduction claims are true; the system does not add anything harmful to the water; the system is structurally sound; the advertising, literature and labeling are not misleading; and the materials and manufacturing process used do not change.

Before purchasing a home system, always verify that the system you are interested in has passed NSF testing. Get their booklet “Water Wise” by calling 1-877-8-NSF-HELP, or find the information on their website at

The Water Quality Association (WQA), a professional association of water treatment technicians, also tests water treatment equipment. They award their “Gold Seal” only to those systems that have met or exceeded industry standards for contaminant reduction performance, structural integrity, and materials safety. Check their website at

Consumer Reports analyzed inexpensive faucet-mounted and carafe filters in October, 1999, and more expensive reverse-osmosis systems in July, 1997. Check your local library for copies, or visit their website at

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Choosing bottled water...
 The 1,000 member companies of the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) of Arlington, Virginia, are expected to follow a multi-barrier approach to water quality, which specifies the use of waters from protected sources, automatic treatment of water from unprotected sources, and daily monitoring for microbiological contaminants. Companies are also subject to annual, unannounced inspection visits by NSF International. For a list of brands of IBWA companies, call 1-800-WATER-11 or visit

NSF International also has its own voluntary certification program for bottled water. For names of companies that NSF has verified as complying with every appropriate safety regulation, call 1-877-NSF-HELP or visit

In 1999, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an environmental group headquartered in New York, reported in “Bottled Water: Pure Drink or Pure Hype”? on the results of a four-year study of 103 brands of bottled water available in the U.S. For a copy of the report, see

In February, 2000, FDA proposed that water bottlers be required to provide the same kind of information about their products that water utility companies must make available about tap water in the “Consumer Confidence Reports”. For the text of FDA’s proposal published in the Federal Register, see

A list of frequently asked questions (and their answers) about tap and bottled water from EPA

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For other information...
 EPA Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water (EPA’s drinking water web site) 202-260-5543 or 800-426-4791

EPA’s recommendations for those with private drinking water wells

EPA’s “Water on Tap: A Consumer’s Guide to the Nation’s Drinking Water” (1997)

EPA’s “How Safe Is My Drinking Water?”

“Children and Drinking Water Standards,” an EPA publication with information about how what’s in water affects children.

An EPA glossary of drinking water terminology.

An EPA description of what’s being done to protect sources of ground water

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