Water Works

By Alex Gorsky

One of the fondest memories I have growing up is of having water balloon fights with my friends. On a hot summer day, it was the only way to cool off. When we got thirsty, we’d drink straight from the hose. Nowadays most people drink bottled water instead. Unfortunately, not everyone’s water is as clean as the water I had. Even though most drinking water is safe, there are cases where water has been contaminated.

Water can be contaminated by microbes or chemicals. Microbes are either bacteria or viruses. There are some microbes in drinking water but most of these microbes are not harmful. Sometimes there may be harmful microbes in your drinking water but our bodies’ immune system will usually be able to defend against them. When one gets older our immune systems do not work as well and cannot defend against harmful microbes.

There may also be chemical contamination in drinking water by such chemicals as lead or radon. The EPA has a standard for public drinking water. If your drinking water comes from a public source then your water supplier is required to meet this standard. If your water comes from a private source, such as a well, be sure to test your well every year for bacteria, viruses and chemical contamination.

If a contamination were to occur, your water supplier is required to issue a notice that will tell you how you can avoid the emergency. In some cases you can just boil your water to get rid of the contamination. In other cases you may have to drink bottled water instead. Follow the advice and instructions provided by your water supplier. If you have a compromised immune system, you will want to read the bottled water labels to make sure that more stringent treatments have been used, such as reverse osmosis and distillation. If you are having a long-term water problem you can treat the water at your home as well. Home treatment filters can be installed at the tap or at the water main connection to your house in order to provide clean water to your home.

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About the author: Alex Gorsky is an intern in the Office of Public Engagement and Environmental Education at the Environmental Protection Agency. He is a senior at Beloit College majoring in Environmental Studies.