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Not Just H2O - The Surprising Substances In Your Tap Water

Tap Water Your tap water is made of more than just hydrogen and oxygen — it can also contain impurities as well as minerals that are good for you.

But why should you be concerned about your tap water?

The Contaminants

No matter how crystal clear the water may appear, it's almost certain to contain microscopic amounts of contaminants. Municipal water treatment plants must abide by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act and reduce these dangerous impurities to acceptable levels that won't cause health issues. However, in the United States, our aging water infrastructure can reintroduce contaminants back into our treated water. Antiquated wastewater systems can leak untreated sewage into our surface waters, and old pipes and faucets can leech lead and other heavy metals into our drinking water on the way to our homes. Unfortunately, this means that while our water is safe when it leaves treatment plants, contamination problems come as the water is piped to our homes. Running your tap water through a faucet filtration system is an inexpensive and reliable way to give you peace of mind that nasty contaminants won't affect your health.

But what are these contaminants, and what kind of harm can they do? Here are some common impurities that you'll want to keep trapped in your water filter and out of your body:

Lead: Lead usually enters our drinking supply when pipes and faucets corrode. Lead poisoning is especially dangerous in children, as it can lead to permanent brain damage and other developmental problems. Lead can also cause kidney and nervous system damage and increase one's blood pressure.

Mercury: Agricultural runoff, seepage from landfills, and factory waste are all sources of mercury. Short and long-term exposure to this metal in our water can lead to serious kidney damage.

Chlorine: Chlorine is an essential component in disinfecting our water from a lot of contaminants, but exposure to too much chlorine can irritate your eyes and nose and affect your nervous system in the long run.

Bisphenol A (BPA): You may recognize the term "BPA" from food and beverage containers. BPA is a compound used in the production of plastics, and it can leach into food or liquids if the container is exposed to high temperatures or harsh detergents. BPA is also used in the epoxy coating in water pipes. While research on the long-term effects of BPA exposure is ongoing, it's been linked to a whole host of medical issues, including heart problems, cancer, and obesity. Most filter brands don't remove BPA (PUR is a national brand that does), so research before you buy.

Giardia lamblia: Giardia is a parasite that can also enter our water supply through contact with sewage and animal waste. While it rarely leads to serious illness, it can cause painful cramping and vomiting.

Giardia lamblia: Giardia is a parasite that can also enter our water supply through contact with sewage and animal waste. While it rarely leads to serious illness, it can cause painful cramping and vomiting.

The Good Stuff

While the list of contaminants may be long, your water might also contain tiny amounts of dissolved minerals that enhance the taste and are also beneficial for your body:

Fluoride: Since 1950, the American Dental Association has endorsed the addition of fluoride to public drinking water, as it's a safe, effective way to prevent tooth decay in children and adults. Not all drinking water contains added fluoride, and some filters may remove it. (PUR filters leave added fluoride alone so it can work its magic on teeth.)

Calcium and Magnesium: Calcium plays a role in building strong bones and teeth, but it also is vital for keeping your heart beating properly. Magnesium also helps keep the heart beating at a steady, healthy rhythm. It's also important in controlling blood pressure and maintaining insulin sensitivity. Neither calcium nor magnesium is present in large quantities in water, but these minerals are considered desirable and therefore not removed by most filters.

Water may be essential to stay healthy, but this life-sustaining liquid can put your health at risk if contaminated. Go beyond the minimum federal regulations for safe water and filter your water before you drink it. Your body will thank you.

This post was created as part of my collaboration with PUR. As always, all of the opinions, thoughts, and ideas in this post are my own. I am solely responsible for the content.


Scott Jung
Ever since he had atresia surgically repaired at age five, Scott Jung has been fascinated with the field of health and medicine. Combining his love of consumer electronics and technology with medicine, he studied biomedical engineering at the University of Southern California and graduated in 2009. By day, Scott is a Technical Services Engineer at St. Jude Medical, but moonlights as a senior editor at Medgadget, leading health technology and innovation blog.