Toxins in Tap Water: What You Should Know

Problems In Your Own Backyard

If your water comes from a well on your property, you need to be even more aware about what's coming from your tap because, from a legal standpoint, no one else is required to be. Unprotected by the Safe Drinking Water Act, well water must be tested and, if necessary, treated by the people who use it. In 2009, the AAP issued new recommendations that well owners test their water annually for coliform bacteria as well as nitrates, which can cause methemoglobinemia, a rare but serious blood disorder in children who ingest high concentrations over years. "Unfortunately, many families test once for bacteria when they move into a house with a well, and that's it," says Bruce Stanton, Ph.D., director of the Center for Environmental Health Sciences at Dartmouth College, in Hanover, New Hampshire. He's leading a campaign across New England to make families more aware of the quality of their well water. "Often these people live in a rural environment that looks pristine, and they assume that their well water is going to be too." But many of these homes abut farms or private septic systems that can produce a runoff of fecal bacteria, pesticides, or nitrates, or are surrounded by rock formations that can leach toxins like arsenic, which can cause learning disabilities in concentrations as low as 50 parts per billion -- a level that's not uncommon in wells, says Dr. Stanton.

Sometimes, private or public water can be clean right up until it reaches your house. However, if you have lead in the pipes leading to your faucet, water can pick up bits of the metal, which can cause decreased IQ, attention deficits, and increased aggression in kids. Because a 1986 provision to the Safe Drinking Water Act required that plumbing materials have no more than minimal quantities of lead, problems are mainly found in older residences, says Marc Edwards, Ph.D., professor of engineering at Virginia Tech University, in Blacksburg. "But we're finding many brand-new homes have brass pipes and valves containing lead levels that fall within government limits yet still leach the metal," he adds.

Parents Are Talking

Add a Comment