The UK has high quality public water supplies - probably the best in the world.
However, it's not easy to know exactly what's in your tap water - and whether you can fully trust it.
The privatised British water companies are regulated by the Drinking Water Inspectorate and are responsible for testing their own water and releasing the results.
Unfortunately, some seem to be better at giving out this information than others.
An example of a good water company test result is the United Utilities water test results (Enter the postcode WA1 2BX in the search box to get a sample result)
However, even with a good water test report like that, it is difficult to know what is in your tap water because the quality varies greatly depending on the exact location, weather and time of year.
Like the UK, the USA has high quality public water supplies. However according to the national watchdog, the Environmental Protection Agency,
" [tap water] can reasonably be expected to contain at least small amounts of some contaminants… The presence of contaminants does not necessarily indicate that water poses a health risk.”
See from the US Evironmental Protection Agency
The important thing to note is that many contaminants are not even being tested for...
The following list outlines some common contaminants and where they come from:
• Water treatment additives such as chlorine, and fluoride
• Heavy metals such as lead, mercury, copper, cadmium, aluminium
• Bacteria and viruses such as coli form and E-coli
• Volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) such as pesticides and herbicides, pharmaceuticals, chemicals from irresponsible manufacturers, as well as thousands of untested chemicals in our personal care and household cleaning products
Let's look at some of these in detail:
Chlorine in tap water
Chlorine is used in almost every municipal water treatment facility in the world.
While it kills many micro-organisms in the water it also reportedly damages human cells. (After all, chlorine was the happy by-product of a First World War nerve gas).
The US National Cancer Institute has reportedly suggested that people who drink unfiltered chlorinated water have more than a 90 percent higher risk of developing cancer.
Balance this with the further discouraging news that chlorine in your tap water doesn't guarantee that when the water comes out of your tap it is completely free of dangerous micro-organisms.
To be fair to the water treatment processes used by the water companies, when these bugs are found in our tap water, it's often the result of the delivery system between the treatment plant and our home.
Even minimal exposure to bugs like e-coli can cause symptoms similar to the flu, such as headaches and diarrhoea.
Heavy metals are some of the most toxic substances known to affect the human body.
When ingested, these metals are difficult to remove. They reportedly weaken the immune system, cause damage to your cells and can cause a large number of health problems.
Again, to be fair to the public water suppliers they cannot treat their water supplies for heavy metals because a lot of these come from rust and sediment build up in the water pipes that bring the water from the water treatment plants as well as the pipes within your home.
A significant health risk is lead that leaches into tap water from older water pipes.
Pregnant women and children are at highest risk from lead and other heavy metals. However, ongoing exposure can impact anyone's health.
In the United States reportedly over 80,000 different synthetic chemicals are in common use, for example in household cleaning products. The figure is likely to be similar in the UK and Europe
Many of these chemicals end up in the water we drink.
According to the USA's Ralph Nader Research Group, more than 2100 toxic chemicals have already been found in water supplies in the U.S.
However only about 90 of the 80,000 chemicals are being tested for in US public water supplies.
It is suspected that the cumulative effect of drinking even small amounts of these chemicals could be significantly increasing the risk of cancer and other diseases.
Prescription and Illegal Drugs
Prescription and illegal drugs are being taken and excreted by users in your area. (Sorry to be blunt, but it's happening in a street near you).
It is common for the water companies to recycle water.
It is estimated that we recycle water through our bodies up to seven times.
However these medicines and drugs are not filtered out by the water companies.
While it is thought that the active molecules are probably broken down during the ingestion process it doesn't sound great does it.
Conclusion: To protect yourself from the shortcomings of public water supplies simply get a good water filter to protect yourself and your family.
You can get a water filter for drinking water only or a water filter for the whole house