Water: Simply Safe

faucet with water dropWater.

So many questions about something so basic, so integral to life.

Children drink more water per body weight than adults–for infants water that water comes in the form of both breast milk and formula–so it’s important that our water be safe.

The short answer to the water question is that our local water, with few exceptions, is fairly safe. The main worries are well water, older houses that may have lead soldering in the pipes, and sometimes bottled water.

Most of us get water from the tap. It’s convenient and based on recent Consumer Confidence Reports, fairly good. Locally, East Bay Municipal Utility District water comes from Sierra snow melt, Contra Costa Water District pumps from the Delta. All water sheds are vulnerable to industrial, agricultural and urban run-off.

The Safe Drinking Act of 1974 set standards for some water contaminants; federal standards exist when water is supplied to 25 customers or more. Over the years, EPA added limits for volatile organic compounds, and pesticides that might leach into waters were restricted.

While you may be tempted to turn to filters and bottled water, they are not guaranteed to deliver quality and safety.

Home filters that attach to the faucet or filter or your refrigerator often don’t remove enough of what’s really worrisome. Point-of-use filters should state they remove particles 1 µm or less in diameter. Carbon filters, if not changed regularly, can promote the growth of pathogens. The first morning water may contain too many bacteria. Reverse osmosis filters (these are usually costly and located under the sink) may be more effective, but they also remove fluoride, a mineral that can be naturally occurring or added to the water to make developing teeth more cavity resistant.

Contra Costa Water and EBMUD water is fluoridated. Children should drink fluoridated water. If bottled water doesn’t say it contains fluoride, you can’t assume it has the proper amount for healthy teeth. Children should drink fluoridated tap water or bottled water clearly labeled that it contains fluoride. For children without access to fluoridated water, fluoride supplements may be prescribed.

If you chose to use a filter, check out ratings from sources like Consumer Reports. It’s safer and more cost effective for communities to work together for safe water than to purchase filters and haul water home.

Lots of bottled waters are simply filtered tap water. Since there are no uniform rules or regulations for bottled water, there’s no way to tell. Environmental Working Group has graded bottlers http://www.ewg.org/bottled-water-2011-home

Most homes served by our water districts do not need to test their water. You might consider it if your home plumbing is very old and may contain lead solder. Use a reputable company. Run the faucet in the morning to clear out particulate matter and always cook with cold water because hot water leaches more toxins from old pipes.

Families with wells less than 50 feet deep with septic systems should have the well tested yearly for coliform bacteria. If the well is in an agricultural area, the water should be tested quarterly for a year and then yearly for nitrates if the other tests are normal.

For more information: EPA Safe Drinking Water Hotline (800)426-4791

About Lisa M. Asta, MD

Lisa M. Asta, M.D. is board-certified by the American Board of Pediatrics and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, for which she is also a Media Representative (she has been interviewed for “Kids Health” on Health Radio, and quoted in Parenting Magazine, USA Today, and the New York Times, among other publications). She is a Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the University of California at San Francisco and past pediatric chair at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek. She graduated from Temple University School of Medicine and the Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Asta is also a writer whose fiction has appeared in Inkwell, Philadelphia Stories, Schuylkill, and Zeniada. Her essays have appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Hippocrates, the San Jose Mercury News, and The New Physician Magazine. She is an occasional contributor to KQED public radio’s Perspectives series, and has written articles for Bay Area Parent, Valley Parent, Parents’ Press, and Parents Express, as well as online at WebMD.com, Rx.com, and MyLifePath.com. She wrote a chapter in The Field Guide to the Normal Newborn, ed. Gary Emmet, M.D. BabyCenter.com currently has two how-to videos for parents in production which feature Dr. Asta. For more on Dr. Asta’s writing, visit www.LMAsta.com
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