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Tap water: to drink or not to drink?

Krāna ūdens

The aging of centralized water supply systems and the growing popularity of healthy lifestyle trends have raised the question of tap water quality. Today we will try to find out what flows from our water taps and whether tap water is safe for consumption.

Is tap water safe to consume?

Water quality is determined by the state sanitary standards that regulates how many substances water can contain in order to be considered as drinkable and would not pose a threat to human life and health.

Sanitary norms in each country are regulated by the law which is developed and adopted taking into account several factors: international recommendations (e.g. recommendations of the World Health Organization), regional characteristics of the water (e.g. climatic zone, characteristics of water sources) and the water supply system specifics (e.g. old water treatment systems that do not provide a sufficient level of water treatment and old pipelines that can cause secondary water pollution).

According to the national sanitary standards and norms, the tap water may have a color, smell and turbidity, it may contain a small amount of heavy metals and organochlorine substances but it should not contain pathogenic bacteria, worms and too high concentration of chemical compounds that cause consequences in the form of acute intoxication.

If the tap water does not meet expectations

Each of us can evaluate the smell, taste, color and turbidity of water (organoleptic indicators) without using special equipment. If the water is dirty and smells bad then the human brain gives a signal not to drink it.

The color of the water tends to vary. If the water is taken from surface water sources (e.g. rivers) then it has a yellow-brown color formed by organic substances of natural origin – humates and fulvic acids. The yellow tint of the tap water may indicate the presence of iron compounds in the water. This problem is common for underground water sources.

Turbidity is caused by the presence of suspended particles in the water. These are particles that have not settled during cleaning or particles that have been washed out of the pipes. Although water turbidity in most cases does not pose a threat to human health, it does encourage frequent replacement of mixers.

What is not available to our eyes?

Tap water

Our organoleptic senses help us in everyday life but additional factors must be taken into account when evaluating the water quality. Many compounds in the water are completely soluble, colorless, tasteless in low concentrations and masked by other “brighter” substances. These are inorganic salts of heavy metals, nitrates, nitrites and even organic substances, including chlorination products. These pollutants are usually detected by water analysis in laboratories.

In tap water (depending on the region) most common pollutants are aluminum, manganese, iron, chromium, lead, cadmium and zinc. Although iron does not usually cause serious side effects, systemic intake of other heavy metals can cause health problems, including neurological diseases.

Organic substances, especially water chlorination products which contain chloroform, have carcinogenic properties. This indicator officially is being regulated only since 2015 and monitoring is not carried out systematically. Consequently, old water supply systems and low source water quality may increase the concentration of chloroform. In general, organic pollution can be assessed by taking into account parameters such as chemical oxygen consumption and nitrites.

Why chlorinate water?

Tap water

If centralized water supply systems do not meet microbiological safety indicators it contributes to outbreaks of infectious diseases, including shigellosis (infectious bacterial intestinal infection affecting the digestive system) and intestinal infections.

The elimination of pathogenic microorganisms and prevention the spread of infectious diseases among the population is the main task of water purification.

Chlorine compounds such as chlorine water, sodium hypochlorite, chlorine dioxide are used for water purification. Chlorine dioxide is the optimal solution for tap water as it provides effective disinfection, minimal by-products formation in disinfected water and it does not pose a threat to the environment.

Can you drink boiled tap water?

People have the habit to judge the water quality by the fact how much sediment it forms. However, it is important to remember that limestone is formed from harmless calcium and magnesium bicarbonates, which are the main components of water hardness.They are not harmful to a healthy person which cannot be said about household appliances with heating elements.

The main task of boiling the water is water disinfection. Although the boiling mainly removes calcium and magnesium carbonates from water, it is recommended to boil the tap water before consuming it.

Can you drink tap water?

Legally, tap water is safe for consumption but in reality the final consumer is responsible for its consumption. If the water contains several types of heavy metals, chloroform and other organic substances that are close to the upper limit of the norm, they can cause negative consequences even the limit values of the parameters are in accordance with the law.

As for alternative water sources, things are not so simple with them either. Bottled water must comply with storage and production conditions. Timely and correct maintenance of the equipment is responsible for the quality of bottled water. But the water quality of the home filters are affected by the replacement and disinfection of cartridges on time.

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