Water is among the most essential substances for sustaining human life. Crucial to the advance of urban civilization has been the ability to bring abundant clean water to population centers while safely removing sewage and wastewater. In fact, many municipalities have been pumping drinking water to residents' household plumbing for so long that the infrastructure is starting to decay. That's a serious civic issue – but it also has the potential to lead to health problems for you and your family.
Aging Pipes Mean Bad News
First of all, it's important to understand that the water that comes from your household plumbing is nearly always safe to drink. Municipal water is subject to stringent testing and actually has stricter regulations than the water you buy in bottles. Unfortunately, in rare circumstances, the water can become contaminated on the way from the treatment plant to your faucet.
In some older cities, sections of water main pipes can date back as far as the 1820s. Most of it isn't quite that old, but the country is behind on putting modern infrastructure in place. It would cost a cool $126 billion to bring the nation's water mains up to date by 2020, according to a 2013 report by the American Society of Civil Engineers – and only $42 billion worth of work is actually expected to occur. That may have negative implications for the quality of your drinking water in the coming years.
From Water Mains to Your Household Plumbing
“Aging pipes can break, leach contaminants into the water they carry and breed bacteria – all potential prescriptions for illness,” according to a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council. The most obvious sign of aging infrastructure is a water main break, which is often a high-profile event that results in the flooding of city streets. They also pose a health hazard if not handled properly – bacteria or other contaminants can get sucked into the system through the break and end up in your household plumbing.
Rust is another potential consequence of outdated water mains. The good news is that although rust can cause the water to become discolored and have an unpleasant taste, it is not a health hazard in and of itself, according to the Berkeley Wellness Center, except possibly for people with the rare iron-related disorder hemochromatosis. If lead leaches into the water, however, you have a much bigger problem on your hands.
Protect Yourself and Your Family
So what are your options if you are concerned about contaminants from the city water supply getting into your household plumbing? The first step is to test the water to make sure it is safe to drink. You can buy testing kits at a local hardware store, or have a plumber conduct a more thorough assessment. If the water is contaminated, you may want to install a filtering system to ensure that any particles that find their way into the supply don't end up coming through your faucets.
If you have any concerns about the integrity of your drinking water, contact an expert plumber today.