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Drinking Water and Health

Drinking Water and Health

Contaminants in drinking water could affect many people because people drink and use water every day.

Community water systems in the United States provide drinking water that is among the highest quality in the world. However, drinking water contains some contaminants at low levels and can become contaminated at higher levels of pollutants.

Drinking water quality is an important public health issue because contamination in a single system can expose many people at once. People can be exposed to contaminants in drinking water by

  • drinking the water,
  • eating foods prepared with the water,
  • breathing water droplets or chemicals released from the water while showering, or
  • absorbing chemicals through their skin while washing.

The majority of community water systems meet all health-based water quality standards. Therefore, the risk of developing a disease from drinking water supplied by a community water system is low.

However, exposure to contaminants in drinking water can cause many adverse effects, some of which can be immediate with symptoms occurring soon after drinking the water. An example is gastrointestinal illness. Other effects can develop over time, such as reproductive disorders, cancer, or neurological disorders.

The risk of developing a specific disease depends on many factors:

  • properties of the specific contaminant,
  • how much of the contaminant a person is exposed to,
  • exposure pathways such as drinking or showering, and
  • individual factors, such as body size, age, health conditions, and health behaviors.

When a problem that might pose a health risk is discovered in a water system, the supplier is required to notify its customers. If you think your drinking water is contaminated, call your water supplier or state drinking water program. You can locate these agencies or find information on drinking water in general from EPA's Safe Drinking Water Hotline at (800) 426-4791.

Sensitive groups, such as the elderly, children, and pregnant women, are more likely to suffer ill effects than the rest of the population.

Making sure that drinking water remains in compliance with recommended standards is the most important way to prevent health problems caused by contaminants in drinking water. Protecting water sources, providing effective and reliable water treatment, and monitoring water quality are the main strategies for providing high-quality drinking water. Federal laws and regulations are in place at the state level to implement these strategies for community water systems.

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