Whenever you open the tap and wonder what the water is like, you can be assured it has been thoroughly tested before reaching your home. But is it good enough to drink?
In order for water to be safe to drink, it must contain additives you can often smell or taste, such as chlorine, a disinfectant widely used by water providers in Australia. You can almost certainly find regular reports on the water quality on the website of your water supplier.
Adding a filter to your tap water will remove additives' taste. However, you must first determine what you want to filter out, which filtering device to use, and how much you are willing to spend.
Water is one of our most basic needs, but it can contain many impurities, both natural and artificial. Water may only look, taste, or smell slightly different due to some chemicals, but most of them are harmless. Others can result in an immediate infection or can harm your health gradually over time.
Treatment plants add some chemicals to your water (like chlorine and fluoride). The potential health risks posed by this are being discussed. Still, the benefits of using the chemicals are considered to outweigh any possible risks.
Most Australians have no worries about getting sick from the water that's provided to them.
Usually our drinking water is treated by settling, coagulation, filtration and disinfecting. Enough disinfectant is used to stop your water from growing microorganisms as it travels through the pipes to your home.
As a downside, disinfectant leaves a lingering taste and smell. If you fill up a jug with tap water and leave it for a few hours, the smell and taste of disinfectant will eventually go away, but many people just use a water filter.
In the case that you're not connected to town water, but use rainwater or bore water, it's important to protect your supply from contamination - particularly with bore water - and check it regularly.
For example, animal carcasses close to your bore can be dangerous, and herbicides or fertilisers can leach into your water supply.
There are a lot of things that can affect the quality of rainwater collected, such as a dirty roof, peeling paint, or bird droppings.
If you're not sure how to properly maintain your rainwater tank - feel free to get in touch with us and we can walk you through that process.
Good steps to take if you're not satisfied with the quality of your water
Find out if your neighbors are worried about the same thing. It is likely that you can find out if there is a problem with the water supply, or if it is related to the plumbing in your house.
Get in touch with your water provider. Tell them when you see a potential problem - it may help them assess and resolve it. Ask them for your water's latest analysis results, including their Drinking Water Guidelines. Analyze a water sample if you're still unsure. Ideally, your supplier will be able to do this free of charge, especially if there's a health concern.
A water supplier can often resolve some aesthetic issues by flushing the mains, while other problems may necessitate more extensive cleaning or repair of the distribution system in your area, or even work on your home's plumbing.
Supplying water that's free from pathogenic microorganisms (those that can make you sick) is the most important task for water authorities.
Bacteria: Most pathogenic bacteria found in water come from contamination by human or animal faeces. Most bacteria are killed by chlorine (for example). In addition, bacteria can grow in the water mains. It's for these reasons that water suppliers ensure there is a residue of chlorine in the water when it leaves the treatment plant and reaches your home.
Protozoa: This group includes cryptosporidium and giardia. Cysts from these organisms can cause severe illness, and they are often difficult to disinfect.
Viruses: Some viruses that can be found in water are potentially harmful. Some viruses can survive disinfection and make you sick. As a result, it's difficult to know how common this is in Australia, as the source of an infection (whether it comes from water, food, or contact with another infected person) is difficult to determine.
Pesticides and herbicides can leach into waterways in rural areas. They may be carcinogenic and are present for a long period of time in the environment. Our drinking water is usually free of these chemicals, even though low concentrations have been found occasionally. Some water authorities, however, do not routinely check for them.
Nitrate/nitrite: The main sources for these chemicals in waterways are sewage and fertiliser run-off. Nitrate levels are commonly found in rural groundwater supplies. It is not harmful in its natural form, but it is capable of being converted into nitrite, which is particularly dangerous for babies and very young children since it can reduce the amount of oxygen that their blood can carry. Water suppliers in areas where nitrate is an issue often suggest that people use rainwater or bottled water for children under the age of 3 years old.
By-products of chlorination: Chlorine or chloramine is added to the water that is treated and passed through the distribution system to kill bugs and prevent recontamination. In some circumstances, however, these chemicals can - depending on a number of factors - react with naturally occurring organic substances in the water to form potentially harmful byproducts (mainly what are called trihalomethanes, or THM). These byproducts can be present in drinking water at a maximum concentration based on the drinking water guidelines. Moreover, they argue that although the concentration of contaminants in drinking water should be minimized, the process of disinfection should not be compromised. By-products pose a much smaller risk than the presence of pathogenic microorganisms, which is what poses more of a risk.
Since the 1960s and 1970s, fluoride has been added to drinking water to reduce tooth decay. However, fluoride protection can now be obtained from more sources - for example, through toothpastes or through fluoride treatments provided by your dentist. Critics argue that fluoridated water is unnecessary because consuming too much fluoride may cause dental fluorosis (mottled teeth), and no one knows how fluoridated water affects our bodies over the long term.
Aluminum: Chemicals containing aluminium are used in a process called flocculation to remove suspended particles from water. Small amounts of aluminum used in water are filtered out, but some may pass through. In some cases, aluminium chemicals have been replaced by alternatives.
Here at Coast & Country we provide a wide range of filtration products if you feel that any of the above information relates to your situation.
It is incredibly important to consider the quality of your drinking water and weigh up all options to you.
In our next post we'll talk about deciding which filtration is most suitable for your home.
If you're interested in going over our selection of filtration systems, click here.