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Tap water

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Tap water is water provided by the local body or water company through the plumbing system. Tap water is an incredibly important aspect of our daily lives. Most of our daily activities at home and those happening outside our homes involve water. Though tap water is very important in our lives, many of us know very little about the water we use each day.

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[edit] Why should I be aware of this

In most developed countries, it is taken for granted that tap water is safe and accessible. It is used for drinking, washing clothes, watering lawns and for a myriad of other purposes. When water service is interrupted, it is then that we realise the value of water resources and service. In developing and underdeveloped countries, there are many areas which still do not have access to tap water. And some of the areas which have access to tap water, the quality of water might be poor.

Despite the importance of tap water in our lives, we rarely think about it. And yet tap water delivers so many things that no other water can deliver.

  • Public health.
  • Fire protection.
  • Economic development.
  • Quality of life.

The quality and availability of tap water has an important impact on our health and environment.

[edit] All about tap water

Tap water in our houses can come from either surface water, including reservoirs, lakes and rivers and ground water. The latter comes from aquifers, which are underground geological formations that store rainwater. The rainwater seeps through porous strata such as sandstone and chalk. Water companies drill wells or bore holes into aquifers and draw water from them.

Major cities are usually supplied from the larger volume surface waters, whereas ground waters supply smaller populations, although this is not always the case. There are also areas that receive water from a mixture of sources. In most places water is treated at water treatment works before flowing through water mains, sometimes over considerable distances, to arrive at our home. Usually, samples are taken at each stage of treatment and distribution along the way, and tested by the water company to make sure that you receive high quality water.

[edit] Learn/Unlearn

The quality of water depends on the quality of the water source, the treatment it receives and the quality of plumbing it flows through.

[edit] Water treatment and impact on tap water quality

  1. Chlorine -- The practice of treating water with chlorine to combat water-borne diseases such as cholera and typhoid began in the 1890s. Since it was inexpensive, efficient and convenient, and killed just about everything hazardous in the water, its popularity increased. What people did not realise then, was that chlorine is a known poison and consuming it over a long period of time can have an adverse impact on health. In addition, chlorine reacts with water-borne decaying organic matter like leaves, bark, sediment, etc. to create a family of chemicals called trihalomethanes which are carcinogenic and other highly toxic substances.
  2. Chloramine -- Chloramine is generally used in systems where the level of chlorine is at the highest acceptable level but the water still needs more disinfection. Though deemed totally safe, it is not safe for animal or fish consumption.
  3. Bacteria -- If a municipal system treats the water with chlorine or chloramine, then theoretically the area is protected against bacteria. However, if the level of chlorination is not high enough from the municipal source to the tap, bacteria can re-infect the water anywhere along the distribution system. The piping system -- whether it is the mains or house plumbing -- has bacterial growth in it happening all the time.
  4. Most municipal water flows through lead pipes over 100 years old which pick up harmful toxins and pollutants before the water treatment plant (which performs very limited functions) and also afterwards when the water is on its way to the house.

[edit] Tap water and health

In developing or less developed countries tap water may be contaminated by a range of chemical, microbial and physical hazards that could pose risks to health if they are present at high levels.

  • Chemical hazards --Lead, arsenic and benzene.
  • Microbial hazards -- include bacteria, viruses and parasites, such as Vibrio cholerae, hepatitis A virus, and Crytosporidium parvum, respectively.
  • Physical hazards include glass chips and metal fragments.

Because of the large number of possible hazards in drinking-water, the development of standards for drinking-water requires significant resources and expertise, which many countries are unable to afford.

[edit] Caution

In the short term, if you are an adult with no special health conditions, and you are not pregnant, then you can drink most cities' tap water without having to worry. However, pregnant women, very young children, the elderly, people with chronic illnesses, and people living with weakened immune systems (because they have HIV/AIDS, had an organ transplant, or are on chemotherapy), can be especially vulnerable to the risks posed by contaminated water.

[edit] Some hazardous pollutants found in tap water

  • Arsenic - This has been directly linked to cancer and many other diseases, has been found in 85% of our cities' water. Exposure to lead found at "alarmingly high levels" can cause learning and behavioral problems in children, lower IQ, high blood pressure, and problems to the reproductive and nervous systems.
  • Some other common water contaminants and what they have been linked to are: asbestos (cancer and other diseases), aluminum (Alzheimer's), benzene (cancer, anemia), mercury (nervous system and kidney damage), toluene (cancer), herbicides and pesticides such as endrin (liver, kidney and heart damage, respiratory problems and cancer).
  • Fluoride which was earlier a popular additive to water sources has been banned in most of Europe but is still common in the US and many other countries. It is linked to cancer and infertility. According to a 1994 study in Journal of American Medical Association, drinking fluoridated water doubles the chances of hip fractures in older people.
  • Lead -- The issue of lead contamination, however, is not so ambiguous. Water leaving most water treatment plants is typically one part per billion (ppb) lead if not more. In several parts of the world 80% of pipes are lead-based, and much interior plumbing is soldered with 50-50 lead-tin solder. Lead concentrations at the tap are typically 5 ppb if the tap has been unused for less than 5 hours. Concentrations will be closer to 18 ppb if the tap has been unused for 5 to 8 hours -- and 28 ppb if unused for over 8 hours. Hot or soft water can increase these concentrations by greater pipe corrosion.

[edit] Tap water and environment

Unlike bottled water, tap water does not have a direct impact on the environment.

[edit] Tap water and society

[edit] Fire protection

A well-maintained water system that provides reliable water at an adequate pressure can make the difference between a small fire and an urban inferno. The ability to suppress fires also influences new home construction, business location decisions and insurance rates.

[edit] Support for the businesses

The success of business centres and industries needs a safe and sustainable water supply. Tap water is critical to businesses’ day-to-day operations and is often a primary ingredient in the products they create.

[edit] The overall quality of life

Low mortality rates, economic diversity, productivity, and public safety — measures of a successful society — are in some way related to access to safe water.

[edit] Support for the economy

A safe, reliable water supply is central to the economic success of our communities.

  • Tap water is critical to the day-to-day operations of existing businesses and to the viability of new commercial enterprises or residential developments.
  • From foods and beverages to toothpastes and perfumes, water is the primary ingredient in hundreds of thousands of everyday products.
  • Businesses must take into consideration the availability and quality of water when determining where to locate their offices or manufacturing facilities. The availability of water resources and service therefore has a profound effect on job creation. A scarcity of water resources can hold up multi-million dollar developments - commercial or residential - placing a severe strain on local economies.
  • An increasing number of communities are using recycled water for non-drinking purposes such as industrial cooling or irrigation.

[edit] What can I do?

Find out about your city's water quality. Start with asking your water utility for a copy of its annual water quality report, which is sometimes called a right-to-know report or consumer confidence report. Based on that install the correct water filter.

Periodic testing of tap water can be done but there are a few limitations to this. What they don't realize is that there are a few problems with testing.

  1. The test is only good for the moment the sample was taken.
  2. Testing can be very expensive to do, depending on what is being tested for.

[edit] The Tap project

UNICEF, which raises money for children's health and education programs around the world, implemented the Tap Project — its first new consumer campaign in 56 years — to help fund its clean drinking water programs worldwide in 2006. The Tap Project asks diners at restaurants to donate $1 for a glass of tap water that they get for free, with the proceeds going to UNICEF's various programs to help 1.1 billion people around the world get clean drinking water.

[edit] Adding tap water to the fish tank

When adding tap water to a tank for water changes, several things should be done to make sure that you don't shock the fish.

  1. The temperature of the replacement water should be close to the temperature of the tank water.
  2. The water must be chemically safe for the fish. Adding tap water with chlorine or chloramine to a tank can kill off fish quickly. It can also kill off the bio-filter bacteria that keep the fish in the tank healthy. Small water changes will not do any harm. However, if large quantities of water is to be added to the fish tank, then adding an airstone or powerhead to create water movement would speed the dissipation of chlorine from the water.

[edit] CopperBytes

  • Three million people die every year from preventable waterborne disease.
  • Many North American water systems add small amounts of fluoride to their water supplies to help prevent tooth decay. Child cavity rates have been reduced by 20-40% where fluoridation has been implemented.
  • According to UNICEF, more than 21% of children in developing countries don't have access to clean water, and 80% of all illness and infant mortality is due to waterborne disease.
  • Lack of clean water is the second-largest killer of children under 5, according to UNICEF. Areas that have the lowest supply of safe water are sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia.
  • Water covers 71% of Earth’s surface and barely 1% is freshwater that people can use.
  • It takes 39,000 gallons of water to make one car.
  • A 5-minute shower uses 50-100 quarts of water.
  • The United Nations declared 2005-2015 “Water for Life,” the International Decade for Action on water-related issues.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  • The value of tap water
  • UNICEF: Tapping the Power of Water
  • Plumbing Terms & Definitions
  • Tap water facts
  • Tap Project
  • 20 Interesting and Useful Water Facts
  • Chlorine and Chloramine
  • Tap Water Quality and Safety