Tap Water & Your Health
Charleston Water System meets and in many cases surpasses the water quality standards set by the US Environmental Protection Agency and the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control.
Under the authority of the Safe Drinking Water Act, the US EPA has set standards for approximately 90 contaminants in drinking water in its National Primary Drinking Water Regulations. These are enforceable standards that may include a legal limit on the level of a contaminant or the requirement of a specific treatment technique to remove a particular contaminant.
Water that meets these standards is safe to drink, although people with severely compromised immune systems may need to take additional precautions as directed by their doctor.
Each year, Charleston Water produces a water quality report summarizing the results of water quality tests.
Many communities add fluoride to drinking water, a practice that began in 1945 and is widely supported by public health organizations such as the American Dental Association, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC).
Fluoride is a mineral that when consumed at the recommended level, helps prevent tooth decay in children and adults. While fluoride occurs naturally in some water sources, in many communities, such as Charleston, a small amount is added during the water treatment process.
Charleston Water System's target level of fluoride is 0.7 ppm, which is the level recommended by the CDC and US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). This level prevents possible overexposure to fluoride, as many children receive fluoride through toothpaste, mouth rinses, and foods. For information about fluoridated water, including recommendations for infants, fluorisis, fluoride in bottled water, and how fluoride prevents cavities, please visit the CDC web site.
Scientific and public health organizations have conducted scientific reviews about fluoridation during the past two decades. These reviews provide compelling evidence that community water fluoridation is a safe and effective method for reducing tooth decay across all ages.
According to the CDC, about 69% of communities in the US have fluoridated drinking water and 95% of the SC residents on public water systems receive fluoridated water.
For those who don’t want to buy bottled water, home water filters, called point-of-use (POU) devices, are a popular alternative.
There are a variety of systems on the market that are designed to remove different contaminants from the water, and they vary in price—from $25 for a simple faucet filter to several thousand dollars for systems that treats water as it enters a home’s plumbing system.
Before you buy, here are some facts to consider:
- Charleston Water System tap water meets or exceeds all drinking water standards and is safe to drink unless your immune system is severely compromised. You do not need a water filter to make your water safe to drink. For people with severely compromised immune systems, a doctor may recommend a certain brand of water purification device or certain bottled waters.
- No purification system can remove 100% of contaminants in water.
- There are no federal regulations requiring water filter companies to test their products or prove they actually remove the compounds they claim to remove. The National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), a non-profit organization that tests and certifies products, including water filters, has a list of certified filters available here or by calling 1-877-8-NSF-HELP.
- Not all filters are designed to remove all compounds. Some only remove harmless compounds that affect the taste and smell of water, while others are capable of removing bacteria or minerals. Be sure you know what a filter is made to remove before you buy.
- If you want to improve the taste or odor of your water, a carbon filter is usually most appropriate.
- Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions for changing the filter in your unit. Failing to do so may actually introduce contaminants into your drinking water.
Studies show that people buy bottled water for a variety of reasons: It’s convenient, it’s a healthier option than sodas, it tastes good—the list goes on.
Bottled water sales are driven in part by marketing strategies that tout bottled water as cleaner and safer to drink than tap water. But if your tap water is provided by a utility that meets drinking water standards, is paying a dollar or more for a bottle of water worth it?
Here are some facts to consider:
- Bottled water companies are regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, and are held to different, less stringent standards than water utilities, which are regulated by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.
- Monitoring and enforcement of FDA standards for bottled water companies is different from the EPA’s monitoring of water utilities. The International Bottled Water Association, in coordination with the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) has established voluntary standards and grants a seal of approval to all bottled waters that meet the standards. A list of brands is available on the NSF's web site or by calling 1-877-8-NSF-HELP.
- For residential customers, a gallon of Charleston tap water costs less than a penny, compared to more than a dollar for a gallon of bottled water.
- Bottled water that meets FDA standards is safe to drink, and is good to store for emergencies. Charleston Water System tap water meets all EPA standards, and is also safe to store for emergencies.
- Tap water contains trace amounts of a disinfectant to protect against bacteria and microbes, but most bottled water does not. For this reason, bottled water that has been opened should not be stored for a prolonged period of time.
- Many bottled water brands do not contain fluoride. Charleston's tap water contains trace amounts of fluoride at safe levels recommended by the American Dental Association. Fluoride helps prevent tooth decay in children.
From antibacterial soap to prescription and over-the-counter medications, almost everyone uses pharmaceuticals and personal health care products, called PPCPs.
These products contain a wide variety of chemical compounds--compounds that wastewater treatment plants are not designed to remove. As a result, studies have found that trace amounts of these compounds are turning up in our nation's water bodies, and potentially, in our drinking water.
Advances in technology now enable laboratories to detect these compounds in water at incredibly small levels---down to parts per trillion. There is no evidence of any impact on human health at this level, and federal and state regulations do not require testing for these compounds or establish limits in drinking water. In fact, studies show exposure to these compounds exists in many food and beverage products at higher levels.
However, recognizing the importance of this issue, Charleston Water System had its source water and treated drinking water tested for a variety of these compounds. Of the 36 compounds tested for, only three were shown to be present in Charleston's treated drinking water at the parts-per-trillion level: caffeine, phenol (a compound in wood and cleaning products), an TDCPP (a flame retardant compound).
It is important to note that Charleston Water System meets or exceeds all regulations for drinking water, and is closely following the research on this topic.
For more information, please visit US Environmental Protection Agency web site or the American Water Works Association's DrinkTap.org web site.
How you can help: Don't flush medications!
One way that trace amounts of pharmaceuticals end up in the water environment is from leftover drugs being flushed down the toilet. You can help prevent this by properly disposing of prescription medications--don't flush them!