How water quality affects your children's health
Mom, I'm thirsty. Dad, I need a drink of water.
Every parent knows those words well.
Children can identify their need for water very early in life — and they learn to communicate their water needs very clearly, as soon as they learn to speak.
But it's up to parents to ensure the water their children receive is safe and pure.
How water quality affects your children's health
Clean water is essential for growing children. It satisfies their thirst, replaces their lost fluids and doesn't add empty calories to their diets. Many recent studies show that water is superior to fruit juices, sodas, sweetened powdered drinks, and sports drinks with added electrolytes as a source of hydration for children of all ages and activity levels. Except for infants in their first year of life, you should strive to provide water to your child throughout the day, every day, year round.
Good quality water is also needed for bathing children and keeping their clothing and bedding clean. Harmful waterborne contaminants can build up on children's skin and hair, as well as on their clothing, sheets, and blankets, triggering allergies, asthma and other illnesses. Unfortunately most of the things that contaminate water are invisible to the naked eye; some don't affect the smell or taste of water, either.
Contaminated water is more harmful to children
Although poor quality water isn't good for anyone, it's particularly harmful for young children. Because of their smaller size, the way their immature bodies work and the way many contaminants build up and persist in their bodily tissues, your children are more vulnerable to the ill effects of contaminated water than adults.
Children younger than five make up just 10 percent of the world's population, but they comprise 40 percent of those suffering from physical illnesses associated with water contamination worldwide: diarrhea, dehydration, asthma, allergies, and lead poisoning. Water that seems fine to you can make your child really sick.
Water quality standards are a good start
Maybe you've never worried about your children's water being contaminated because your community's water supply is regularly inspected. In the US, the EPA's standards for public water systems, referred to as Maximum Contaminant Levels (or MCLs), get a lot of attention. MCLs have been adopted for more than 80 microbial contaminants, chemicals and radionuclides, and the EPA has other standards for the protection of drinking water sources, as well as for the treatment of drinking water to increase its safety.
You may even receive annual reports from your local water agency that assure you that everything is just fine.
But the standards are often violated
Unfortunately, no matter where you live, your utility company can't guarantee that your children's drinking and bath water is always contamination free.
According to an investigation by the New York Times, between 2004 and 2009, chemical companies violated the Clean Water Act half a million times, exposing one in every ten US citizens — including some 2.3 million children younger than five years of age — to water that contained dangerous chemicals or did not meet federal safety standards. Some 60 percent of these recent violations were considered instances of "significant noncompliance," including dumping cancer-causing agents into drinking water supplies and failures to report dangerously high levels of chemicals or other pollution.
The serious instances of chemical contamination uncovered by the press involved a whopping 40 percent of the nation's community water systems. Your local water supply can also be contaminated by runoff from farming and other industries; antibiotics, hormones, pesticides and other products emptied into local water sources; sewage spills and wastewater processing errors; as well as natural disasters, especially floods. Despite stringent federal and state water quality regulations, local treatment facilities often deliver water to their customers in excess of the MCLs.
Household wells, which provide water to about 15 percent of families in the US alone, are also vulnerable to many of the same contaminants, including bacteria, methane, pesticides and heavy metals.
That's why many parents no longer depend on federal, state or municipal officials or routine personal well testing to ensure their children have safe water available for drinking, bathing and other routine daily uses. Taking responsibility for the cleanliness and safety of your children's water supply is another key step toward safeguarding their future.
What the experts recommend
Each year, U.S. scientists knowledgeable about cancer meet to discuss the nation's progress in preventing and treating this dread disease. Collaborating as the President's Cancer Panel, these experts focus on understanding new research and making recommendations that can improve the health and longevity of Americans of all ages.
The 2008-2009 President's Cancer Panel took a long, hard look at environmental contaminants, such as those found in the nation's drinking water. The Panel's report — Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now — included a number of practical and easy-to-follow recommendations, a key one of which underscored the importance of water filtration. The Panel concluded:
Filtering home tap water can decrease exposure to numerous known or suspected carcinogens and endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Unless the house water source is known to be contaminated, it is preferable to use filtered water instead of commercially bottled water.
Read the full report from the 2008-2009 President's Cancer Panel on reducing environmental carcinogens at
Cocaine and hormones in your children's drinking water sound far-fetched? Read this article from National Geographic:
More information about recent studies of public drinking water contamination is available at
If you're concerned about the safety and cleanliness of your personal well water, read more about that topic at