Is Tap Water Safe to Drink?

Tap water may appear clear, but that doesn’t mean it’s not contaminated. Find out what’s in your tap water and if it’s safe to drink.

By: Maggie Pace

Water is essential for health, as the adult human body is actually made of 60% water. However, consuming contaminated water can be bad for you which is why people often question where their tap water comes from, and the safety of the water they use for drinking, cooking, bathing, and other purposes. If you’re unsure about what contaminants are in your water or if it’s safe to drink, we’ve compiled this guide to help you figure it out.

Are Government Regulations Enough To Make Tap Water Safe?

According to the EPA, 92 percent of the population leveraging public water systems has access to tap water that meets all health standards. However, some people may find that government regulations lag behind growing knowledge of contaminants, which can lead to ineffective drinking water standards. Since the passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) in 1974, the number of contaminants regulated under the Act has increased from 22 to 97, with most of these standards being implemented as amendments in the 1990s.

Today, over 60,000 chemicals are in use within the United States, and some people have concerns that what isn’t deemed dangerous today could be later as more is discovered about the chemicals we use and how they get into water supplies. Even regarding the chemicals that are regulated, we’ve seen standards raised after new information revealed chemicals pose a risk at concentrations lower than previously thought. In June 2022, the EPA issued a new Lifetime Health Advisory to lower the acceptable amount of four types of PFAS chemicals in drinking water.

Regarding the safety of tap water, it’s possible that your water may meet all government regulations and still be unsafe because of ineffective standards or undiscovered side effects from contaminants. The best way to ensure your tap water is safe is by doing research into what’s in your water.

How to See What’s In Your Tap Water

Local governments put out water quality reports yearly (on July 1st) that will tell you helpful information including:

  • Where your tap water is sourced
  • What contaminants it contains
  • A range for the presence of contaminants detected in your tap water (from low-high)
  • The maximum contaminant level allowed by the EPA, and applicable violations for contaminants above those limits
  • Potential negative health effects based on the contaminants in your water

(Source: HSDL)

"Today, over 60,000 chemicals are in use within the United States..."

While you can do your own test using kits available for purchase, they may not be as comprehensive as the free version you can get from the government. Alternatively, if you’re looking for general information about contaminants commonly found in water across the U.S., we’ve compiled this information below.

What Contaminants are in Tap Water?

No matter the source, contaminants can be found in drinking water. Here are some of the most common contaminants found in public U.S. tap water supplies:

Chlorine and Chloramine

Chlorine and chloramine are used to treat and disinfect tap water. This is because water comes from a variety of sources such as lakes and wells, and chlorine is used to kill parasites, bacteria, and viruses that may be found in the water source. Similarly, chloramine is added to water to kill germs. However, they can also create harmful byproducts or remain in trace amounts that can cause irritation to your skin, hair, and eyes.


Fluoride has been added to drinking water since 1945 after scientists found that there was a relationship between communities with high levels of fluoride in their water supply and decreased cavities. The CDC states that drinking fluorinated water reduces cavities by nearly 25%, although there’s also been research that long-term exposure can contribute to a bone disease called skeletal fluorosis that causes pain and damage to bones. Today, the maximum amount of fluoride allowed in drinking water is 4.0 mg/L, but it is up to local governments to decide whether or not fluoride is added to drinking water.


One of the many reasons water has so many health benefits is because of its minerals. Minerals found in water support bone and digestive health. Minerals found in tap water are copper, sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc, and phosphorus. However, some tap water contains too many minerals in an issue known as hard water. In hard water, a high concentration of minerals can cause scale to build up in pipes and appliances resulting in damage to your home while also leaving residue on dishes and drying out your hair and skin.


Nitrates are natural chemicals found in soil, air, and water. They are also found in septic systems, animal feedlots, industrial waste, or food processing waste. It is odorless and tasteless, but can cause major health risks if too much is consumed. According to the CDC, high levels of nitrate can decrease the body’s ability to carry oxygen to tissues. Nitrates can be removed from water through ion exchange, distillation, or filtration systems that use reverse osmosis and are certified to remove nitrates.


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Another common contaminant in water is arsenic. It is a natural component of the Earth’s crust and occurs naturally in many minerals. Arsenic from soil and rocks can dissolve into groundwater, contaminating the water source. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, drinking water with arsenic is associated with diabetes and an increased risk of various cancers. Oftentimes, the health impacts of consuming water contaminated with arsenic develop many years after exposure. Arsenic can be removed by reverse osmosis, ultrafiltration, distillation, or iron exchange.


Microorganisms include bacteria, viruses, and parasites and can be found in water. Some have negative impacts on human health like E. Coli or Giardia. This is why water goes through a disinfection process and is closely monitored before being deemed safe for human consumption. To remove microorganisms from contaminated water you can boil or filter your water. Many water filters can remove parasites such as Cryptosporidium and Giardia from drinking water.

How to Improve the Safety of Tap Water

If the safety of tap water is still a concern there are alternatives. Some people may turn to bottled water. However, bottled water is costly, harmful to the environment, and is actually less regulated than tap water which means it may be less safe by comparison. A water filtration system is a better alternative to bottled water, as it can improve the quality and safety of your tap water and is better for the environment.

Water filtration systems can come in many different formats such as an under sink, countertop, shower, or whole house system that provides clean water from every faucet.

To answer the question, most tap water is considered safe to drink according to government standards. But insufficient standards and the growing discovery of new information about contaminants raise concerns. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide if you’re ok with what’s in your tap water. To ensure it’s safe, you can request a water quality report and view the results. If any contaminants concern you, consider using a water filter to improve the quality of your tap water at home.