10 Tap Water Contaminants You Need to Know | Virgin Pure

By Bob Fear

10 Tap Water Contaminants You Need to Know | Virgin Pure

Should we be worried by tap water contaminants? While our drinking water in the UK is regulated by the government’s Water Services Regulations Authority (Ofwat) and the independent Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI), who ensure all water companies supply safe tap water to our homes, there is still a risk of finding contaminants such as scale, heavy metals, bacteria and chemicals in tap water. We take a look at some of the tap water contaminants that may still be found, despite treatment by local water authorities.

Why do tap water contaminants occur?

Not all treatment by local water authorities removes all tap water contaminants. The UK water companies add chemicals in tap water to disinfect it, for example chlorine is added to prevent bacteria forming as our water travels from the treatment works to our homes. Dirt and rust from old Victorian pipes may also contaminate tap water between the waterworks and our properties. And not to mention, scale may also form in hard water areas.

While the levels of most tap water contaminants are usually low enough not to present a serious everyday risk to our health, most of the water companies across England and Wales have recently exceeded the acceptable levels of risk set by the water regulators.

What do the professionals have to say about tap water contaminants? 

The most recent tap water report by the DWI in July 2022 recorded 433 events across England during 2021 that posed a risk to public health. They said: ‘There have been events at key water treatment works, involving the use of unapproved materials in contact with drinking water, and issues around infrastructure resilience.’ The DWI made 92 recommendations to improve the safety of our drinking water. They said that this ‘unusually large number of recommendations’ was down to ‘Inadequate risk management within company water safety plans… company policy and procedures, reservoir and network operations, and inadequate company investigations.’

Water isn’t just water and some tap water contaminants, such as asbestos and pharmaceuticals, are not regularly monitored by water companies. All of this may cause us to worry about scale, heavy metals, bacteria, and chemicals in tap water. Below, we highlight some of the tap water contaminants you might want to look out for and whether they pose a risk to our health. 

What are the tap water contaminants to look out for?

There are a few common tap water contaminants that you should know about. Some of them are naturally occurring and some are added into your water. Nonetheless, it’s important to know what’s in your tap water so you’re aware of what’s going into your body. Take a look below.

1. Chlorine 

Chlorine is added to our drinking water to disinfect it. UK water treatment plants try to keep the amount of chlorine they add down to around half a milligram per litre, but this amount varies across different local authorities. If you live near the waterworks, you’re likely to have more chlorine in your tap water than those that live further away. Also, if maintenance work is being carried out at the waterworks, they may increase their chlorine levels.

We have a whole article on chlorine in our tap water, so make sure to read all about it. 

2. Limescale

If your tap water contains lots of little floating white bits, it tastes bitter or salty, and you have limescale depositing itself around your taps, kettle and glassware - this means you probably live in a hard water area . Hard water has a larger amount of minerals dissolved in it than soft water. This is purely down to the geology of where you live. If your part of the UK draws its groundwater from porous rocks, such as chalk and limestone, then you’re more likely to have hard water.While these minerals are natural and have health benefits, having lots of them in your drink may put you off its taste and cause damage to your plumbing and appliances.

3. Lead

Lead is one of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) top ten chemicals of major public health concern. It’s one of the chemicals in tap water that can come from old pipes in our home plumbing. All pipes within our own home boundaries are our responsibility. So, while the water companies can clean our water at their plants, they cannot protect us from the potential lead in our own systems. Lead can be harmful if it’s allowed to build up in our bodies. Those who are pregnant or have small children should be particularly mindful.

4. Copper

Copper is another one of the tap water contaminants that’s found naturally in water in very small amounts, but can cause health problems if larger amounts end up in our supply. The main cause of higher levels of copper in our drinking water is eroding copper pipes within our homes. If you notice that your tap water has a blue or green tinge to it, then this could mean it contains more copper than usual. 

5. Mercury

Mercury is another of the potential chemicals in tap water that’s one of the WHO’s top ten chemicals of a major public health concern due its high toxicity. While mercury can occur naturally in underground rocks, it can also end up in our water supply from industrial emissions. Exposure to even small amounts of mercury can cause serious health problems. As with lead, it can be particularly harmful to pregnant women and small children. 

6. Asbestos

Asbestos is yet another of the WHO’s top ten chemicals of major public health concern that can end up in our drinking water. Yet the UK’s water companies do not regularly test for asbestos> as there are currently no UK guidelines to say what levels of it in our water constitute a health threat. The WHO maintains that asbestos in tap water is not a cause for concern, but some scientists don’t agree.

In the 1950s and 60s, asbestos was added to the cement used to build the UK’s network of water pipes As that cement is now degrading, potentially harmful asbestos fibres could enter our water supply. The DWI says that they need further evidence that ingesting, rather than inhaling, asbestos is a health concern.  

7. Bacteria and parasites

Water can contain a whole host of bacteria and parasites, such as Legionella, E-Coli, Salmonella, Giardia and Cryptosporidium. While outbreaks of infections caused by bacteria and parasites do occur in the UK, they’re not always proven to originate from treated tap water. But tap water left standing for a long time, particularly in warm temperatures, will grow potentially harmful bacteria after any chlorine has evaporated.

Read our article to find out more how long it takes for a glass of water to go bad.

8. Herbicides and pesticides

Herbicides and pesticides are chemicals in tap water that usually originate from farms. Many farmers use these chemicals to control weeds or insects that can affect their crops. Toxic herbicides and pesticides can enter our water supply from agricultural run-off (i.e., when rain washes these chemicals into streams, rivers and lakes.)

In 2017, the DWI reported two failures of water companies to keep glyphosate, one of the most popular and most harmful herbicides, under safe levels in tap water. The water companies blamed this on ‘domestic use’ but this could not be proved.

9. Hormones

In 2012, it was reported that our waterways were contaminated by synthetic hormones from contraceptive pills. Prior to this, scientists in the US claimed that the presence of oestrogens in our water supply was more likely down to animal waste, and that all humans excrete hormones in our urine. While the debate continues about where they came from, their undeniable presence in our water supply remains a cause for concern. The consumption of oestrogens in large enough amounts poses significant health risks. 

10. Pharmaceuticals

In 2014, the DWI responded to reports of traces of cocaine in our tap water. of traces of by saying that the amounts were so low that they didn’t pose a health risk - and pointed out that this particular type of cocaine (benzoylecgonine) was found in a popular muscle rub. In 2013, as well as finding benzoylecgonine in our tap water, Public Health England also found traces of the painkillers (ibuprofen and naproxen), the epilepsy treating carbamazepine epoxide, and caffeine.

The subsequent report from Water UKconcluded there was no need to set standards and regularly test for pharmaceuticals in tap water ‘until further research on the costs and benefits of doing so, supported by robust science, is available.’

Can I remove tap water contaminants at home?

Yes! You can remove tap water contaminants at hope very easily. A decent activated carbon filter will reduce the amount of most chemicals in tap water. Granted, they really shouldn’t be there in the first place, but while such tap water contaminants continue to evade treatment by the water authorities and, in the case of asbestos and pharmaceuticals, there’s a lack of standards and regular testing, the onus is on us as the consumer to put our own safety measures in place. Continual failures on the part of the water companies, as reported by the DWI, also do not help public confidence.

The DWI themselves recommend we filter our tap water through activated carbon to reduce the amount of chlorine.

How do I remove the chemicals in tap water?

It’s pretty straightforward –Virgin Pure’s latest home water system features the most sophisticated countertop filtration technology that will deal with all of the tap water contaminants listed above, from chlorine to pharmaceuticals. Filtering tap water the Virgin Pure way means you’ll remove more contaminants than a standard filter jug and, unlike reverse osmosis systems that strip absolutely everything from water, you’ll leave in all the healthy naturally occurring minerals found in water, such as magnesium, calcium and potassium. Therefore, it’s just like having mineral water on tap - without having to buy the bottled stuff.

Interested? Take a look at how we compare to other filtration solutions. such as filter jugs. 

We’ve investigated all the tap water contaminants that may be floating around and that is easily removed by our own home water system. While it’s worth remembering that UK tap water is usually safe to drink, it’s also worth noting the DWI’s annual reports about the worrying state of the water industry’s infrastructure that needs much more investment to further reduce the present risk to public health.

Filtering our own tap water remains a choice. And as we mentioned, filtering tap water with Virgin Pure is a great way to keep track of what’s going into your body when you want a fresh glass of water.
On a lighter note, take a look at all the other things we’d like to filter. besides water!   

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