What’s in your tap water?
Obstetricians consistently stress the importance of drinking fluids during pregnancy. But concerns about lead, mercury and other potential contaminants lurking in your water may have you thinking twice before reaching for the tap.
Of particular concern is lead, which can cause premature birth, low birth weight and permanent damage to a baby’s developing nervous system. “Lead is one of the most toxic metals to children, and it’s more prevalent than we suspect,” says Mark Woodin, Sc.D., professor of environmental health in the civil and environmental engineering department at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly 900,000 children ages 1 to 5 in the United States still have elevated blood lead levels. And while water rarely is the sole cause of lead poisoning, it can be a significant contributing factor.
On average, municipal water systems are required to ensure that tap water does not exceed 15 micrograms of lead per liter. Even so, an enormous amount of water in this country is not tested, Woodin claims. “Piping systems in big cities like Boston, Los Angeles and New York are a huge problem, and even though they’re periodically tested, you just don’t know what’s coming out of your tap,” he says.
To get your water tested, which costs anywhere from $15 to hundreds of dollars, contact the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791, or do it yourself. You can purchase a Watersafe Drinking Water Testing Kit ($17, www.water safetestkits.com). According to the EPA, you also can minimize any potential exposure to toxic chemicals by running cold water down the drain for 30 seconds to two minutes before drinking it and using cold water for drinking and cooking (hot water tends to leach more lead).
Better yet, invest in a high-quality water filter. “The filter will remove lead, chlorine, mercury and other chemicals,” Woodin says. “And, even if there are no problems with your tap water, filtered water tastes better and it might make you drink more.” For a list of water filters capable of removing lead, visit www.nsf.org/certified/dwtu/ (NSF International is a nonprofit public health and safety group that tests and certifies home water-treatment devices) or contact the Water Quality Association at 630-505-0160 or www.wqa.org.