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With the push for people to drink more water (instead of carbonated beverages that actually rid the body of fluids), citizens are growing increasingly concerned about the quality of the water they drink. A 1997 survey by the Water Quality Association found that three quarters of Americans don't believe their household water supply is as safe as it could be. Nearly 50 percent of respondents in a recent poll said they wouldn't drink straight tap water. Such concerns about health are causing sales of bottled water and water filtration systems to spike higher than the 90s stock market.

Water taste, too, is a concern in many communities. Water with a high amount of total dissolved solids from rock can taste salty, bitter, or astringent. Water that contains considerable dissolved rock is very hard. It also has a high degree of alkalinity or sulfates. Usually, dissolved rock solids cause no problems-other than an "off" taste.

Since passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974, the EPA has set standards and treatment requirements for municipal water suppliers. Although water treatment plants usually provide good-quality water, they are not always effective at filtering out contamination that may affect water taste or cause eventual health problems. In addition, people with sensitive skin may find that showers or baths leave their skin dry. Certain pollutants, like rust or lead, can enter water after it has left the water treatment plant. And boiling your water isn't the answer. Unless the supply is contaminated by bacteria or viruses, the boiling process can make the water more deadly by concentrating the pollutant.

Residues, Stains, Odors

You may find that your water leaves colorful residue behind. Reddish or red-brown stains mean the water should be tested to measure the amount and type of iron in it. Iron gives a disagreeable metallic taste to water and may have a sewer-like smell. Iron causes coffee, tea, liquor, and other beverages to turn inky black. Iron types found in water include oxidized, soluble, and bacterial.

Oxidized Iron

Water containing oxidized iron is filled with reddish rust particles visible in the water when first drawn from the tap-commonly called red-water iron. Well water frequently contains a mixture of oxidized iron and soluble iron because some of the soluble iron becomes oxidized in the pressure tank.

Soluble Iron

Soluble iron, often called clear-water iron, causes just as many problems. Clear-water iron is easily recognized because the water is clear when first drawn from the tap. After coming in contact with the air, the iron oxidizes, or "rusts," forming red or reddish-brown particles in the water. It is common in well water throughout the United States. The problem most people have with clear-water iron is that it causes reddish-brown stains on plumbing fixtures, porcelain, cooking utensils, and laundry.

Bacterial Iron

Bad-smelling, bad-tasting water can often be blamed on the presence of iron bacteria, a slimy material that breaks free at high flow rates, causing extremely discolored water. Larger clumps can plug fixtures. If you see a reddish slime-like material in the toilet flush tank, it's likely bacterial iron.


If you find blue or blue-green stains in your sink, it's likely copper. Copper seldom appears naturally in the water supply. Usually, when copper is present, it is because copper plumbing fixtures are corroding. Water containing copper will usually kill aquarium fish and can make water taste bad. Copper also causes green soap curd to form and it is corrosive to aluminum.

Pipes, Too

The type of pipes that carry water through your home may contribute more to what ends up in your glass than you think. If your home was constructed before 1986, when the Environmental Protection Agency prohibited use of solder with heavy concentrations of lead, you may be getting a dose of lead with every gulp. Everyone who ingests lead is susceptible to its effects because of the way it accumulates in the body. At sufficient levels, lead can impair the reproductive and central nervous systems and may interfere with behavioral and emotional development.

In adults, lead can increase blood pressure and interfere with hearing. At high levels of exposure, lead can cause anemia, kidney damage, and mental retardation. Lead is dissolved in water by corrosion of lead pipe or lead-soldered pipe joints, commonly found in the water distribution system. Over time, mineral deposits may-or may not-form a coating on the inside of pipes, preventing water from contacting lead plumbing materials.

Plastic pipes can be problematic as well. Vinyl chloride can leach into the water from polyvinylchloride (PVC) pipes. PVC residue can cause damage to kidneys, the nervous system, liver, the immune and circulatory systems.

Copper pipes remain acceptable by EPA standards, and many filtration systems use copper tubing in under-the-sink installation.

What To Do?

Almost every one of these problems can be solved through water filtration or softening. Many filtration systems are available. Some remove odor and bad taste with a charcoal filter system that needs replacement periodically, while others use a more elaborate system that is able to filter out almost any substance, including nitrate, cyanide, selenium, thallium, various insecticides, a number of pesticides, rust, lead, copper, and chromium.

Softeners use the process of ion exchange. This process is designed to reduce the calcium and magnesium content in water entering the home. Some companies use salt to soften water, which adds a minute amount of sodium to the drinker's diet. Many can use a non-sodium-based substitute if salt intake is an issue, however.

The ACA does not endorse any of the water treatment systems or organizations listed below. Descriptions of sites, what systems do/should do, possible problems to look for, and other information is meant to provide consumers with background on which to base questions of their own. Prices may vary from those quoted.

(c) 2004, American Chiropractic Association

DISCLAIMER: No individuals, including those under our active care, should use the information, resources or tools contained within to self-diagnose or self-treat any health-related condition. Diagnosis and treatment of all health conditions should only be performed by your doctor of chiropractic or other licensed health care professional.

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