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While it is true the United States has some of the best drinking water in the world, a disturbing new report conducted by The New York Timesrevealed that one in ten Americans has been exposed to drinking water that contains dangerous chemicals, including carcinogens in the tap water of major American cities and unsafe chemicals in drinking water wells in more rural areas. The primary reason, according to the report: The laws intended to protect our water supplies, the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), are not being enforced. In fact, researchers found, barely 3 percent of violations resulted in fines or other significant penalties by state officials responsible for enforcing the law.
Is your water safe?
Whether you water is safe or contaminated depends on several factors: its source, what treatment it receives (if any), and the quality of the pipes in your home. Follow these simple steps to check out the quality of your water:
* Find out about your water system. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulates the community water systems that supply drinking water to most Americans. Every water system is required to publish a yearly "consumer confidence report" detailing contaminants or violations of water quality standards. You can see the report for your water system by contacting the system directly. To find your water system, visitwww.epa.gov/enviro/html/sdwis/sdwis_query.html.
* Have water from your own well tested. Wells, which are not typically regulated by the SDWA, are more likely to contain contaminants than municipal water systems. The EPA advises that you test well water annually, especially if you see signs of trouble like corroded pipes, strange odors or stained laundry.
* Check to see if there are free or low cost testing services available. Your municipality, county or state health department may offer free or low-cost testing services; otherwise, you can use a laboratory certified in your state. The EPA has a list at www.epa.gov/safewater/labs/index.html. For further information on well water quality, the EPA suggests consulting nonprofit groups like the American Ground Water Trust.
* Decide which contaminants to test for. Ask for guidance from the lab or your local health department on which contaminants to test for. Find out whether radon or heavy metals like arsenic are present in underground rocks or soils in your area. Tell the laboratory if you live near a farm, an industrial cattle-feeding operation, a gas station, a mine, a factory, a dump or any kind of operation that might produce contaminants that can find their way into ground water.
NRDC recommends that you test your tap water for lead contamination, particularly if you have young kids, are pregnant, or thinking about becoming pregnant, since lead is especially dangerous and levels can vary enormously from house to house. A lead test costs about $25 (see, for example, University of North Carolina's low-cost testing information).
What should you do if your water is contaminated?
Once you have identified the problem, you can take the appropriate steps to fix it.
* If the problem is corroded pipes in your home, consider replacing them.
* If your well is contaminated by bacteria, you can have it disinfected or you can drill a deeper well.
* If your water contains other contaminants—including heavy metals, pesticides, volatile organic chemicals, minerals, parasites or bacteria—you should consider installing a filtration system. Consult our Checkout Counter: Water Filters for help selecting the filter that best meets your needs.
There are some things it's hard to get around to doing -- even when they're making a 'drip, drip' noise. Celebrate 'Fix a Leak' week by checking your faucets, showers and toilets for leaks and then putting a stop to the flow. The EPA estimates that leaks waste more than 1 trillion gallons of water every year in the U.S.
Even if you live in a place that doesn't suffer from drought, there are plenty of reasons to use water more efficiently. Supplying and treating water for your home requires a significant amount of energy. And efficient water use can reduce the amount of energy needed to treat wastewater and preserve existing streams and rivers.
Old and worn faucet washers and gaskets frequently cause leaks in faucets and showers. If your shower is leaking from the showerhead, apply a little pipe tape around the pipe stem and then screw the showerhead on. Leaky faucets that drip at the rate of one drip every second can waste more than 3,000 gallons of water each year.
Check your toilet for leaks
A leaking toilet can waste anywhere about 200 gallons of water every day. To see if your toilet is leaking, put a few drops of food coloring in the toilet tank. If the dye shows up in the toilet bowl after 10 minutes or so, the toilet has a leak. Leaking is usually caused by an old or poorly fitting flapper valve, which is cheap and easy to replace. New and improved high-efficiency toilets use less than 1.3 gallons per flush-that's at least 60 percent less than toilets made before 1992.
Watering the Lawn
If you have an in-ground irrigation system, check it each spring to make sure it wasn't damaged by frost or freezing. An irrigation system at 60 psi with a leak the thickness of a dime can waste about 6,300 gallons of water per month. Check your water meter before and after a two-hour period when no water is being used. If the meter changes at all, you may have a leak.
Are you pouring money down the drain every time you turn on the hot water? Reduce your utility bills by increasing your water heater's efficiency and reducing the amount of hot water you use. In most homes, heating water consumes as much energy as lighting. Here are four basic things you can do to save energy and money.
Use Less Hot Water
By replacing old showerheads with new water-saving designs you can save energy without shortening your shower. Low-flow showerhead models use an average of 2.5 gallons per minute compared to the 5 to 7 gallons used by a conventional showerhead.
Install a low-flow aerator on your kitchen faucet. Most aerators include spray settings that making washing easier and more efficient.
Don't turn the hot water knob on your faucet unless you actually want hot water. If you turn it on to wash your hands but your system is slow in getting the hot water to the faucet, then you have just wasted money to heat your pipes.
Lower the Temperature on the Water Heater
Set your water heater to 120 degrees. That should provide most households with enough warm water for showering and washing. If you live alone, you can set it lower -- each 10 degree reduction in water temperature can save between 3 and 5 percent of your water heating costs. When you are going away on vacation, turn the thermostat down to the lowest possible setting.
Insulate Hot Water Pipes
Insulating your hot water pipes will keep water hot as it flows through the pipes to your faucet and the water will stay warmer in the pipes. Even when pipes are insulated, the water in the pipes will cool but by staying warmer longer it'll save energy and water. It's easy to insulate the first 6 to10 feet of hot water supply pipe from the water heater. Pipe insulation is available at any hardware store.
Insulate Your Water Heater
An easy do-it-yourself project that should offer an immediate payoff in lower bills is to insulate your water heater. Particularly if your heater is in an unheated part of the house, a fitted water heater blanket can pay for itself quickly.
Set your water heater to 120 degrees or less. It'll keep your water hot without wasting energy.
Replace old showerheads with new water-saving designs and install low-flow aerators on your faucets.
Add insulation to your water heater and hot water pipes. A fitted water heater blanket can pay for itself.
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