Educational Consumer Tips

Water Quality Improvement

Author: Better Business Bureau


Americans enjoy one of the best supplies of drinking water in the world, due, in large part, to strict regulations and standards enforced by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the 50 states. Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the EPA is responsible for setting national limits for hundreds of substances in drinking water and also specifies various treatments that water systems must use to remove these substances.

Despite the best efforts of officials, some water supplies do not meet all applicable standards. Also, the EPA does not regulate water taste, odor or appearance. The sources of drinking water (both tap and bottled) include rivers, lakes, streams, ponds, reservoirs, springs and wells. As water travels over the surface of the land or underground, it can be expected to pick up naturally occurring minerals and substances resulting from the presence of animals and human activity. Drinking water may reasonably be expected to contain at least small amounts of some contaminants. The presence of these contaminants does not necessarily indicate that the water poses a health risk. More information about contaminants and potential health effects can be obtained by calling the EPA's Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 1-800-426-4791.

Water systems serving the same people year round are required to prepare annual water quality reports. These reports list all contaminants detected in drinking water and how they compare to EPA drinking water standards found at You can get these reports directly from your water supplier, or they may be posted on the EPA's website.

If you use well water, ask your local or state health department if it offers free water testing. Most of these departments will offer free testing for bacterial contaminants.

Before seeking independent water testing, get your local water report from your local water supplier or the EPA's website. If you do need independent testing, it's wise to contact a laboratory from the EPA's state laboratory certification officer list available online at

Some people may be more vulnerable to contaminants in drinking water than the general population. Those with a weakened immune system such as persons undergoing chemotherapy, persons who have had organ transplants, people with HIV/AIDS or other immune system disorders, some elderly and infants may be at risk from infections. These people should seek advice about drinking water from their health care providers.

If you suspect your water supply is contaminated, contact your state officials. They have the most direct enforcement authority over water systems. Calling the EPA Hotline at 800-426-47921or going online at can get you state program contact information.

A red flag should go up anytime a salesperson suggests any of the folowing:

-The water in your area is contaminated,

-Their water-filtration products are certified or recommended by the U.S. government,

-An offer for an in-home test to check the safety of your water,

-Their company's water filter doesn't require maintenance,

-Their water filters remove all known contaminants, or

-You have won a prize but you have not entered any contest.