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Why Flint Happened and How You Can Protect Your Water

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A lot of families have had concerns about their area’s drinking water since news broke about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. We all want to know that our water is safe, but there are a lot of factors at play. Understanding why lead got into Flint’s tap water can help us prevent similar issues from happening in our own communities and homes. The right filtration system will make your water a lot safer, and can even remove lead if it’s present.

Our Indianapolis-area neighbors can rest assured: There are ways to protect your family’s drinking water.

It helps to have source water that isn’t already highly contaminated. (Around Indy, our source water comes primarily from the White River, the Indiana Central Canal, and the Eagle Creek, Geist, and Morse Reservoirs.) One of Flint’s blunders was that they decided to save money by changing their source water supplier. This was the first part of Flint’s toxic tap water. They stopped paying the city of Detroit for Lake Huron water and decided to pull their source water from the Flint River, which had questionable water quality.

The other reason why Flint’s tap water was so dangerous is that lead was leaching from the pipes into the water during delivery. Leaching can happen in different ways, which makes this lead issue a lot more complicated. The problem could almost happen anywhere if water quality rules aren’t enforced. But it can also happen if the treatment plants don’t balance the water chemistry just right. As one National Geographic article explains, if the water is too acidic, or just sits too long in some old pipes, or has high levels of chlorides from the treatment plant, lead can leach into the drinking water.

That last explanation for leaching is usually the most concerning. It’s common practice for water treatment facilities to use chlorine as a disinfectant for our drinking water. The chlorine kills unwanted microbes from our source water, but some chlorine remains in the water as it travels to our homes. Certain areas use a chlorine alternative called chloramine instead. But the problem with chloramine is that it tends to encourage lead to leach from the pipes. The typical Citizens water treatment process here in Indy happens to use chloramines; and lead levels actually rose in the drinking water in Greenville, North Carolina when they switched to the chloramine disinfectant. Of course, every water system is different—apparently San Francisco has also made the switch, but without any issues.

Long story short, water can get contaminated—or more contaminated—after it leaves the treatment plant. It’s still at risk while traveling through the pipes to our homes.

So having decent source water isn’t always good enough. Municipal utility pipes and even some of our home’s plumbing systems contain lead, and the wrong kind of water chemistry can cause that lead to leach into our tap water. In fact, environmental activist Erin Brockovich claims the water crisis in Flint is just the beginning. Areas in Ohio, Louisiana, and likely Wisconsin, are now all facing the same problems, and we keep seeing reports of more towns at risk.

Washington, D.C. had a similar experience with lead poisoning in the early 2000’s, and we even saw Greentown, Indiana residents have concerns over water tests and lead as recently as November 2015. No one should be subjected to dangerous drinking water, and the health effects of lead poisoning are especially disturbing. It has devastating effects on physical and neurological development, and while no levels of lead in drinking water are truly “safe,” children ages 6 and younger are much more susceptible to the toxin because of their size and higher absorption rates. (Check out this Purdue University article for more information about protecting your family from lead around the home.)

So how do we solve the problem? For water to be truly safe, it has to be good for our bodies as well as the planet. Disposable plastic water bottles are definitely not the answer. They’re just creating more waste are harm on the environment—that’s why we’re all for Ban the Bottle movements and our mission for Bottle Free Indy.

Rather than create more waste, we turn directly to the tap. If your area’s source water or its water treatment process gives you pause, there are real, legitimate options for keeping your water safe right in your own home.

Even if lead somehow leaches into your water from the pipes, you can still remove the toxin from your water by having a home filtration system!

Purifying your water at home ensures the best, safest water quality. We’re talking no metals, no microbes, just good ol’ water that’s lead-free.

The CDC highlights reverse osmosis (also called RO) in particular when discussing healthy drinking water and household water treatment. These systems have an extremely high effectiveness in removing protozoa, bacteria, viruses, and even chemical contaminants. RO filtration truly goes above and beyond for water treatment. It can even take out copper and sodium from your water in addition to removing lead.

A powerful reverse osmosis system can effectively eliminate any of the harmful contaminants in your water—whether they were left over from the treatment plant, or got picked up along the way in the plumbing system. Filtering your water in-home is the surest way to keep you family’s drinking water clean.

Please reach out to your local water filtration specialists if you still have questions or concerns about your water quality. The right water expert can help you test your home’s water. They’ll even discuss your options for filters based on your area’s unique water concerns. With a good system, you’ll be able to keep your drinking water clean, refreshing, and safe—to your own high standards.

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