man filling a glass with tap water

Top Contaminants & Chemicals Found In US Tap Water

Clean water is a basic human right and one that we take for granted. After all, it’s only been 100 or so years since New Jersey first started routine disinfection of community water in 1908. 

Although access to safe water for all Americans has been a US government goal, can we trust municipal water supplies? Certain levels of contaminants in tap water may be legal, but are they actually safe to consume? 

At Brio, we believe you should be in control of what goes in your body. That’s why we’ve put together a list of the top contaminants and chemicals found in US tap water so you can make an educated decision on what steps you can take to best treat the water you drink, at home or work. 

What are water safety standards?

Girl running her hands under tap water in a kitchen


The Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 set out US water safety standards. It gives the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the power to restrict the amounts of contaminants and chemicals in tap water. State agencies check on water treatment plants to make sure they are within legal limits. If not, plants are required to notify consumers within 24 hours. 

However, poor drinking water quality has led the Environmental Working Group (EWG) to believe that: “Federal water safety standards aren’t keeping pace with the latest science on contaminants – some regulations haven’t been updated in more than 50 years, and the Environmental Protection Agency is not moving fast enough on new drinking water rules.”

Although all municipal water supplies follow EPA regulations, every water system differs, depending on the water treatment process, pipe systems and age and quality assurance protocols. You can use the EWG’s Tap Water Database to check the levels of contamination in your water supply. 


What contaminants are in tap water?

Since the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, many water-monitoring issues have arisen. These could be contamination due to extreme weather events, deteriorating infrastructure or inadequate treatment at water plants, which aren’t set up to remove more modern contaminants, such as forever chemicals.

There are a huge number of contaminants that can appear in tap water, leading to health problems and water that doesn’t taste or smell good. Heavy metals, forever chemicals, pesticides, bacteria and microplastics are some of some of the top contaminants and chemicals that may be in your tap water and negatively affect the health of your family or workplace.

Let’s take a closer look at some of these contaminants:


1. Arsenic

What is it?

A toxic heavy metal naturally found in the ground, arsenic is also used in pressure-treated lumber and in several other industrial processes. In agriculture, it’s used to kill insects on cotton and other crops. Smelting copper and burning coal create arsenic as a byproduct. 

How does it enter the water supply?

It can enter water through natural deposits or industrial or agricultural pollution. 

What are the health risks?

Arsenic has been linked to cancer, as well as lowered IQ in children


2. Lead

What is it?

Lead is a naturally occurring heavy metal found in small amounts in the earth’s crust and can be toxic.

How does it enter the water supply?

Lead typically works its way into drinking water through lead pipes that feed people’s homes or in the home’s plumbing itself. In 1986, the federal government banned new lead service lines, but it can still enter drinking water through the millions of lead pipes that remain. In New York City, a recent report estimated that one in five people may be drinking lead-contaminated water.

What are the health risks?

Exposure to lead has been tied to reduced IQ and slowed growth in children, high blood pressure, and reproductive problems. 


3. Forever chemicals

What are they?

Manufacturers use perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) to make stain-resistant fabrics and carpets, water-repellent clothing, nonstick cookware, and hundreds of other common products. 

How do they enter the water supply?

The compounds can seep into water from factories, landfill and other sources. Because they don’t easily break down in the environment, they’re called forever chemicals. At least 2,337 communities in 49 states have drinking water known to be contaminated with PFAS

The Environmental Protection Agency proposed new regulations in March 2023 that would crack down on drinking water levels of six types of PFAS, substantially lowering the allowable detectable amounts.

What are the health risks?

The risks of PFAS exposure are well known and have been linked with high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, pregnancy-induced hypertension, testicular and kidney cancers, and learning delays in children.


4. Nitrates

What are they?

Agricultural pollutants. 

How do they enter the water supply?

High levels of nitrates in water can be a result of runoff or leakage from fertilized soil, wastewater, landfill, animal feedlots, septic systems or urban drainage.

What are the health risks?

Nitrate contamination can reduce the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen. This can cause serious health problems, especially for infants.


5. Bacteria

What are they?

Waterborne germs that can cause disease. 

How do they enter the water supply?

Flooding caused by heavy rains triggered by climate change, for example, may overpower treatment plants, resulting in untreated, bacteria-laden water traveling to people’s homes.

What are the health risks?

Some E. coli bacteria can cause diarrhea, urinary tract infections, respiratory illness and pneumonia.


6. Pharmaceuticals

What are they?

They can include: pharmaceuticals and personal care products, organic wastewater compounds, antimicrobials, antibiotics, animal and human hormones, endocrine-disrupting compounds and a variety of domestic and industrial detergents. 

How do they enter the water supply?

If not disposed of properly, they eventually end up in lakes, rivers and other water sources. 

What are the health risks?

Low dose exposure to pharmaceuticals in drinking water is not likely to produce an adverse health effect. However, microbial resistance, chemical persistence and synergistic effects of various pharmaceuticals are a concern.


7. Chlorine

What is it?

It’s a disinfectant used by the water industry to maintain hygienic conditions within the water supply.

How does it enter the water supply?

Water plants treat the water supply with chlorine before it enters your home. 

What are the health risks?

The amount of chlorine in the water is too low to cause health issues, but it does make drinking water taste and smell unpleasant.


Where’s the worst tap water in the US 2023?

Some American communities are more negatively affected than others. An analysis of more than 140,000 public water systems found that access to clean drinking water is highly unequal in the US. 


rural communities are far more likely to have higher levels of contamination


Poorer and rural communities are far more likely to have higher levels of contamination in their tap water than wealthier or urban areas. Large Latino populations are particularly likely to have violations in their water systems.

A study carried out by data company JD Power showed that Alabama ranked as the state with the worst tap water in the country in 2023.

According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, an estimated 2.1 million Alabamians depend on groundwater as their primary source of drinking water. Industrial discharges, urban activities, agriculture, groundwater pumpage, leaking fuel tanks or toxic chemical spills and disposal of waste all can affect groundwater quality. 


What’s the solution?

Even the cleanest tap water in the US can’t compete with a reverse osmosis water filter. If you’re seeking a system that removes contaminants and impurities from water, look no further. With Brio, you’re in control, with a constant supply of clean, healthy water for the most important people in your life – at home and work.

Read ‘What Is Reverse Osmosis Filtration’ to find out more about why this is the most comprehensive and effective method of water filtration and purification. 

kitchen sink with normal hot and cold water faucet, and a separate faucet connected to an RO undersink filtration system


We can tackle all your drinking water concerns with our tankless RO systems. We use only premium materials and components, and our reverse osmosis membranes are certified NSF/ANSI 58, which is the industry gold standard for the removal of impurities in water.

Brio offers virtually bespoke hydration solutions which means you get exactly what you want and need. Nothing more. Nothing less.

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