Valley water departments boast about delivering safe and clean water that rarely, if ever, violates EPA safe drinking water standard. But critics argue that those federal standards are not strict enough. And water quality reports show tap water here in the Valley does, in fact, contain contaminants.
“It’s the safest we can make it,” said Troy Hayes, who is the assistant water services director for the city of Phoenix.
Phoenix had no safe water violations last year. The city gets 97-percent of its water from two sources: the Central Arizona Project (Colorado River), and Salt River Project (Arizona’s lakes.) The remaining three percent comes from wells.
“It’s not exposed to a lot of industrial chemicals. There’s not a lot of industries in our state along the watersheds, so it’s fairly clean,” said Randy Gottler, when asked how the Valley’s water supply compares to water supplies in other parts of the country. Gottler is the deputy water services direct for the city of Phoenix.
Other parts of the country deal with hazards, such as industrial runoff, nitrates from factory farms, pharmaceuticals in the water system from treated sewage, and lead from old water pipes.
But a CBS 5 Investigates analysis of water quality reports from Valley water departments shows that our water does contain some heavy metals, which occur naturally in the environment. Uranium and arsenic are two contaminants that show up in small doses in most water department reports. The levels are under the EPA limits.
Water systems use chlorine to kill bacterial in drinking water, but one of the byproducts of chlorination is a family of chemicals known as Trihalomethanes. They result when chlorine interacts with rotting organic matter, such as sewage, manure and debris.
This report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) chronicles how Trihalomethanes may be linked to bladder cancer and pregnancy problems.
The EPA limit for Trihalomethanes is 80ppb. Our examination of water quality reports shows Valley water systems with average levels that range from 14.7ppb on the low end, to 65ppb on the high end. One study showed that consistent exposure to levels above 40ppb contribute to birth defects and bladder cancer.
“Knowing what’s in your water helps you target those contaminants,” said Andrea Neal, who has a doctorate in molecular genetics, and is the president of Blue Ocean Sciences, an environmental and science organization that tests and tracks water contamination across the globe.
Neal recommends that people filter their water before drinking it. But she warns that certain filters work on certain contaminants, so it’s important to know what’s in your water before you purchase a filter system.
She says some systems remove pesticides. Some remove heavy metals. Some remove organic contaminants.
City of Phoenix officials argue that filters may make your tap water taste better, but that the water itself is safe.
"It's something that our children and your children drink every day, and so that's something that we pride ourselves in," said Hayes.
You can find out what is in your tap water by examining the latest water quality report for the municipality where you live. Make sure the filter you choose is designed to remove those contaminants, whether it’s a household system or just a pitcher filter.
Here are the ten Valley water departments whose water quality reports CBS 5 Investigates examined, and links to their water quality reports:
If your water system is not listed, just type your municipality name into a Google search, along with the following: “water quality report 2015.” You may also contact your water provider directly.
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